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Pakistan’s New Missile Disrupts Nuclear Stability in South Asia

The Buzz

Pakistan recently test-fired a surface-to-surface ballistic missile, Shaheen III. Capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, the missile is estimated to have a maximum range of 2750 km. While it has been claimed to provide a boost to Pakistan’s strategic depth and to deterrence stability in South Asia, a careful examination of how Shaheen III impacts the deterrence equation between India and Pakistan captures the latest Pakistani missile to be instead counter-productive.

Shaheen III is the latest addition in the Shaheen series. The previously developed and successfully tested missile, Shaheen II, is estimated to have a range of around 2500 km. The range of Shaheen II continues to remain a rough estimate. For instance, right after Pakistan tested Shaheen II in March 2004, Pakistan’s National Engineering and Science Commission (NESCOM) chairman, Samar Mubarakmand, was quoted saying that “the full range of the missile was 2,500 km although it was tested only to 2,000 km, the edge of Pakistan’s sea limits.” Another ISPR press statement issued on April 18, 2008, after the second successful test of the Shaheen II missile, however, confirmed the missile to have a range of 2000 km. But leading Pakistani newspapers claim Shaheen II to have a range of 1500 km. Based on an estimated range of 2000 km, a map has been made by C SIS that depicts the area (marked with blue dotted lines) that Pakistan could target using Shaheen II ballistic missile. This is critical to note as we question what new capabilities Shaheen III brings to the table.

Right after the launch of Shaheen III, Shahid Latif, retired commander of Pakistan’s air force was quoted as saying that “India doesn’t have its safe havens anymore.” With the ability to reach India’s extreme eastern frontiers, Director General of the Strategic Plans Division, Lieutenant General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, called Shaheen III “a major step towards strengthening Pakistan’s deterrence capability” vis-à-vis India. However, despite all the claims made by strategic experts and military leaders in Pakistan, there remains question on whether Shaheen III enhances the deterrence stability or is rather counter-productive.

From India’s perspective, Shaheen III does not really change the situation much as far as the credibility of Pakistan’s deterrent is concerned. Looking purely from a strategic point of view, Pakistan has had the ability to target all of India’s major population centers with Shaheen II, whose maximum range (2500 km) is estimated to be shorter than that of Shaheen III by only 250 km. Even if we go by the estimated range of Shaheen II at 2000 km which has been successfully tested by Pakistan and confirmed by ISPR, the missile would only miss the extreme eastern tips of India. Thus, when it comes down to “deterrence capability,” Shaheen II can deliver a nuclear warhead to almost all of the strategic sites of India to make the preexisting deterrent credible.

Shaheen III could offer Pakistan the ability to target Indian naval vessels in the Bay of Bengal, but for that Pakistan would need a highly effective and accurate terminal guidance system which could help a missile trace the targeted vessel’s movement and adjust its trajectory accordingly after flying across the entire Indian mainland. Another asset which would make Shaheen III stand out could be the multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) capabilities, but Pakistan could use these payloads on Shaheen II as well, if it is able to develop or acquire them.

The purpose that Shaheen III could serve best, however, is to give Pakistan the ability to target Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal. This, as has been argued by General Khalid Kidwai, former head of the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) and advisor to Pakistan’s National Command Authority in a conversation at the 2015 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, is the “sole purpose for the development of Shaheen III.” However, in the same conversation, he also added that by covering the islands of Andaman and Nicobar, Pakistan aims to take away India’s second-strike capability. But that goes far off from making Shaheen III a strategic deterrent, which Pakistan claims it to be. Instead of strengthening the concept of mutually-assured destruction (MAD), which Gen. Kidwai argues to be critical for South Asia, attempts to take away India’s second-strike capability will further destabilize the deterrence equation. It will push India to further cooperate with its global partners on its Ballistic Missile Defence Programme which will definitely be counter-productive for Pakistan.

Thus, while much has been stated and claimed about Shaheen III from the Indian perspective, it really does not bring anything new to the tableas far as deterrence stability is concerned. On the other hand, if Pakistan aims to take-away India’s second-strike capability, as Gen. Kidwai argues the purpose to be, it will only push India to further enhance its BMD systems. Indian doctrine of credible minimum deterrence is solely based on having a nuclear force that is capable of surviving a nuclear first-strike and launching a second strike which can inflict massive damage to the opponent to make the deterrent credible. Retention of second-strike capability is therefore a vital for stability in South Asia and development of Shaheen III by Pakistan with the aim of taking away India’s second-strike capability will only prove to be counter-productive for the former.

Arka Biswas is a SAV Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center. This article originally appeared on South Asian Voices, here.

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Russia Ditches Plans for Super Advanced 5th Generation Fighter Jets

The Buzz

The Russian military is scaling back initial requirements for the fifth generation T-50 (PAK FA) fighters to twelve planes, after initially planning for fifty-two. Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said that this was due to economic considerations.

However, Borisov noted that the Defense Ministry reserves the right to determine the number of fifth generation fighters for purchase, so the initial plans may be corrected.

“It would be better for us to have a reserve of PAK-FA and the possibility to move ahead in the future to using the 4+ fighters’ [Su-30 and Su-35] capabilities to the maximum,” Borisov said. In other words, Russia would make the most of its existing Sukhoi Su-35 capabilities, which are highly rated by experts. The United States is currently the only country with an Air Force that includes a fully operational fifth generation jet fighter, the F-22.

Production of the T-50 series will go ahead in 2016 regardless of any reduction in orders. During a visit to the plant where the planes were being constructed, in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in the Russian Far East, Borisov said, “according to the next year plans, we should have the first delivery of the series fifth-generation fighters.”

The T-50 will be a stealth aircraft, invisible to radars. It has several advantages over the F-22: “the T-50 is significantly faster than the F-22, and has a huge advantage in terms of range—5,500 kilometers compared to the F-22’s 3,400. The T-50’s detection systems allow it to spot incoming threats at a distance of up to 400 kilometers, compared to the F-22’s 210 kilometers.” However, Russia’s fifth generation air fleet will be at a numerical disadvantage, as the U.S. Air Force inventory of F-22s is 187.

India is also interested in the T-50, a fact that may help boost purchases. However, India wants to localize production of its T-50s “much like another Russian-designed fighter, the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, which has been in series production for more than a decade at the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) plant in Nasik.”

India is frustrated at delays in its negotiations with the French company Dassault over the contract for the Rafale fighter aircraft.

Image: Wikimedia/Alex Beltyukov

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Japan's Navy Unveils 'Aircraft Carrier in Disguise'

The Buzz

Japan’s largest warship since World War II has just entered service. Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) took delivery on Wednesday of the Izumo, a helicopter carrier “as big as the Imperial Navy aircraft carriers that battled the United States in the Pacific.”

The Izumo was indigenously constructed at a shipyard in Yokohama, near Tokyo, at a cost of around $1.5 billion. It is named after the former Izumo province in western Honshu. In Japanese mythology, the entrance to yomi (hell) is located in Izumo.

Perhaps this is apt, as the ship’s capacities definitely have the ability to dispatch Japan’s foes. The Izumo displaces 19,500 tons and is 248 meters (814 feet) long. According to Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, the ship will improve the Japanese Self-Defense Forces’ capacity to deal with submarines: “As well as having the capacity to search for submarines itself, it will be able to deal with submarines over a larger area as it’s equipped with a lot of helicopters.”

The ship can carry nine helicopters, in addition to 470 personnel. However, in theory, the ship can carry over twenty aircraft. According to reports, while the Izumo “does not have a catapult necessary to launch fixed-wing fighters, a planned vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) variant of the F-35 could fly from the Izumo's flight deck.” This basically makes the Izumo—which gives Japan its largest naval flat surface since the Second World War—an “aircraft carrier in disguise.”

Designating it a helicopter destroyer allows Japan to circumvent its constitutional ban on waging offensive war, as aircraft carriers are considered offensive weapons due to their ability to project force. Japan is also adding “longer-range patrol aircraft and military cargo planes to its defense capability, and buying Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets, amphibious assault vehicles and Boeing's Osprey troop carrier, which can operate from the Izumo.”

Natakani noted that the Izumo could project Japanese personnel and equipment in a variety of functions beyond Japan, including “peace keeping operations, international disaster relief, and aid.”  This is all part of a concerted Japanese effort under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of stepping up Japanese defense spending in the face of an assertive China. Tensions between the two countries are especially great due to a territorial dispute in the East China Sea. In May 2013, Japan said it detected submarines navigating under water close to territorial waters near Okinawa and Kagoshima prefectures.

Nakatani noted that “China has aircraft carriers,” before adding that Japan wasn’t thinking of operating the Izumo as an aircraft carrier. A second ship of the same size and specifications as the Izumo will likely be introduced in early 2018.

Image: Wikimedia/Dragoner JP 

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Thailand's Teflon Economy Is Imploding

The Buzz

For nearly fifteen years in the 2000s and early 2010s, Thailand’s economy, once one of the fastest-growing in the world, survived the effects of near-constant political turmoil, natural disasters, and worries about the country’s future in the wake of a looming royal succession. Even after the massive floods in the monsoon season of 2011 that destroyed much of the industrial estates north of Bangkok, home to auto parts, disk drive, and other key manufacturing plants, Thailand’s economy rebounded strongly. Even after street protests in Bangkok in May 2010 led to a brutal military crackdown in which much of the downtown wound up looking like a war zone, several major commercial buildings were torched, and at least 90 people were killed, Thailand’s economy rebounded. Tourists continued to come to the kingdom—more than 22 million in 2012, the year after the flooding—and in 2012 Thailand’s GDP grew by over six percent.

Many observers of the kingdom believed that, after the May 2014 coup, the Teflon economy would display its usual resilience. In fact, a large majority of the CEOs of the largest Thai businesses in Bangkok allegedly supported the military putsch, publicly or privately, according to multiple businesspeople and journalists who have spoken with top Thai CEOs. In part, they may have supported the coup because they believed that, at its heart, the Puea Thai Party and its leaders either were republicans or could not be trusted to be in power at a time of royal succession. (There is little evidence that Puea Thai leaders actually have republican sentiments.) But business leaders also may have supported the coup since they believed the generals could bring a modicum of stability, and since Thailand’s economy had performed strongly in the 1980s during a long period of de facto military/technocratic rule.

But the era in which Thailand’s economy could withstand any political turbulence, and would continue to attract tourists and foreign investors, appears to be over. Fifteen years of political chaos has distracted Thai policymakers from making important investments in infrastructure or the country’s education system, which has never been upgraded to prepare people for a middle-income economy. In particular, Thailand’s English classes and information technology classes lag badly behind those of Thailand’s regional competitors. A recent article in Singapore’s Today notes that “Thailand ranks 55th out of 60 countries on the English Proficiency Index, the world’s major ranking of English-language skills. That is the lowest among Southeast Asian countries.” This despite the fact that several other countries in Southeast Asia are far poorer than Thailand and have much less resources than Bangkok to help promote English education. As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations moves toward a single market in goods and services, English skills will be even more important for businesses that want to attract regional investment and for workers in a range of industries looking for opportunities throughout ASEAN.

The country’s seemingly endless turmoil also finally seems to have deterred investors, who for years continued to pour money into the kingdom because of its natural attractiveness and history of liberal investment policies. At the same time as Thailand stalls, other countries in the region, like the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, and even Indonesia have promoted policies that have made them more attractive to foreign investment. The Japanese government continues to court Bangkok, even after the coup, as a means of stalling the Thai generals approach to China; Japan’s desire to blunt China’s influence is likely the major reason why Tokyo is proposing its own plan for funding a rail line in Thailand. (The Chinese government has proposed its own, competing rail project in the kingdom.) Yet unlike the Japanese government, private sector Japanese investors are not so bullish on Thailand. Japanese investors, the biggest group of foreign investors in the kingdom, have begun to shift new investments to Vietnam and other countries in the region. Other foreign investors have become increasingly cautious in approving new Thailand projects.

A recent Bloomberg analysis of the growth rates of major Southeast Asian economies showed that, since 2010, Thailand’s GDP growth rate has been about half that of neighboring Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. And in 2015, the World Bank projects that Thailand’s growth rate will again be the lowest in the region. Thailand’s central bank last week cut its own forecast for Thailand’s 2015 growth rate. Expect it to cut that forecast further as the year progresses.

Joshua Kurlantzick is a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). This article originally appeared on CFR’s Asia Unbound blog, here.

Image: Flickr/Guanlong D.​

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