Wednesday 8 September 2021

Guided Deterrence: Pakistan’s Fatah MRLs

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Pakistan conducted a successful test of a newly-developed guided multiple rocket launcher (MRL) designated the Fatah-1 on the 24th of August 2021. [1] The test, which can be viewed here, follows an earlier successful test flight conducted in January 2021. Having proved its functioning and accuracy under realistic conditions, the latest firing might have been the final test before the system enters mass production and joins the ranks of the Pakistani Army.

The Fatah-1 is the first weapon of its kind in Pakistani service, and will greatly improve upon Pakistan's precision-strike capabilities. This was also reaffirmed by the Pakistani military, which stated that: ''The weapon system will give Pakistan Army the capability of precision target engagement deep in enemy territory''. [2] The Fatah-1 likely uses inertial terminal and GPS guidance with an estimated CEP of some 30 to 50 metres at a range of 140 kilometers.

Considering the close military ties enjoyed between Pakistan and China, one could be forgiven for thinking that the design of the Fatah-1 originated in China. Nonetheless, the rocket canisters and the claimed range of 140km do not correspond with any known Chinese system currently on offer or under development, and it is entirely possible that the Fatah-1 is a progressive development of the A-100 unguided rocket initiated by Pakistani engineers (possibly with Chinese help).
Having developed and introduced a large number of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles that can deliver either a conventional or a nuclear payload, the development of the Fatah-1 is a next logical step in strengthening the conventional capabilities of the Pakistani Army. While operating an abundance of unguided MRL systems that can be used to saturate enemy troop locations and bases, the targeting of smaller targets like command posts and fortified positions requires an entirely different approach.
Although the 140km range of the Fatah-1 is well below that of contemporary systems in service worldwide (which often feature ranges of at least 200km), it is still far greater than the range of India's guided rocket systems. The Indian Army currently operates the Pinaka MRL that is capable of using guided rockets with a range of up to 75km. A variant that is capable of attaining ranges of up to 95+km is also said to be under development, but still falls short of the range of the Fatah-1. [3]
Once in active service, the Fatah-1 will do much to increase the operational flexibility of the Pakistani Army. Operating a sizeable number of large-calibre multiple rocket launchers and short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), the Fatah-1 positions itself between the capabilities of both weapon systems. The Pakistani Army was previously wholly reliant on cruise missiles or large volleys of unguided rockets or even ballistic missiles to small hit targets at long distances, which is as ineffective as it is uneconomical.

A Pakistani A-100 MRL. The Fatah-1 incorporates a guidance suite, allowing it to be vastly more accurate than its unguided brethen.

Tactical weapon systems like the Hatf–II Abdali feature a larger warhead but decreased accuracy compared to the Fatah-1. The presence of both systems in the ranks of the Pakistani Army hugely increases its operational flexibility.

A possible future development could be the introduction of a laser-guidance kit to transform the Fatah rockets into precision-guided munitions that can hit targets marked by Pakistani U(C)AVs. This capability already exists in Turkey and Azerbaijan through the TRLG-230 MRL, and significantly increases the capabilities of both the UAV and the MRL. It is precisely this type of synergy between reconnaissance and precision-guided munitions that proved a gamechanger during the Nagorno-Karabakh War, allowing Azerbaijan to strike Armenian targets without ever knowing what hit them.

The introduction of the Fatah-1 means that a portion of Pakistan's conventional rocket forces will soon outrange all Indian MRLs with great accuracy. Although this already significantly upsets the conventional balance in the region in Pakistan's favour, Pakistan could further solidify its position through the continued development of the Fatah series to increase its range. There is some indication that the development of such a system is already well underway, likely featuring a range of at least 200km.