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Pakistan’s A2/AD Efforts: P282 Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile

In October 2020, the Pakistan Navy (PN) revealed that it will expand its surface fleet to over 50 ships, and it would aim for 20 ‘major surface vessels’ such as frigates as part of its enlarged fleet. The previous Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral Zafar Mahmoud Abbasi, said the fleet expansion will enable the PN to carry-out essential regional patrol tasks and fulfill various international obligations.

In comparison to the PN’s past fleet development efforts, this expansion roadmap is certainly the largest in scope. It aims to both modernize or supplant existing assets and boost asset quantities across surface, sub-surface, and aerial domains. Its new frigates/corvettes and submarines will also add key capabilities, such as anti-air warfare (AAW) and land-attack cruise missile (LACM) deployment.

However, while the PN could emerge as a larger naval power, it is unlikely to lose sight of its traditional – and defensively oriented – posture. Adm. Abbasi had emphasized that the fleet growth was essential for supporting more peacetime maritime activities, such as regional maritime patrols.

Thus, there is a change in the PN’s peacetime interests, but has its wartime mission changed as well? This is unlikely. In wartime, the PN’s role is to protect Pakistan’s littoral infrastructure (such as ports) and shield its sea-lines of communication (SLOC). It needs to ensure that trade (i.e., essential exports and revenue-generating exports) continue amid a crisis. Thus, the PN must prevent India from imposing control (e.g., a Maritime Exclusion Zone) over Pakistan’s littoral waters and sea lanes.

The addition of more surface ships would help the PN in this regard, but these assets would not constitute the ‘core’ or essential elements of this strategy. The PN will not be able to compete on a ship-to-ship count with the Indian Navy (IN), especially in large displacement, high-tech categories. Basically, the PN will need to retain a focused anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) strategy, and improve upon it.

In an earlier series of articles, Quwa discussed an A2/AD framework centered on anti-ship cruising missile (ASCM)-equipped fast attack crafts (FAC), submarines, and network-enabled warfare. The bulk of the PN’s modernization efforts aim to improve these domains. However, Adm. Abbasi had signalled a greater focus on A2/AD by revealing the development of the P282 anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM).

Adm. Abbasi had mentioned the P282 as a solution for the ‘hypersonic domain.’ The ex-CNS was probably referring to the fact that a ballistic missile travels at a hypersonic speed in its terminal stage. ASBMs are a key element of China’s A2/AD strategy. The basic premise of an ASBM is that its terminal-stage speed can generate enough kinetic force to destroy a large slow-moving ship, such as an aircraft carrier.

For the PN, the basic idea of an ASBM is that it could deter opposing navies from using aircraft carriers or other large surface ships, such as landing helicopter docks (LHD), in Pakistan’s vicinity. If configured with maneuvering warheads, the P282 may also be particularly difficult to intercept with AAW systems.

Moreover, the PN would maintain a diverse attack element comprising of ASBMs, subsonic ASCMs, and supersonic ASCMs. In other words, the PN would not maintain a singular attack regimen, but could utilize different types of missiles within the same salvos, further complicating interception.

Functionally, one goal of A2/AD is to make the process of imposing control of an area excessively difficult and costly for the enemy to try. However, while the ex-CNS mentioned the P282 in the context of a ‘ship-launched’ ASBM, the PN will deploy these missiles from land as well. In fact, land-based deployment is an essential part of A2/AD as it serves as the guarantor in case the enemy deprecates one’s sea-based assets.

To serve Pakistan’s A2/AD requirements at sea, the P282 would likely need a range of at least 280 km to cover its immediate littoral surroundings. However, the PN could aim for a longer range. Doing so would expand its missile coverage at sea, and will lessen the reliance on ships to deploy the P282. The Babur 3’s 450 km range could be a reasonable benchmark for the P282.

In Quwa’s estimation, the PN’s ASBM plans are in the context of A2/AD, not necessarily – as other analysts have suggested[1] – a strategic deterrence play through submarines. The latter is still unfeasible, at least in the PN’s current modernization roadmap, i.e., until 2030.

The numerous programs in motion can give the wrong impression about Pakistan’s resources. Yes, this is the first time that Pakistan is devoting as large an amount of resources to naval development as it is now. However, not one of its programs are as inherently costly as a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) would be (i.e., a billion dollar-per-ship purchase).

For the PN, the cost of committing to two SSBNs is equivalent to at least four top-of-the-line conventional submarines from Germany or Sweden. This is not a feasible trade-off for the benefit of two strategic assets with limited value in directly stopping the Indian Navy (IN). This could change after 2030, but currently, the PN’s focus is on building-up its conventional fleet.

If anything, the most interesting aspect of the P282 is not whether it will be a ship-launched (or submarine-launched) ASBM, but rather, the development of the missile itself. The bulk of Pakistan’s ballistic missile development in recent years centered on variants of the Shaheen-series. However, could the P282 – given its distinct role as an ASBM and non-Hatf naming convention – be a new generation ballistic missile?

This would be an optimistic view. In reality, the chances of the PN simply acquiring an off-the-shelf design like the SY-400 are plausible. Likewise, the P282 could be a modest variation of any of Pakistan’s current ballistic missile designs. However, the call for a ship-launched missile necessitates a more compact design, especially if the smaller missile offers enough range and payload to credibly support an A2/AD.

The conservative outcome of this design could be a variant of the SY-400 or CM-400AKG, the dimensions of which could work for the Type 054A/P’s vertical launch system (VLS) cells However, the ambitious goal would see Pakistan indigenously develop new rocket technologies to allow for longer-ranged and/or more compact ballistic missiles, at least compared to its current systems.

This approach set the stage for a SSBN-type capability in the distant future. It can also enable Pakistan to develop an Iskander-like short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). Likewise, new technologies could also help Pakistan improve maneuverable re-entry vehicle (MRV) and multiple re-entry vehicle (MIRV) applications. Finally, Pakistan can also leverage that technology to develop satellite launch vehicles (SLV) and, not least, extend the range of its future ballistic missiles.

Pakistan has not shown new ballistic missile development in terms of its core rocket technology in some years, so the P282 may be a sign of that progress. Of course, this is not to suggest that Pakistan will take a lead in any such work; rather, the P282 could be an improvement of its current stock.

[1] Usman Ansari. “Outgoing Pakistan Navy chief reveals details of modernization programs.” Defense News. 14 October 2020. URL:

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