Are Pakistan’s submarines capable of delivering nuclear weapons?
Realizing that it cannot compete with the Indian navy on the surface, the Pakistani navy has decided to concentrate on submarines as a counter-strategy, contends Joe Katzman, in an excellent round-up of the flap over Pakistan’s acquisition of French-designed submarines. And contrary to popular belief, the French-supplied Augosta submarines are not capable of being platforms for nuclear missile delivery.
The bottom line? Agostas are diesel-powered attack subs, not missile subs. The submarine also has a limited range when submerged, unlike a nuclear-powered boat that can cruise around the world without surfacing. It’s possible to have an Agosta-class sub carry nuclear weapons, but you need to have very advanced warhead designs to fit them, and the missiles you fire tend to have fairly short ranges.
That isn’t what Pakistan is building them for.[Winds of Change]
But a bit of indigenous ingenuity and a large measure of help from China could allow Pakistan to develop those advanced warhead designs in due course. That would just mirror how Pakistan developed its nuclear arsenal in the first place – indigenous ingenuity in using centrifuges to enrich uranium in a laborious but ultimately successful manner. The Chinese, of course, helped along the way. France’s blatantly commercial philosophy on indiscriminate arms sales to rogue regimes is highly irresponsible.
Besides, if push comes to shove, those Augosta submarines — diesel-powered and short-range as they may be — could even become underwater, nuclear, kamikaze units. The first version of Pakistan’s strategic depth doctrine failed after the US invasion of Afghanistan and the downfall of the Taliban regime. The second version could well take the phrase quite literally.