Pakistan’s Babur-3: Impact on the Subcontinent

Pakistan’s test of the Babur-3 missile, its first submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM), comes at the heels of escalated border tensions between India and Pakistan. It was preceded by the successful test of India’s nuclear-capable ballistic missile, Agni-V, at the end of December. As stated in a press release by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Babur-3 has a range of 450 km, is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, and provides Pakistan with a “credible second-strike capability, augmenting deterrence.” Given the trajectory of Pakistan’s naval-related developments and the narrative surrounding Pakistan’s pursuit of a nuclear deterrent at sea, Indian analysts had predicted this eventuality. The Babur-3 missile will most likely be integrated with Pakistan Navy’s Agosta 90B class (Khalid class) submarines, yet it is likely to undergo more rounds of tests before it finally becomes operational. Once operationalized, the missile will offer Pakistan a sea-based second-strike capability vis-à-vis India.

Pakistan’s Rationale

The rationale behind this quest for a sea-based nuclear deterrent lies in Pakistan’s growing insecurity about India’s naval conventional superiority. Pakistani leadership has periodically acknowledged this naval superiority and its own weaknesses, if India were to flex its naval muscle in a conflict. Therefore, given Pakistan’s limited resources and insufficient maritime capabilities, a sea-based deterrent is viewed as an effective option. Just as Pakistan’s Hatf-IX (Nasr) missile is the Pakistan Army’s nuclear response to the Indian Army’s conventional superiority, the Babur-3 is meant to counter India’s advantage in the maritime domain. The Pakistan military believes that a sea-based deterrent would allow it to dominate all levels of conflict with India and provide much-desired strategic depth in the subcontinent.

Growing Relevance of the Pakistan Navy in the Nuclear Arrangement

Babur-3 aligns with Pakistan’s search for flexible responses to India. For a long time, Pakistan’s nuclear thinking was overwhelmingly focused on its land forces. The development of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) in response to India’s Cold Start Doctrine and conventional superiority underscores this emphasis. The development and eventual integration of Babur-3 into Pakistan’s arsenal will enhance the importance of the Pakistan Navy in the nuclear arrangement. Once operational, Pakistan’s sea-based second strike capability will provide a greater mandate to the Pakistan Navy, which has traditionally played a limited role in the country’s nuclear journey.

Challenges of Command and Control

With the induction of a sea-based deterrent, issues with communications and command and control arise. Although Pakistan’s Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) includes elements of the naval leadership, the command chain is largely dominated by the Pakistan Army. The induction of a naval variant to its strategic nuclear weapons program means Pakistan will need to figure out how to adapt its command and control and communication structures to the sea. The greatest challenge for Pakistan will be managing its command and control arrangement with such a varied nuclear force, which ranges from strategic (land and sea-based) to tactical nuclear weapons.


The Babur-3 missile test is indicative of Pakistan’s pursuit of a sea-based deterrent to compensate for conventional naval weaknesses vis-à-vis India. With the possible induction of Babur-3 into the Khalid class submarines in the future, the Pakistan Navy will play a greater role in the country’s nuclear arrangement. However, induction would also introduce command and control and communications issues, which present a new challenge that Pakistan will need to overcome.

Source: Pakistan’s Babur-3: Impact on the Subcontinent, January 17, 2017,

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