Pakistan Derives its First “Hatf” Missiles from Foreign Space Rockets

Pakistan’s ability to construct its Hatf missiles grew out of cooperation with NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the American space agency, which helped Pakistan launch sounding rockets in the 1960s. “Pakistan got into the missile business via the sounding rocket business,” says a U.S. official who tracks missile proliferation.

In 1961, Pakistan set up the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) with the announced goal, not yet reached, of launching Pakistani satellites aboard Pakistani rockets. In June 1962, the United States launched the first rocket from Pakistani soil. The launch used a combination of two U.S. rocket motors the Nike and the Cajun. Fired from Sonmiani Beach, 50 kilometers west of Karachi, the rocket reached an altitude of almost 130 kilometers. The U.S. space agency NASA hailed the launch as the beginning of “a program of continuing cooperation in space research of mutual interest.”

The NASA-SUPARCO cooperation agreement called for the training of Pakistani scientists and technicians at NASA space science centers. Before the June 1962 launch, NASA had begun to train Pakistani scientists at Wallops Island and the Goddard Space Flight Centers. NASA also set up fellowships and research associate programs at American universities for “advanced training and experience.”

Europeans also aided Pakistan’s early rocket development. France transferred technology to manufacture sounding rockets and German firms assisted in space research and supplied several tons of ammonium perchlorate, an ingredient of solid rocket fuel. Great Britain also helped with sounding rocket launches.

By the mid-1980s, Pakistan had “established its own rocket production plant where rockets required for high-altitude scientific research are manufactured,” according to then-chairman of SUPARCO, Salim Mehmud. SUPARCO also built rocket test facilities, chemical and propellant laboratories, high-speed tracking radar and a laboratory to work on telemetry.

U.S. officials tell the Risk Report that Pakistan’s first surface-to-surface missile is based on French sounding rocket technology an observation seconded by S. Chandrashekar, an engineer with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), who points to the similarities between the technical specifications of the Hatf missile and France’s Dauphin rocket.

In an address at the National Defence College in Rawalpindi in February 1989, Pakistan’s Army Chief of Staff General Mirza Aslam Beg announced that two indigenously manufactured surface-to-surface missiles had been tested. Beg claimed that the Hatf-1 and Hatf-2 missiles “are extremely accurate systems” that can carry 500-kilogram payloads to ranges of 80 and 300 kilometers respectively. However, U.S. officials doubt these claims. The Hatf-1 is an inaccurate battlefield rocket that can fly 80 kilometers, says one senior official, and “the Hatf-2 is just two Hatf-1s put together” and cannot fly 300 kilometers. “Neither missile is a very high-tech product,” he adds. “The Chinese M-11 would be a much better missile choice for Pakistan.”

The two Hatf missiles were tested again in February 1989 from mobile launching pads on the Mekran coast. Applauding the tests, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto congratulated the nation “for entering into the missile age by the successful firing of ground-to-ground missiles.”

It is unclear whether either of the Hatf-series missiles has been put into serial production or deployed. U.S. officials say they “have not seen a lot of activity on the Hatf-2 lately,” and would not be surprised if production had stopped. Pakistani engineers are now working on the more accurate Hatf-3, Pakistan’s version of the Chinese M-11 missile.

Pakistan would like to build satellite launchers and longer-range missiles, but it is unclear how far it has progressed. In 1981, the head of SUPARCO announced plans to test a launcher by 1986, and the Pakistani press reported in early 1989 that a multi-stage rocket had successfully launched a 150-kilogram payload over 600 kilometers into “deep space.”