Pakistan’s nuclear command and control system is considered to be sophisticated and balanced. It has civilian and military involvement, checks and balances between the participating institutions, and a clear division of responsibility between the institutions. The system is based on a three-tier structure: The National Command Authority (NCA), the Strategic Plans Division (SPD), and the three services’ strategic forces commands.
Under the military government of General Musharraf, on 02 February 2000, the National Security Council approved the establishment of the National Command Authority (NCA) the highest decision-making body controlling nuclear command and control system.
The NCA is responsible for nuclear policy formulation and exercises employment and development control over all strategic nuclear forces and strategic organizations. It includes formulating policies, deploying the strategic forces, coordinating the activities of all strategic organizations, negotiating arms control/disarmament, overseeing the implementation of export controls, and safeguarding nuclear assets and sites
NCA further consists of two committees and a division; an Employment Control Committee and a Development Control Committee, as well as the Strategic Plans Division which acts as its Secretariat.
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Employment Control Committee
It is chaired by the head of the Government (Prime Minister) and includes the Minister of Foreign Affairs as its deputy Chairperson. It also consists of the defense minister, Interior Minister, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), tri-Services Chiefs, Director-General of Strategic Plans Division (Secretary), and other technical advisers (NSA, etc.), as required by the Chairperson.
It is responsible for policy-making during peacetime and deployment of strategic forces during wartime, making recommendations on the evolution of nuclear doctrine, establishing the hierarchy of command and the policy for authorizing the use of nuclear weapons, and establishing the guidelines for an effective command and control system to safeguard against accidental or unauthorized use.
Development Control Committee
It is also chaired by the head of Government and includes CJCSC as its deputy chairperson, tri-Services Chiefs, Director-General of Strategic Plans Division, and representatives of the strategic1organizations and, the scientific community.
This Committee controls the development of strategic assets. exercising technical, financial, and administrative control over the strategic organizations involved in the nuclear weapons program, and overseeing the development of strategic weapons programs.
Strategic Plans Division
It is headed by a three-star army general officer. It is established in the Joint Services Headquarters under the CJCSC to act as the Secretariat for the NCA and perform functions relating to planning, coordination, and establishment of a reliable command, control, communication, computers, and intelligence network (C4I).
It is responsible for formulating policy options (nuclear policy, strategy, and doctrine) for the NCA, implementing the NCA’s decisions, drafting strategic and operational plans for the deployment of strategic forces. Moreover, the SPD carries out the day-to-day management of Pakistan’s strategic forces, coordinates the activities of the different strategic organizations involved in the nuclear weapons program, and oversees budgetary, administrative, and security matters.
The SPD has eight directorates—including the Operations and Planning Directorate, the Computerized, Control, Command, Communication, Information, Intelligence and Surveillance Directorate (C4ISD), Strategic Weapons Development Directorate, and the Arms Control and Disarmament Affairs Directorate, Security division, which has a 25,000 strong force charged with guarding and protecting Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
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The Services’ Strategic Forces Command
The Services Strategic Forces Command is raised from all the three services (Army, Navy, and Airforce), which all have their respective strategic force commands. It is responsible for daily and tactical operational control of nuclear weapon delivery systems (the NCA is still responsible for overall strategic operational control). This operational control includes technical, training, and administrative control over missiles and delivery systems that would be used to deliver nuclear weapons.
Army Strategic Forces Command (ASFC)
- It Commands all land-based strategic nuclear forces with an estimated number of 12,000–15,000 persons.
- It has 60+ Surface-To-Surface Missile Launchers, 30 Ghauri Nuclear Medium Range Ballistic Missiles, 30+ Nuclear Short Range Ballistic Missiles: Ghaznavi, Abdali, Nasr series.
- Nuclear Ground Launch Cruise Missile: Babur
Air Force Strategic Command (AFSC)
It operates the aircraft capable of delivering nuclear warheads. Moreover, AFSC operates all the air launched nuclear weapons. It mainly consists of F-16A/B/C/D and Mirage 5 combat aircrafts. Pakistan intends to incorporate the dual-capable Ra’ad Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) onto the JF-17 in order to allow the newer aircraft to eventually take over the nuclear strike role. Pakistan is getting about 36 J-10CE fighter jets from China. It is assumed that Raad ALCM may be fitted with newly acquired J-10CE fighter jets.
Naval Strategic Force Command (NSFC)
NSFC was formally established on May 19, 2012, and has worked to develop a sea-based nuclear deterrent, which guarantees Pakistan’s second-strike capability. On January 9, 2017, ISPR announced that Pakistan had successfully launched its first successful test-fire of submarine-launched cruise missile SLCM (Babur-3), providing Pakistan with the second-strike capability. Presently, Pakistan Navy does not own a nuclear-powered submarine.
Pakistan Navy, however, has three (3) French-built Agosta 90B-class submarines that are powered by diesel-electric engines. The Pakistan Navy is likely to place nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on these submarines. Moreover, Pakistan signed a deal with China to buy eight Chinese Type 039C diesel-electric attack submarines that can be equipped with nuclear weapons.
Presently, Pakistan is capable to strike its adversary by land, air, and sea. The nuclear triad enhances Pakistan’s retaliatory capability or assured second-strike proficiency. Undeniably, the assured second-strike capability stabilizes and endures nuclear deterrence stability in a complex cum volatile strategic environment.
Syed Ali Abbas is a Research Assistant at the Center for International Strategic Studies Islamabad and President of Global Defense Insight. He tweets @smalinaqvi05.