THE IMPENDING deployment of India's Prithvi short-range ballistic missile, along with Pakistan's response, is being viewed as a litmus test of the effectiveness of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

India had been expected to deploy the Prithvi by the middle of this year, but a mix of technical and political issues has delayed this. Diplomatic sources now suggest, however, that deployment "looks imminent".

According to the Indian Government, the missile is intended to provide the Indian army with a "tactical battlefield missile". The stated range of the weapon is 150km (80nm).

Sources indicate, however, that some incarnations of the Prithvi may have a range close to the MTCR's 300km threshold. Pakistan is also concerned that it may be used to deliver tactical nuclear missiles.

The MTCR, which embraces France, Germany, Russia, South Africa, the UK and the USA, is aimed at halting the proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of over 300km as weapons of mass destruction.

One of the key tests for the MTCR will be in tempering Pakistan's response to the deployment, say diplomatic sources.

Pakistan is believed to have received an unspecified number of Chinese M-11 road-mobile short-range ballistic missiles, although these weapons have not been publicly displayed.

MTCR signatories are concerned that if the Prithvi is unveiled by India, then Pakistan will immediately respond by showing the M-11, thereby sparking an escalatory spiral which could involve India and Pakistan seeking more-capable, longer-range, ballistic missiles.

Sources indicate that the USA is trying to exert pressure on Pakistan not to "over react" to any Indian deployment of the Prithvi missile.

Brazil is expected to formally become a member of the MTCR in early 1996. In committing to join, the country had to abandon officially its SS-300/600/1000 ballistic-missile projects.

Source: Flight International