Thursday, March 31, 2005

Might Pakistan place nuclear weapons On F-16s?

Might Pakistan place nuclear weapons On F-16s? That's the question that ArmsControlWonk asks.

Aircraft, however, are easier to keep on alert than liquid-fueled ballistic missiles. I worry Pakistan may assign some F-16s a “quick reaction” nuclear delivery role—a decision that might compromise the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

The Ghauri is a liquid-propellant, road-mobile ballistic missile. Although NASIC identifies the Ghauri as having a range of 1,300 km, David Wright concludes that range may be significantly shorter depending on the size of Pakistan’s nuclear warheads and the precise configuration of the missile. The latter calculation turns on an assumption—the intelligence community assumes that Pakistan’s Ghauri is an “off the shelf” Nodong and gives the same range for both; David observers the Ghauri is slightly smaller—suggesting that the Ghauri has made use of some indigenous Pakistani (read: crappy) technology—and concludes its range may be shorter.

The Ghauri missile cannot be kept “on alert.” Liquid-propellants are too corrosive to keep ballistic missiles constantly fueled. As a result, Pakistan is likely to adopt the Chinese model and keep its Ghauri missile inventory in storage with its warheads stored seperately. Islamabad may feel that its nuclear weapons are too vulnerable in this mode. During the 1999 Kargil Crisis, the United States detected Pakistan moving its Ghauri missiles out of storage and concluded the crisis was entering a particularly dangerous stage. Although Washington utilized strategic warning to intensify diplomacy, New Delhi might attempt to destroy Pakistan’s missile forces before they were ready to fire.

F-16s, however, could be kept “on alert” during a crisis: fully-fueled, sitting on the runway, with a pilot in the cockpit.

Given that Pakistan (possibly) continues to sell its nuclear secrets, why are we rewarding them with delivery systems for their nukes?