This really got my goat! A friend just pointed out that the NYT has published a highly accusatory article about Pakistan’s latest ship launched cruise missile tests. The basic thrust of the story is that Pakistan has developed a new missile which was recently tested, but not officially announced. US officials “leaked” the news to the New York Times (gotta love those leaks!!), stating that what was tested was most likely an “unauthorized” modification of a Harpoon missile. These are the very same Harpoons President Reagan had delivered to his comrade, that staunchest of staunch allies, President Zia of Pakistan, in the early 1980s.
Of course, in typical NYT style when it comes to articles about Pakistan, the accusation is not justified with even a shred of evidence beyond the “leak”. But why do they need proof, I ask? I mean it’s not like those brown skinned idiotic Pakistanis are capable of inventing anything? Right? I mean it’s not like they’ve developed nuclear weapons, IRBMs, fighter aircraft, UAVs, tanks or other sophisticated military gear?!
So, though I want very much to tell the NYT where they can stuff their nonsense, instead, let me attempt to reason through this. In order for the story to make sense, the basic premise of modifying Harpoons has to at least be justified with a legitimate goal or need the Pakistani military has. For why else would they perform the modification? So, let’s first look at what the Harpoon is. It’s a sea and air launched anti-ship missile with a maximum range of between 100-300km depending on the platform it is launched from. The payload it carries is non-nuclear – it is simply designed to take out a ship. Payload capability is around 450lbs, which is really not sufficient to carry a nuclear weapon. If you wanted to increase range, it would likely come at the cost of the payload anyway, thus further reducing the 450lbs down to 250 or 300lbs.
The allegation, then, is that a) the Harpoon missile has been modified to take out land targets and b) that the P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft has been modified to carry out land attack missions. I am sure the discerning amongst my readership familiar with military issues will be rolling on the floor, consumed by laughter by now. But for those still able to sit straight and read, let me continue with my disection of this insidious and ridiculous allegation.
Now, as the idiots at the NYT should know, Pakistan has already developed its own cruise missiles, Raa’d and Babar. These are air launched and ground launched respectively. These have been shown on TV multiple times being launched from Mirage jets, fired from mobile launchers etc. The external design and form of both these missiles is completely different to the Harpoon. Their payload capacity is larger than the Harpoon’s, their guidance system is more modern and accurate, their range is greater and so on and so forth. In sum, there is absolutely no connection between these missiles and the Harpoon. They are in fact, better across multiple points of comparison, and of course, are also nuclear capable, unlike the Harpoons.
The Raa’d has been mated with Mach 2 capable Mirages and is now being integrated with Pakistan’s new fighter, the JF-17. The missile can be launched from a stand-off distance of almost 500km and employs more sophisticated guidance than the Harpoon. Why would Pakistan want to attack land targets with a slow, bulky aircraft like the P-3, firing shorter range Harpoon missiles, when it’s air force already has almost 175 Mirage aircraft with Raa’d cruise missiles and recently added in-flight refuelling capability? It makes no bloody sense.
The Pakistani Raa’d Air Launched Cruise Missile being tested from a Mach 2 Mirage jet
So, where is the rationale? What would Pakistan gain from this? Why would we – with a limited inventory of 165 Harpoons – modify a weapon system completely unsuited to land attack in line with NYT’s toxic insinuations? The Air Weapons Complex, NDC and other weapons labs in Pakistan have bigger fish to fry.
It is, in fact, quite amusing, that buried deep inside the article, a researcher from Janes Defence Weekly, a premier defence publication, is quoted as saying:
“They’re beyond the need to reverse-engineer old U.S. kit,” Mr. Hewson said in a telephone interview. “They’re more sophisticated than that.”
Exactly. When the M1A1 failed field trials in Bahawalpur, we built our own Al-Khalid tank. When the F-16s were embargoed, we developed the JF-17. When we were sanctioned on account of the nuclear program, we completed not only weaponization but also delivery capabilities. And now when the Predator is being denied for anti-terror operations, you will see Pakistani scientists and engineers develop and deploy a UCAV rapidly.
It would perhaps be a more productive use of their time if the NYT and the unnamed “US officials” who were the source of this “leak” would learn a thing or two about missiles – and even more importantly, about good old fashioned common sense. It would serve them better the next time they want to start spewing such bunkum. I will assume that this story resulted from a lack of education rather than a desire to sabotage Pakistan and create difficulties for it. Since we are close allies, that would just be ridiculous… wouldn’t it?