Way back in 2011, then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had reportedly revealed to an American diplomat that his country had produced the smallest nuclear warhead with Plutonium as the core that can be a game changer once fitted in a 155 mm shell.
Later, in March 2016, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had claimed that his country has miniaturised nuclear warheads which can be fitted onto ballistic missiles. It was often alleged that Pakistan has supplied the nuclear know-how to North Korea.
Now that Pakistan is buying 52 SH-15 Howitzers from Chinese Defense Company China North Industries Group Corporation Limited (officially abbreviated as NORINCO), the speculation is high that they could be used to fit the so-called miniaturized nuclear shells for 'shoot and scoot' warfare across the Indian border. Termed as a game-changer against India's 'Cold Start' doctrine, the move has triggered a new debate over the nuclear capability between India and Pakistan.
The Print has a story written by a retired colonel Vinayak Bhat claiming that the SH-15 howitzer is nuclear capable. https://theprint.in/security/pakistans-latest-weapon-from-china-state-of-the-art-nuclear-capable-sh-15-howitzer/156671/
However, debunking the story, MIT Associate Professor Vipin Narang has described the report as a mere clickbait, trying to peddle misinformation. He said, "ThePrintIndia should be ashamed of peddling such dangerous misinformation. There is no evidence whatsoever that this system is at all nuclear-capable."
This headline is complete clickbait and @ThePrintIndia should be ashamed of peddling such dangerous misinformation. There is no evidence whatsoever that this system
is at all nuclear-capable. https://t.co/7qgqAPcgzz —
Vipin Narang (@NarangVipin)
ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">December 2, 2018"
In another quick tweet, he explained it further -- "I should clarify one thing: I have no doubt SPD would love a nuclear artillery shell—it's literally in its DNA—but we are talking about a warhead 1/8th size of Nasr and that's not easy without a test. So I'm very skeptical they have one ... yet."
I should clarify one thing: I have no doubt SPD would love a nuclear artillery shell—it's literally in its DNA—but we are talking about a warhead 1/8th size of Nasr and that's not easy without a test. So I'm very skeptical they have one ... yet. https://t.co/8yzGyxXnp3
— Vipin Narang (@NarangVipin) December 2, 2018
So, what's the truth?
A look at NORINCO's SH15, 155mm wheeled self-propelled howitzer, that was showcased at AirShow China 2018 in Zhuhai, reveals that the AH-2 155 mm/L52 howitzer is capable of firing all standard 155 mm NATO ammunition and also Chinese-made ammunition developed by NORINCO.
Mounted on the rear of the SH-15, it uses a semi-automatic loading system and has a maximum firing range of 20 km with standard ammunition and 53 km with 53 km with a rocket-assisted artillery projectile. If Pakistan is shopping for a howitzer for its miniaturized nuclear artillery shells, then SH-15 would be the perfect match.
But as Vipin Narang questioned, the capability of Pakistan in shrinking the nuclear war heads by 1/8th the size of Nasr, that too without testing -- is something that can be revealed only by an insider or a top military ruler in Pakistan.
Otherwise, Nasr, described as Pakistan's answer to India's "Cold Start" or India's rapid conventional mobilization strategy to move into Pakistan in an event of a nuclear crisis, is on constant upgradation since 2011 as Pakistan's delivery platform for low-yield tactical nuclear weapons with a nuclear payload estimated to be in the sub-kiloton range.
Since SH-15 is meant for Nasr, which is targeted at India, it is worth a second look by experts at Pakistan acquiring SH-15 story.