Security of Pakistani nuclear weapons

2017-07-16

in Bombs and rockets, Security

Nevertheless, the exact nature of launch authorization procedures is ambiguous. Several sources refer to a system of two separate codes—one civilian and the other military—amounting to a “dual key” system. However, several authoritative accounts mention a three-man rule. In particular, the code to arm a weapon can only be inserted in the presence of three persons. It is possible that a two-man rule is adopted for movement of warheads and a three-man rule is adopted for employment authorization. According to Pakistani planners, the number of persons involved varies “for technical reasons”—three at some points in the chain of command, two at other points.

Pakistan is not explicit about its arrangements for weapons security, but it has developed physical safety mechanisms and firewalls both in the weapon systems themselves, as well as in the chain of command. No single individual can operate a weapon system, nor can one individual issue the command for nuclear weapons use. The NCA command and control system ensures that weapons can be operationally ready on short notice, yet unauthorized arming and/or use never takes place.

Pakistan does not keep its nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. The nuclear weapons are few in number and probably kept in disassembled form; their components are reportedly stored separately, at dispersed sites. Keeping the weapons in a disassembled form, along with the use of authorization codes, reduces the risk of capture or unauthorized use. Naturally, there is considerable uncertainty about the location of Pakistani nuclear weapons and about procedures for actual use. After September 11, Pakistan ordered a redeployment of the country’s nuclear arsenal to at least six secret new locations, according to one account. Fissile materials are obviously stored in secret locations; probably in initial stages they are near installations such as Kahuta or Khushab, or close to Rawalpindi. Additionally, from a security standpoint sensitive material sites are carefully chosen, in safe areas and within quick reach of designated rapid reaction forces, which are specially trained and operate under command of the security division of SPD. Although Pakistan’s system is not as sophisticated as the U.S. permissive action links (PALs), it is deemed reliable enough to preclude unauthorized arming or launching of its nuclear weapons.

Dummy locations are also reportedly employed to minimize the risks of destruction or capture. SPD Head Lieutenant-General Khalid Kidwai, in a lecture at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in October 2006, clarified that “no delegation of authority concerning nuclear weapons is planned.” The conclusion, therefore, is that centralized control is retained by the NCA at the Joint Services Headquarters. Beyond this clarification, operational control plans cannot be made public by any nuclear state and thus remain a national security secret, as was the case with the United States and other nuclear powers during the Cold War.

Khan, Feroz Hassan. Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb. Stanford University Press; Stanford. 2012. p. 331–2

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