Pakistan’s Evolving Nuclear Weapons Infrastructure

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Pakistan’s tactical NASR nuclear-capable mobile rocket launcher now appears to be deployed.

By Hans M. Kristensen

In our latest Nuclear Notebook on Pakistani nuclear forces, Robert Norris and I estimate that Pakistan has produced an estimated stockpile of 130-140 nuclear warheads for delivery by short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and fighter-bombers.

Pakistan now identifies with what is described as a full-spectrum nuclear deterrent posture, which is though to include strategic missiles and fighter-bombers for so-called retaliatory strikes in response to nuclear attacks, and short-range missiles for sub-strategic use in response to conventional attacks.

Although there have been many rumors over the years, the location of the nuclear-capable launchers has largely evaded the public eye for much of Pakistan’s 19-year old declared nuclear weapons history. Most public analysis has focused on the nuclear industry (see here for a useful recent study). But over the past several years, commercial satellite pictures have gradually brought into light several facilities that might form part of Pakistan’s evolving nuclear weapons launcher posture.

This includes 10 facilities, including 5 missile garrisons (soon possibly 6) as well 2 (possibly 4) air bases with fighter-bombers.

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Pakistan’s nuclear weapons related infrastructure includes at least 10 major industrial facilities and about 10 bases for nuclear-capable forces. Click map to view full size.

The nuclear warheads that would arm the launchers are thought to be stored at other secure facilities that have not yet been identified. In a crisis, these warheads would first have to be brought to the bases and mated with the launchers before they could be used.

Security at these and other Pakistani defense facilities is a growing concern and many have been upgraded with additional security perimeters during the past 10 years in response to terrorist attacks.

There are still many unknowns and uncertainties about the possible nuclear role of these facilities. All of the launchers are thought to be dual-capable, which means they can deliver both conventional and nuclear warheads. So even if a base has a nuclear role, most of the launchers might be assigned to the conventional mission. Further analysis in the future might disqualify some and identify others. But for now, this profile of potential road-mobile launcher garrisons and air bases are intended as a preliminary guide and accompany the recent FAS Nuclear Notebook on Pakistani nuclear forces

Nuclear-Capable Road-Mobile Missile Launcher Bases

The total number and location of Pakistan’s nuclear-capable missile bases is not known. But analysis of commercial satellite photos has identified features that suggest that at least five bases might serve a role in Pakistan’s emerging nuclear posture. This includes army garrisons at Akro (Petaro), Gujranwala, Khuzdar, Pano Aqil, and Sargodha. A sixth base at Bahawalpur (29.2829, 71.7955) may be under construction. There is also a seventh base near Dera Ghazi Khan (29.9117, 70.4922), but the infrastructure is very different and not yet convincing.

An obvious difficulty in identifying nuclear missile bases is that the infrastructure is not yet publicly known, that commercial satellite photos do not have sufficient resolution to positively identify nuclear-capable launchers with certainty (especially smaller shorter-range types), that all launchers are dual-capable (not all bases with a certain launcher may have a nuclear role; and not all nuclear-capable launchers at a particular base may be assigned nuclear warheads), and that Pakistan (like other nuclear-armed states) most likely is engaged in considerable efforts to conceal and confuse identification of nuclear launchers.

With these caveats, here is a description with images of what we consider to be the five primary nuclear-capable bases and the primary TEL (Transporter Erector Launcher) production facility in Pakistan:

Akro Garrison: This base is located (25.5483, 68.3343) approximately 18 km (11 miles) north of Hyderabad between Akro and Petaro in the southern part of the Sindh Province approximately 145 kms (90 miles) from the Indian border. The garrison covers an area of 6.9 square kms (2.7 square miles) and has been expanded significantly since 2004 (the base was first pointed out to me by Martin Bulla, a German amateur satellite imagery enthusiast). The Akro Garrison includes a unique underground facility located under what appears to be a missile TEL garage complex. The underground facility consists of two star-shaped sections located along a central corridor that connects to two buildings with covered access ramps. The six TEL garages appear to be designed for 12 launchers.

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The Akro Garrison has a TEL area with unique underground facility. Click image to view full size.

It is not possible to identify the suspected launchers in the TEL complex from the available photos. But analysis of a vehicle training area in the northeast corner of the garrison shows what appears to be five-axel TELs for the Babur cruise missile weapon system.

In a hypothetical crisis the launchers presumably would load their complement of missiles at the base and disperse outside to predetermined launch locations in the region. The range of the Babur is uncertain; NASIC reports it as 350 km (217 miles) while the Pakistan government claims a range of more than 500 kms (373 miles), sometimes as much as 700 kms (435 miles). The Akro unit would be able to defend all of the southeastern part of Pakistan, including Karachi.

Gujranwala Garrison: This sprawling base complex covers an area of approximately 30 square kms (11.5 square miles) and is located (32.2410, 74.0730) in the northeastern part of the Punjab Province approximately 60 kms (37 miles) from the Indian border. Since 2010, the base has added what appears to be a TEL launcher area in the western part of the complex. There is also what appears to be a technical area for servicing the launchers. The TEL area became operational in 2014 or 2015. The TEL area appears to be made up of two identical sections (each consisting of launcher garages, a weapons loading hall, and a weapons storage igloo), each similar in design to the TEL area at Pano Aqil. The security perimeter appears to have room for a third TEL section. (This and other facilities have also been spotted by https://twitter.com/rajfortyseven.)

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The Gujranwala Garrison appears to be a base for the NASR tactical nuclear-capable launcher. Click image to view full size.

Several trucks have been seen on the satellite pictures that strongly resemble the NASR short-range missile launcher. It is impossible to identify the launchers with certainty due to the relatively poor quality of the pictures (the launchers could potentially also be multiple rocket launchers), but the resemblance is strong with a drivers cabin, a power and hydraulics unit, and a twin box launcher seen on NASR test launch photos published by the Pakistan military. The range of the NASR is equal to the base’s distance from the Indian border.

Khuzdar Garrison: Of the missile garrisons located so far, the Khuzdar Garrison some 220 kms (136 miles) west of Sukkur in south-east Balochistan Province is the one located (27.7222, 66.6241) the farthest from the Indian border (295 kms or 183 miles). The base is split in two sections: a northern section and a southern section (where the TELs are based).

Possible launchers have not been seen and identified in Khuzdar photos, but the TEL garages are longer than at all the other bases except the Sargodha Garrison. This could potentially be a base for Shaheen-2 medium-range missile launchers.

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The Khuzdar Garrison might deploy Shaheen-2 launchers. Click image to view full size.

The TEL area includes what appears to be an underground facility similar to the one identified at the Akro Garrison. It consists of two buildings on covered access ramps that probably provide TEL access to an underground weapons storage and handling facility.

Khuzdar appears to also have a second underground facility approximately 600 meters (1,800 feet) east of the TEL area. This facility has roughly the same overall dimensions as the suspected underground facility between the access ramps inside the TEL area, but the second facility has no TEL facilities on top of it and does not appear to have clear access points. One potential possibility is that this facility may be intended for a second TEL area in the future.

Pano Aqil Garrison: The Pano Aqil Garrison is split up in several sections that cover a combined area of nearly 20 square kms (7.7 square miles). This includes the main garrison area, a TEL area (27.8328, 69.1575), a munitions depot, an airfield, and a shooting range. The base is located approximately 80 kms (50 miles) from the Indian border in the northern part of the Sindh Province.

The TEL area is located 1.8 kms (1.2 miles) northeast of the main garrison and includes five TEL garages (a sixth is under construction) and a service building. At the north end of the facility are located a weapons storage igloo and a weapons handling hall. The layout of the TEL area is similar to the Gujranwala Garrison (which appears to have twice the capacity). The five TEL garages can potentially hold 25 TELs although some of the spaces are probably used by support vehicles.

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The Pano Aqil Garrison has a remote TEL area. Click to view full size.

Identification of TEL type is difficult due to the relatively poor quality of the satellite pictures, but it could potentially be NASR, Shaheen-1 or Ghaznavi short-range missile launchers.

Sargodha Garrison: The large munitions storage depot at Sargodha has long been rumored to include TEL garages. The facilities date back to the mid-1990s when Pakistan was first reported to have acquired M-11 missiles from China (DF-11 or CSS-7), which was used to produce what is now known as Pakistan’s Ghaznavi and Shaheen-1 short-range ballistic missiles. But the garages (31.9722, 72.6838) at Sargodha are nearly twice the size that would be needed by short-range Ghaznavi and Shaheen-1 launchers and seem better sized for medium-range Ghauri or Shaheen-2 launchers. There appear to be 10 TEL garages plus two garages with different dimensions that might be used for maintenance.

Yet the Sargodha complex has less of the type of infrastructure seen at other potential TEL bases. Much of the infrastructure seen might be used by personnel that maintain the large weapons depot itself. Whatever the large garages are used for, they are currently being upgraded and additional infrastructure is being added.

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The Sargodha Garrison has large garages and underground facilities. Click to view full size.

The Sargodha complex also includes several underground facilities, including a section with two large buildings that could potentially be missile handling halls. Additional tunnels are under construction.

National Development Complex: Several of the TEL types seen or suspected at the different missile garrisons are assembled at the National Development Complex (sometimes called National Defense Complex), or NDC. It consists of a string of facilities scattered across the Kala-Chitta Mountain Range west of Islamabad. But the heart of the complex is the TEL assembly section north of Fateh Jang (33.6292, 72.7106). NDC reportedly emerged in the mid-1990s to produce Gazhnavi and Shaheen-1 short-range ballistic missiles based on technology supplied by China.

Since then NDC has expanded considerably to include facilities west and east of the central TEL assembly area. The central area has expanded considerably since 2003, with the addition of a TEL truck assembly facility as well as three large high-bay TEL assembly halls for mounting missile compartments onto TEL trucks. For the past ten years, these facilities have been busy producing Shaheen-2 medium-range ballistic missile launchers and Babur ground-launched cruise missile launchers.

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The National Development Complex assembles Shaheen and Babur missile launchers. Click image to view full size.

Satellite pictures give an example of the flow of production of different TEL types at NDC and also provide valuable reference points for comparing dimensions of TELs seen at individual missile garrisons. Several pictures from 2016, for example, show both 6-axel Shaheen-2 TELs and 5-axel Babur TELs, and possibly also 4-axel Shaheen-1 TELs, in the process of assembly or maintenance. The 8-axel Shaheen-3 TEL has not yet been seen as this weapon system is still very early in production and not yet operationally deployed.

Air Bases

Pakistan has a large number of air bases but only a small number is thought to be involved in the nuclear mission. This includes bases with Mirage and F-16 fighter-bombers. United States officials have stated that F-16s were sold to Pakistan on the conditions that they could not be uses to deliver nuclear weapons, but other sources have indicated that some of the planes were converted nonetheless. French-produced Mirage aircraft are widely assumed to be equipped to deliver the Ra’ad air-launched cruise missile.

Masroor Air Base: This base is located (24.8855, 66.9280) west of the city of Karachi and has long been suspected of serving a role in Pakistan’s airborne nuclear deterrent. The base is home to the 32nd Fighter Wing with Mirage fighter-bombers and is located only 5 kms (3 miles) from a potential nuclear weapons storage site (24.9429, 66.9083).

Over the past decade, unique facilities have been construction at Masroor Air Base that might potentially form part of Pakistan’s nuclear posture. This includes a large underground facility that is located inside a high-security area. The purpose of the facility has not been confirmed and could potentially also involve command and control. Yet the facility is clearly unique compared with other Air Bases and might potentially serve as an underground nuclear weapons storage and handling facility. (Update: the underground facility is possibly a command center.)

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Masroor Air Base includes unique underground facilities. Click image to view full size.

Another unique facility at Masroor Air Base is a hardened aircraft shelter connected by an underground tunnel to what appears to be a weapons storage facility. The purpose of this facility (first spotted by https://twitter.com/rajfortyseven) is unknown but could potentially be designed to enable concealed nuclear weapons loading of Mirage fighter-bombers.

It should be emphasized that despite the interesting features of some of the facilities at Masroor Air Base, there is no official publicly available information that explicitly identifies them as nuclear.

Mushaf Air Base: One of Pakistan’s oldest suspected nuclear-capable air bases is Mushaf Air Base located (32.0431, 72.6710) near Sargodha in the Punjab Province. The base is the home of the 38th Wing with F-16 squadrons that have long been suspected of forming part of Pakistan’s air-borne nuclear deterrent.

One pair of hardened aircraft shelters at the base are located inside an area with additional security perimeter but there is little visible evidence of nuclear facilities at the base. The munitions storage area shows no unique structures that suggest a nuclear weapons storage role.

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Mushaf Air Base has long been rumored to have a nuclear role. Click image to view full size.

Instead, nuclear bombs for the F-16s at Mushaf Air Base might be stored at the nearby Sargodha weapons storage facility less than 10 kms (6 miles) to the south.

Others Air Bases: There are a couple of other Mirage and F-16 Air Bases that could potentially also serve a role as part of Pakistan’s airborne nuclear strike mission. This includes the Mirage-equipped base at Rafiqui (30.7580, 72.2822), which has been upgrade over the past three years. The F-16 base at Shahbaz (28.2825, 68.4506) has been upgraded considerably to accommodate the new F-16s (Block 52).

These and other bases could potentially serve a dispersal bases for Mirage and F-16 nuclear-capable bombers. But there is little visible physical evidence to suggest they serve a nuclear role. Likewise, Kamra (Minhas) Air Base (33.8697, 72.4004) has often been suspected to have a nuclear role but appears to serve as conversion facility for aircraft.

Conclusions and Implications

Commercial satellite pictures provide new information about Pakistan’s emerging nuclear weapons posture that includes missile garrisons for short-range nuclear-capable missiles, unique underground facilities potentially intended for nuclear weapons storage, and air bases with possible nuclear-related facilities.

The tactical nuclear-capable launchers do not present a strategic threat to India due to their short range, but their introduction into the Pakistani armed forces raises important questions about early dispersal of nuclear warheads and launch authority in a crisis as well as potential earlier use of nuclear weapons in a conflict with India.

We estimate that Pakistan currently has a stockpile of 130-140 nuclear warheads and is building more. But we also take note of statements by some Pakistan officials that the country might not intend to continue to increase it arsenal indefinitely but may soon reach the goal for the size of its full-spectrum deterrent. Whether and when that will happen remains to be seen. For now the Pakistani arsenal is in a dynamic phase.

Additional Information:

This publication was made possible by a grant from the New Land Foundation and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

19 thoughts on “Pakistan’s Evolving Nuclear Weapons Infrastructure

  1. On Google Maps, the Khuzdar nuclear base is called Jinnah Cantonment and seems to be an exclusive area, with family housing, that is kept separate from the standard Khuzdar Cantonment.

  2. i think Pakistan is preparing for the threat of a possible world war 3 and is trying to show its strength in military power by deploying nuclear capable missile launchers around it borders and farther inland. they might have gotten this from Iran or some other country. considering the costs of nuclear weapons and nuclear capable fighters and bombers Pakistan would have to devote millions of dollars into new underground bases or storage facilities for nuclear weapons.

  3. Hans
    The Masroor facility identified as UG maintenance facility is actually a modern ADCC Air Defence Command Center.
    Such UG command and control centers exist at more than 12 airbases, two Naval stations and one army location in Pakistan.
    They all are assessed to be fully protected against CBRN attacks including earth penetrating attacks.
    The army location has even a large multi-storied building constructed above the facility.
    There are more UG nuclear storage facilities identified which will be on my twitter handle soon.

  4. Wrt the Airbases, how don’t you think most strike aircraft would be dual rolled, with both a conventional and nuclear mission, to be used as needed.

    Or do you think they have separated the aircraft and squadrons with a nuclear role?

    1. No one in the public knows the details of Pakistan’s use of its fighter-bombers in the nuclear mission so we have to rely on officials reports, news stories, leaks, and rumors over the years about a) that Pakistan has an air-delivered nuclear capability, and b) that it appears to involve the F-16 and Mirage. Not all of those stories/rumors are credible so there’s a great of analysis and vetting involved. The reason I don’t think most Pakistani aircraft are nuclear-capable is that it’s impractical and unnecessary. Nuclear-armed countries generally don’t make most of their strike aircraft nuclear because of the extra cost, the time-consuming process of training and certifying for nuclear missions, and because strike aircraft generally are needed much more for non-nuclear missions. Having a nuclear capability isn’t just that one could, in principle, attach a nuclear weapons to a particular type of aircraft. It has to be a real mission with capability, equipment, training, support and plans. So we assume that only a limited number of aircraft in selected squadrons are assigned a nuclear mission, and probably as a secondary mission to the conventional mission.

      1. Thanks. Illuminating. First class work as always. Just one follow up, from what you are saying, the JF17 Thunder aircraft now being inducted have **not** been given or appear to have been given a nuclear role?

  5. And further to the above, how are you sure that you have not looked at a large conventional base and said “ok, nuke”. The presence of TEL’s is one thing, but short range BM’s like the Nasr, do have a conventional role (unlike IRBM’s like the Shaheen). Many of what you identify are large army bases,

    Gujaranwala is home to XXX Corps (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XXX_Corps_(Pakistan)

    Bahawalpur also has a Corps assigned (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XXXI_Corps_(Pakistan)

    Per wiki at least 2 divisions are based in Pano Aqil (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structure_of_the_Pakistan_Army)

    1. The missile bases are not single-mission bases but have several military functions. Most of a base’s functions might be conventional but it also has what appears to be a nuclear-capable launcher unit. So we don’t just look at a base and say “aha, nuclear,” but look at fingerprints of launchers that appear to be nuclear-capable. If those launchers are dual-capable, some of them might have a conventional role and only a small number assigned a potential nuclear mission. So just to recap: just because a base might have some nuclear-capable fingerprints does not mean it is nuclear-only or even primarily nuclear but that it might have some nuclear function. So we use terms such as “nuclear-capable” and “possible” because of the obvious uncertainties involved these kinds of assessments. This is still an ongoing public discussion and, as we say in the article, some of these facilities might be disqualified in the future and still others will be found and identified.

  6. The above account raises one very important question about the threat perception. We cannot ignore this fact that Pakistan aims to have full spectrum doctrine in order to secure itself in a more substantial manner against hostile and aggressive nuclear neighbor India. Such kind of analysis should be given in a comparative manner because it’s all about threat perception. These kinds of reports appears to be an intentional propaganda against Pakistan as there is no such thing for India who actually introduced nuclear weapons in South Asian region.

    1. It’s often difficult to have a pubic discussion about India and Pakistan because many commentators are very biased or nationalistic in support of or opposition to either India or Pakistan. So what we’re trying to do is to present our analysis of both countries (and the other seven nuclear-armed countries) and make people make up their own mind about “who started it” and who is aggressive or defensive. In my assessment, although there are important differences in Indian and Pakistani nuclear (and general military) postures, they are both busy building more and better nuclear weapons, and officials from both countries are occasionally making statements that make the situation more tense. Both India and Pakistan can and should do a lot to ease tensions, lessen mistrust, and reduce military posturing.

  7. Dear Mr. Kristensen,

    Please find below some helpful coordinates for comparable Indian infrastructure:

    1. Indian AirForce Strategic Forces Command
    Halwara AFB: 30 44 34.59N, 75 37 46.36E
    Bikaner AFB: 28 05 02.87N,73 12 43.32E
    Suratgarh AFB: 29 22 32.13N, 73 53 28.02E

    There are similar shelters in almost each of the western air force bases of IAF.

    2. Indian Army Strategic Forces Command
    Jodhpur Tunnels Complex: 26 25 53.36N, 73 06 28.67E

    3. Indian Navy Strategic Forces Command
    Karwar Storage: 14 43 21.16N 74 19 33.09E
    Rambilli Storage: 17 26 27.71N 82 53 23.56E
    Visakhapatnam Storage: 17 33 46.76N 83 06 12.45E

    4. Manufacturing & Storage
    Chandigarh Facility: 30 39 36.45N 76 54 17.83E
    Ozar Facility: 20 04 34.09 N 73 51 31.44E

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