Thursday, August 11, 2005

Pakistan fires first cruise missile as President's present

Times Online - Pakistan has successfully carried out a test firing of its first cruise missile, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

President Pervez Musharraf said that the launch of the Hatf VII Babr, which has a range of 300 miles and is equipped with advanced anti-detection systems, was a "major milestone" in the country’s defence programme.

Its apparent success places Pakistan among a select group of nations with the capability of using the sophisticated low-flying projectiles.

The trial firing, on General Musharraf's 62nd birthday, was carried out with no advance warning to India, despite the rival countries signing a deal at the weekend to notify each other before carrying out nuclear tests.

Muhammad Naeem Khan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, said that the agreement refers only to ballistic missiles and not cruise missiles, which are low-flying guided missiles that use jet propulsion to allow sustained flight.There was no immediate reaction from New Delhi.

Sheikh Rashid, the Information Minister, said: "It is a gift of the scientists on the birthday of President Musharraf and the Independence Day." Pakistan celebrates the 58th anniversary of the end of British colonial rule on Sunday.

The missile could avoid radar detection to penetrate hostile defensive systems "with pinpoint accuracy", the statement added, and could also be launched from ships, submarines and aircraft.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, at least 12 countries export cruise missiles: Britain, the United States, China, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and Taiwan.

India unveiled its first cruise missile, a supersonic joint venture with Russia in 2001. Pakistan and India conducted tit-for-tat test nuclear detonations in 1998 and came to the brink of war in 2002. The historical rivals, who have already fought three wars, routinely carry out tests of nuclear-capable missiles.

On Saturday, they signed the long-awaited deal to set up a nuclear hotline to alert each other in advance of missile tests. The telephone link is to be set up by September.