EDITORIAL: Cruising to military security...
Pakistan’s successful test firing on Thursday of Babur, the 500 km-range cruise missile capable of carrying conventional and nuclear payloads, is another advance in missile technology. It is, of course, another matter that the information minister’s statement labelling the test as a birthday gift for President Pervez Musharraf smacks of sycophancy.
A cruise missile is a guided missile. It is launched and steered for the first few seconds of its flight by a solid-fuel booster with steering vanes in its exhaust. Once it reaches its maximum height, the booster is jettisoned, the wings and control surfaces are deployed, and the turbofan engine takes over. After this stage, the missile flies and finds its way to the target as an unmanned aircraft, dropping to a low height to avoid radar detection. From this point it flies at sub-sonic speeds and is self-navigating.
One of the most well-known cruise missiles is the American Tomahawk. The US versions — TLAM (Tomahawk Land Attack Missile) and TASM (Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile) can be fired from a submarine, a ship or B-52 (Stratofortress) bombers. Cruise missiles use inertial guidance to follow a preset course. Overland, the inertial system is supported by Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM) and, in the case of the Tomahawk, the terminal guidance is provided by what is known as the Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC) system. This makes the missile highly accurate and allows it to hit the target within a 10-meter zone.
A ballistic missile, on the other hand, follows a prescribed course that cannot be significantly changed after the missile has burnt its fuel. To cover long distances, ballistic missiles are usually launched very high into the air or in space, in a sub-orbital space flight. In space, when no more thrust is provided, the missiles are in freefall. The more advanced versions of ballistic missiles can have several rocket stages, a system which allows slight course adjustments from one stage to the next. Ballistic missiles have four general categories: ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile — strike range beyond 5500 km), IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile — 3000-5500 km), MRBM (Medium Range Ballistic Missile — 1000-3000 km) and SRBM (Short Range Ballistic Missile — less than 1000 km). Pakistan possesses MRBMs and SRBMs. The Ghauri, Shaheen, Agni, Prithvi, Minuteman, Polaris, Poseidon, SS-24, Scud, Jericho, Nodong-1, Shahab, Trident are some of the ballistic missiles in various ranges held by Pakistan, India, the US, Israel, North Korea, Russia, Egypt and Iran. Ballistic missiles can be launched from fixed sites (silos), submarines (in which case it’s called an SLBM — Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile) and mobile launchers.
The United States and Russia also use MIRVs (Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles), a ballistic missile that can carry from three to 12 warheads, each with on-board small rocket motors and a computerised inertial navigation system. MIRVs were developed to reduce the effectiveness of anti-ballistic systems and to have less number of missiles for larger number of target engagement.
Mastering cruise missile technology not only enhances Pakistan’s capability to strike targets but to do so stealthily since the missile is undetectable by radar. Being a fire-and-forget smart weapon, at its current range it can alter the course of battle on land and sea. This capability would also serve to neutralise any anti-ballistic missile system that India is interested in getting, whether it is the US Patriot system or the Israeli Arrow II system. It is also a step towards the development of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for purposes of reconnaissance as well as missile attacks. Babur’s successful flight-test also neutralises India’s possession of Brahmos, a 290-km cruise missile which was first test-fired on June 21, 2001. *
EDITORIAL #2:... while grappling with internal insecurity
The All-Parties Conference, which was convened by the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy and brought together the ARD as well as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, has indicated that the opposition legislators might resign from parliament if the government persists with its plan to rig the upcoming municipal elections.
In recent weeks several reports from across the country have credibly alleged that the ruling Q-League and its allied parties are using state machinery to ensure wins for their candidates. Even General Pervez Musharraf threw his weight behind Q-League’s effort by asking the people of Pakistan to vote for the ruling party’s candidates. This is happening despite the fact that the municipal elections, technically, are to be conducted on a non-party basis. Two days ago the Election Commissioner of Pakistan, Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, addressed a press conference and said, among other things, that the Commission was looking into complaints of pre-poll rigging, including the statement by General Musharraf (Daily Times editorial, Benighted misogyny versus enlightened illegality; August 12, 2005).
However, it does not appear that the combined opposition is impressed with Justice Dogar’s assurances. Not only has the opposition APC threatened to resign, the joint declaration has also said the opposition would file references against General Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, the four chief ministers and several ministers for their alleged involvement in pre-poll rigging. The APC has also called for setting up a Grand National Alliance to oust General Musharraf from power.
Whether the opposition carries out its threat or not, one thing is obvious: the entire opposition, despite its own ideological and other differences, is now combined against General Musharraf. His efforts to reach out to the Pakistan People’s Party, for instance, have failed because they were based on cunning tactical expediencies rather than any genuine strategic shift. General Musharraf and the MMA are not getting along as well as they once did. And now the Q-League is looking like a house divided against itself.
This scenario bespeaks of continuing political uncertainty that threatens to inflate into a crisis. It certainly does not dovetail with General Musharraf’s avowed efforts to pull this country out of its current morass. The only way to do so would be for him to review his entire policy of playing politics. But we are not sure if he is prepared to do that. *