Early Warning in South Asia--Constraints and Implications

Zia Mian, R. Rajaraman, M. V. Ramana, "Early Warning in South Asia--Constraints and Implications," Science & Global Security, 11, no. 2-3, (2003): 109-150.
Geography makes ballistic missile flight times between India and Pakistan very short. This has serious consequences for the feasibility and utility of possible early warning systems that could be set up in India or Pakistan to detect incoming missiles from the other side. In this article, we show how one can estimate the time taken for a missile flight from expected launch sites to targets, both analytically and numerically. We find the flight time can be as little as 300 seconds. Then we examine the two standard technologies for detecting incoming missiles--radars and geostationary satellites with infrared detectors--keeping in mind the state of the art likely to obtain in the two countries. Our calculations indicate that the warning times provided by the two methods are roughly equal to one another and, given our estimates of missile transit time, are at best enough for confirming the signals as genuine. There would be no time at all for consultations or deliberation by decision makers. Any response would have to be predetermined and automatic. If such an automatic response involves a launch on warning posture, as is the case with the U.S. and Russia, there is a significant likelihood of accidental nuclear war from false alarms.

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