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Friday, May 29, 1998 Published at 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK

Missile race hots up

Pakistan tests a Ghauri missile

BBC Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus looks at the dangers of either India or Pakistan pursuing the next steps in a regional nuclear race.

Despite the fact that Pakistan's technological base is less sophisticated than India's, the Islamabad Government may have leap-frogged ahead in the regional arms race.

Largely due to assistance from China, Pakistan may well have a limited number of warheads that are small enough to be fitted onto ballistic missiles.

And Pakistan's most advanced missile system - which was tested only last month and is dubbed the Ghauri (or Hatf-5) - has a potential range of up to 1500 kilometres.

Outside help for Pakistani programme

Western intelligence experts believe that China has furnished Pakistan with around 30 M-11 missiles with a range of some 300km.

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China is also helping Pakistan to build a missile factory, where M-11's and maybe shorter-range M-9 missiles (also known as the Hatf-3) may be built.

The long range Ghauri differs significantly in design from Pakistan's earlier efforts. And there have been some suggestions that it draws upon North Korean technology.

It was the testing of this missile that contributed to the Indian Government's decision to mount their recent nuclear tests.

Pakistan's long range missile programme, which may also draw upon Chinese technology, is thought to be at a more advanced stage than India's comparable systems. This is what makes the suggestions from Pakistan that it is to press ahead with the serial manufacture of warheads and missiles so worrying.

India's missile programme

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India has a much more sophisticated technological base than Pakistan. It has, for example, its own space launcher industry, and so, while there have been reports of some assistance from Russia, India's missile development has been largely a national programme with little help from outside.

A short-range (150km) battlefield missile - the Prithvi - has already been developed. And planned versions of this missile could extend its range up to 350km.

But India is also working on a much longer range system - the Agni - that could reach targets up to 2,500km away. The initial tests of this weapon have had mixed results. But India's recent nuclear tests suggest that it is actively trying to develop a small enough nuclear warhead that could be carried by its missiles.

And once in service, the Agni's range would cover all of Pakistan and it could also reach deep into Chinese territory.

India's own nuclear test series indicated that, like Pakistan,it was seeking to develop a miniaturised warhead to arm its missile force.

Challenges for the developed world

The international community must find a mechanism to draw India, Pakistan and China as well into some sort of security discussion that might increase stability in the region. Short-term goals would be a formal statement on the part of India and Pakistan to renounce future testing and perhaps a halt to the production of fissile materials for bomb-making.

But there are also proliferation concerns as well. The United States in particular will be working to ensure that India and Pakistan do nothing to assist other would-be nuclear weapons states from acquiring the necessary technology..

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