Fatah’s Reach: Can Pakistan’s New Missiles Upset India’s Strategic Balance?


Team Udayavani, May 13, 2024, 7:38 PM IST

In 2021, Pakistan’s army began enhancing its long-range strike capabilities by introducing the Fatah-1, an indigenously developed surface-to-surface missile (SSM) with a reach of 140 kilometres. Earlier, their main guided rocket was the A-100, a multiple-launch rocket system with a 100-kilometre range, sourced from China and produced locally under a licence.

By 2024, Pakistan expanded its arsenal with the Fatah-2, a more powerful missile capable of striking targets 400 kilometres away. Additionally, plans were unveiled for the development of Fatah-3 and Fatah-4 missiles, projected to have ranges of 450 kilometres and 700 kilometres, respectively.

Essentially, the Pakistani Army has introduced a new series of ballistic missiles, called the ‘Fatah’, which are becoming a crucial part of Pakistan’s strategy to enhance its land-based, precision-strike capabilities.

*Overview* : *Fatah Series Ballistic Missiles* : In 2021, Pakistan introduced the Fatah-1 as an indigenously developed Multiple-Launch Rocket System (MLRS).The introduction of the Fatah-1 in 2021, as mentioned earlier, possibly stemmed from a 2017 initiative by the Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) to create an ‘extended range’ multiple-launch rocket system. While unveiling Fatah-1, the army stated the missile enabled precise strikes deep into enemy territory, indicating a focus on enhancing its long-range attack capabilities.

In 2023, Global Industrial and Defence Solutions (GIDS), a group representing Pakistan’s state-owned defence enterprises, introduced an upgraded version of the Fatah-1, named the Fatah-2. This new missile appeared to be a direct development of its predecessor, likely maintaining the same 300-mm diameter and utilizing an eight-cell launcher, but it extended its reach to 250 kilometres.

By late-2023, Pakistan reported a successful test launch of the Fatah-2 missile, which was different from the Fatah-2 version previously displayed by GIDS. The newly tested Fatah-2 missile was revealed to be larger, possibly 400 mm in diameter, and used a two-cell launcher, instead of the Fatah-1’s eight-cell set-up. Additionally, it was announced to have a longer range of 400 kilometres—more than earlier stated.

Asad Kamal, CEO of GIDS, explained that the Fatah-2 is equipped with a ‘supersonic glide vehicle’ that detaches from its propulsion system in the upper atmosphere, suggesting it has maneuvering warhead capabilities, as reported by QUWA, a media outlet focusing on Pakistan’s defence news.

The upcoming Fatah-3, expected to have a slight range increase from 400 kilometres to 450 kilometres, will likely be based on the Fatah-2 model. In contrast, the Fatah-4, aiming for a much greater range of 700 kilometres, could be a bigger missile, possibly around 600 mm in diameter. Given the Fatah series’ trajectory towards significantly longer ranges, the development of missiles reaching, or surpassing, 1,000 kilometres remains a possibility.

*The Ukraine Equation:* Ukraine’s successful deployment of the High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) sparked considerable interest in the system and its strategic use. Observing this, Pakistan, possibly, examined how HIMARS operated, and recognized, advantages of land-based strike capability that allows for launching munitions and swiftly moving to a new position to evade enemy counter-attacks.

While the Pakistani Army aims at developing a similar, land-based precision strike capability, its method differs from the HIMARS approach. HIMARS is not just a system, but also a concept that focuses on using a quickly deployable set-up. This system can swiftly launch its munitions, move to a new location, and, then, quickly reload with new missiles from preloaded containers.

*HIMARS-A Versatile System:* The HIMARS system is versatile because it uses containers that can hold different sizes of rockets—from 122 mm to 610 mm. This feature also allows it to use special weapons, like the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GL-SDB).

The HIMARS system combines technical flexibility with the ability to conduct long-range, high-intensity strikes. Once it runs out of munitions, it quickly discards the empty canister and moves on to a new location to reload and continue firing. For this approach to be effective, the user must adopt a strategy that utilizes preloaded canisters positioned at various sites, allowing launch vehicles to move to these locations for reloading after firing.

Thus, while rockets are the key to HIMARS, many elements of its design are not present in Pakistan’s current strategy. For instance, there is no indication that the Pakistani Army is using quick-release, preloaded canisters—containers already loaded with ammunition and quickly attached, and detached, from a launch vehicle, a system that allows for rapid reloading and firing of the launcher—minimizing downtime and enhancing the mobility and responsiveness of the unit in combat situations.

So, while its army is focussed on enhancing its long-range strike abilities, it does not seem to be adopting the high-intensity, high-mobility features typical of the HIMARS system.

Interestingly, the initial version of Fatah-2 that GIDS displayed, before testing the larger model, suggested it was a direct upgrade of Fatah-1. It appeared to be a similar-sized missile that could use the same eight-cell launcher, indicating that a similarly sized missile that could use the same eight-cell launch system.

There is the obvious possibility that Pakistan could develop a powerful guided MLRS system using the 140-kilometre-range Fatah-1 and a new 240-kilometre-range variant, possibly called Fatah-1B.

This system might feature containers that hold both missile types and could be adapted for quick ejection and reloading. This high-intensity strike system could work alongside units armed with Fatah-2, Fatah-3 and Fatah-4 missiles, designed to hit more strategic targets.

*Essential Future Actions:* As the Pakistani Army introduces land-based strike capabilities, it will need to bring in more support resources. These include better and faster targeting systems, stronger electronic warfare capabilities and air defence systems specifically designed to counter unmanned aerial systems (C-UAS).

*And What Are the Targets?* To enhance its intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition (ISTAR) abilities, the Pakistani Army is expected to invest in drones and advanced sensors.

Regarding drones, Pakistan might consider vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) systems, like the locally developed Ranger, to enhance its forward observation capabilities. Initially, this drone would require operators to manually identify and communicate target information.

But, over time, Pakistan might use artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) to enable these drones to automatically identify targets and send their locations to firing units. Pakistan could also seek expertise from Turkiye’s Bayraktar Group or similar entities to develop this technology.

As Pakistan enhances its artillery capabilities, it may introduce more weapon-locating radars to detect the source of artillery fire by tracking incoming projectiles. The country’s own radar programmes, such as the ‘short-range air defence (SRAD) radar’ and ‘multi-function air defence radar’ (MFADR), could be adapted to serve as these weapon-locating radars.

*Electronic Warfare:* As the Pakistani Army rolls out these strike capabilities, it will need new systems to defend them. For instance, anticipating attacks from Indian air assets on Fatah-equipped units, the army might invest in electronic warfare (EW) and electronic countermeasures (ECM) systems to protect and enhance its offensive units.

The army might consider systems, such as the Chinese CHL-906, which provides extensive electronic warfare and counter-measure capabilities. These include electronic attack (EA) functions for jamming and electronic intelligence (ElInt) features to track radar and communication signals. Such tools could greatly benefit the army’s strike units.

First, the electronic attack and counter-measure capabilities could shield Fatah-equipped units by disrupting radar and communication operations of the Indian Air Force (IAF). The Pakistani Army could use electronic intelligence to keep track of Indian radar and communications, record their transmissions and use that data to update a threat library for jamming purposes.

And second, the Pakistani Army might use electronic intelligence as part of a strategy to suppress and destroy enemy air defences (SEAD/DEAD) on land. By identifying enemy radar activities, electronic intelligence could help direct Fatah-equipped units to target these areas effectively.

*Air Defence Strategies:* Besides electronic warfare and countermeasures, the Pakistani Army would also rely on its integrated air defence system to defend against air attacks from the IAF or the Indian Army. Pakistan currently uses long-range and medium-range surface-to-air missiles, like the HQ-9/P and LY-80/LY-80EV. However, it lacks the capabilities of counter-unmanned aerial systems (C-UAS), which is becoming more crucial as India increases its use of loitering munitions.

To effectively counter loitering munitions, the Pakistani Army may invest in directed energy weapons (DEWs) for their C-UAS capabilities. According to reports from QUWA media house, the Pakistani Air Force is adopting high-energy laser (HEL) and high-power microwave (HPM) systems. Following this trend, the Pakistani Army could also adopt similar technologies to better shield its Fatah-equipped strike units.

*Emergence of Integrated Strike Units?* It is likely that the introduction of Fatah-equipped units will lead to the creation of integrated strike units. These units will be based on a range of systems that work together to enhance and defend Fatah capabilities.

While setting up integrated strike units would require a substantial investment, the Pakistani Army likely sees the advantage in terms of reaching high-value targets deep within enemy lines. For instance, its army might consider the ability to take out a long-range air defence unit with a Fatah-centric strike unit as a major benefit that justifies the expense of establishing these units.

Additionally, these integrated strike units could include more than just the Fatah series. The Pakistani Army might also equip them with cruise missiles, like the Babur/Harbah series, designed by the National Defence Complex (NDC) of Pakistan, and loitering munitions, enabling them to carry out strikes in multiple ways.

However, this strategy might also indicate a shift. Pakistan seems to be moving away from combined arms maneuvers. It appears that each branch of the military will have its own long-range strike, anti-air warfare (AAW) and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities.

While this does not rule out the potential for combined arms maneuvers, the Pakistani military is not currently conducting joint exercises, or operations, across different Services branches to support such strategies.

Therefore, although each military branch is gathering resources, they might not be effectively integrating these assets. This approach could mean missing out on significant improvements that could come from coordinated training and organization, as they continue to acquire assets independently.

India’s Prahaar vs Pakistan’s Fatah-II: In response to Pakistan’s Fatah-II missile, India has developed its own Prahaar missile, a tactical ballistic system with a range of 150 kilometres and capable of carrying multiple warheads. Although the Fatah-II reaches up to 400 kilometres, Prahaar’s rapid deployment and precision make it a strong contender on the tactical battlefield. Both missiles aim for accuracy in strikes, but Prahaar’s quick integration with India’s arsenal offers a dependable response to the capabilities of the Fatah-II.

Girish Linganna
Aerospace & Defence Analyst

(The author Girish Linganna of this article is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach out to him at: [email protected])

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