After its maiden test on January 20, 2021, this was the missile’s second launch in less than two years. Pakistan’s DG ISPR claims that the “test flight was aimed at revalidating several designs and technical aspects of the weapon system,” however, the questionable timing of the test raises concerns.

Is India’s northeast the target of the Shaheen-III missile system?

In the early 2000s, the development of Shaheen-III began after India successfully test-fired Agni-III, a missile that could hit any target inside Pakistan.

The Shaheen-III is a medium-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile that can be launched from land. First launched on March 9, 2015, this missile was shown in a military parade the following year.

With a range of 2,750 kilometers, it is Pakistan’s longest-range missile. A two-stage solid propellant system propels the missile.

The road-mobile missile was launched using a Chinese transporter erector launcher. According to Lieutenant General (Ret.) Khalid Kidwai, Shaheen-III was designed to strike India’s northeast and island commands.

In an interview at the 2015 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, the general explained that Shaheen-III was built to reach Indian islands, so India could not use them as “strategic bases” to develop “second-strike capabilities.”

Pakistan’s most potent missile is the Shaheen-III. Hence it must be put through its paces against India’s Agni-V. The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) developed the Agni-V ICBM, capable of delivering nuclear warheads.

The Agni-V is a three-stage spacecraft that uses a truck for transport and a canister for launch. In its last phase, it can travel at Mach 24.

An inertial navigation system directs it with a ring laser gyroscope that can hit a target within 30 meters.

On the other hand, Agni-V was designed primarily to strengthen India’s nuclear deterrence against China. Agni-V can reach China’s eastern seaboard, where most of the country’s economic activity is concentrated, with a range of more than 5,000 kilometers.

The Indian military’s Strategic Forces Command put the missile into service in 2018.

 Shaheen-III vs. Agni-V

The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) developed the Agni-V ICBM, capable of delivering nuclear warheads. It is possible to fire the missile anywhere between 5,500 and 8,000 kilometers.

The Agni-V is a three-stage spacecraft powered by solid fuel that is transported by truck and launched in a canister. At its peak, it can travel at Mach 24. An inertial navigation system directs it with a ring laser gyroscope that can hit a target within 30 meters.

However, Agni-V was created with China in mind to better India’s nuclear deterrence.

Similar to Shaheen-III, Agni-III is powered by a solid propellant system with two stages. Agni-III excels where Shaheen-III falls short in maneuverability and launch flexibility.

Unlike Shaheen-III, which can only travel via road, Agni-III can travel via rail and road. The guidance mechanism of Shaheen-3 is inferior to that of Agni-III.

Agni-III employs GPS satellites and the same Ring Laser Gyroscope inertial navigation technology as Agni-V.

 To better the missile’s capability and develop readiness to handle the weapon at night, the DRDO is also conducting testing at night.

By increasing its range, Shaheen-III is seen as a credible deterrence by Pakistan against India’s superior missile capability.

“Pakistan appears to be aiming at competing with India, and Pakistan’s aspirations seem to focus around producing a credible deterrence,” said Farrukh Salim, a Pakistani political scientist.

The Shaheen-III, according to Pakistan, will prevent India from launching a second attack. But recall that India has a fully functional nuclear triad and that hitting its land-based launching locations won’t deprive it of its second-strike capacity.

With Shaheen-III, Pakistan has made a big step toward putting in place credible deterrents. In terms of missile technology, however, they are still far behind India. Even with help from China, it will take years for them to catch up.