Hello defence lovers! Recently Pakistan has started receiving its first batch of Chinese made SH-15 howitzers. In this article, we are going to analyse why this so-called nuclear-capable howitzer SH 15 can be a prominent threat to India’s national security and even the peace and stability of the entire subcontinent.
SH-15 is the export designation of the Chinese PCL 181 truck-mounted self-propelled howitzer. It is a 155 mm 52 calibre gun that weighs 25 tons and can fire up to 40 kilometres with conventional shells. However, the Pakistani SH 15 are downgraded versions and the range is expected to be less. It can fire 4 to 6 rounds a minute. Pakistan initially intended to procure more than 200 of these guns to replace its obsolete M109 howitzers. With such a marvellous economy that runs on loans and donations, which is burdened with terror sponsorship, it was impossible for Pakistan to procure 200 guns. Thus Pakistan ended up buying only 52 guns. Pakistan’s main aim was to counter India’s K9 Vajra. However, it is doubtful whether the Chinese guns will be able to fulfil that purpose as we know how reliable and good Chinese products are.
The concept of nuclear artillery evolved during the era of the cold war when the Americans thought of fitting a compact nuclear warhead inside a regular artillery shell. The result was a gun called “Atomic Annie”. In a test called Upshot-knothole Grable, the Americans tested Atomic Annie in 1953. The warhead fired was small and compact yet powerful enough to destroy small towns and make large areas inhabitable.
Though the Americans dropped the idea of fitting a nuclear warhead in an artillery shell soon after the test. The use of nuclear artillery could raise the level of mistrust between the two superpowers. Even regular shelling could be mistaken as a nuclear strike and thus it could have resulted in a devastating nuclear annihilation.
The Americans instead developed a small tactical nuclear weapon named Davy Crockett which was basically a recoilless rifle that fired a W54 nuclear warhead. The W54 had a yield of 20 tonnes of TNT. Though it had a maximum range of only 4 kilometres. The Davy Crockett was deployed all across Europe but luckily it was never used.
Nuclear Artillery for Pakistan?
The SH-15 is being marketed as a “Nuclear-Capable” howitzer. Though in reality, it is only a downgraded version of China’s regular truck-mounted howitzer. Its nuclear capability is entirely dependent upon Pakistan’s success in making a miniature nuclear device that is small enough to fit inside a 155 mm shell. The only successful atomic shell was that of Atomic Annie. And this shell had a calibre of 280 mm which is almost four times bigger (volume-wise) than a regular 155 mm shell. Miniaturizing and fitting a nuclear device is going to be extremely challenging and complex and Pakistan’s expertise in nuclear technology is questionable. It built its nuclear programme from stolen nuclear technology. Now research and development are one of the last things on which Pakistan spends money (promoting terrorism always comes first). It is highly unlikely that Pakistan would be able to develop a warhead to make SH-15 nuclear-capable.
Let us assume hypothetically that Pakistan somehow develops a compact warhead for SH15 and deploys it against India along the line of control. In such a scenario, the mistrust between India and Pakistan would increase up to such a level that even regular shelling across the Line of Control can trigger a devastating nuclear war. According to India’s nuclear doctrine, even if Pakistan attacks with small nuclear warheads of very low yield, our retaliation would be massive and Pakistan would disappear from the world map.
Instead of competing with India in an arms race, Pakistan should focus on repaying its loans and plan how to get new loans to save its sinking economy. Pakistan must learn that it is practically impossible to compete with a country whose MIlitary budget is one-third of its entire GDP.