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Discussion: Could the Istanbul-class frigate interest Pakistan?
May 1, 2017
Mock-up of the Istanbul-class multi-mission frigate. Top right: Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik at the steel-cutting ceremony of the Instanbul-class frigate.

Discussion: Could the Istanbul-class frigate interest Pakistan?

Foreword: This is not a news story, but a piece for discussion. The details offered in this article are not authoritative pieces of information, but rather, perspectives of the author.

Last week, Turkey began the construction of its first Istanbul-class frigate. The next step of Turkey’s naval warship program – MILGEM – the Istanbul-class frigate is essentially an enlarged Ada-class corvette. With a longer hull (113.20 vs. 99.56 metres) and heavier displacement (3,000 vs. 2,300 tons), the Istanbul-class frigate is positioned as a fully-capable multi-mission design.

Granted, the Istanbul-class is not as large as some of its current and emerging contemporaries, but by re-using the Ada-class design, Turkey is thinning the development overhead of the MILGEM program, especially the local supply channel already built for it (amounting to 65% of the program contribution). In other words, unlike a clean-sheet frigate design, the Istanbul-class is much more affordable. Affordability makes the Istanbul-class frigate a plausible option for Pakistan.

Pakistan is negotiating with Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik A.Ş. (STM) for four MILGEM warships, and STM aims to conclude the contract in 2017. Thus far, it appears that Pakistan is seeking the corvette form – i.e. the Ada-class – of the MILGEM. The main purpose of the corvettes would be to assume the mainstay of peacetime patrol and maritime security tasks from the Type 21 frigates. However, this selection does not necessarily preclude the Pakistan Navy from opting for the Istanbul-class frigate, at least in the future.

There have been numerous reports of the Pakistan Navy seeking four additional frigates. Unfortunately, the specific mission objectives of these frigates were not disclosed, though the notion of introducing a credible AAW element is a fair assumption. In this respect, an improved iteration of the F-22P is a strong candidate, followed perhaps by a new multi-mission frigate design showcased by the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) during the 2016 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS), which took place in Karachi, Pakistan in November 2016.

If the Pakistani frigate program is still alive, then CSIC should be considered the leading candidate. It is no secret that China possesses a robust naval development industry, one encompassing everything from advanced ship design to sensors, onboard electronics, and munitions. China could also offer a credit or financing program (as it had for the Hangor-class submarine program). However, given that Pakistan is negotiating with STM today for the MILGEM, the Istabul-class frigate could be a viable competitor.

Within the framework of building the surface fleet, the notion of simply skipping the Ada-class corvette in favour of the Istanbul-class frigate is valid. The cost difference between the Ada-class frigate and Istanbul-class frigate should be proportional to the latter’s improvements, and the cost of buying four Istanbul-class frigates will be less than four Ada-class corvettes and four Chinese AAW-capable frigates (alternatively: The Navy could simply opt for four CSIC frigates). The remainder of the Pakistan Navy’s peacetime maritime security needs can be fulfilled by smaller low-cost corvettes, such as an up-gunned version of the 1,500-ton CSIC maritime patrol vessel meant for the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency, among others. In the absence of credible AAW, the Ada-class corvette might simply be too large and too expensive for its expected role in the Pakistan Navy. Granted, this does not account for the possibility that Pakistan could be getting a bespoke Ada design including VLS.

That said, assuming the Ada-class corvettes are procured in the end, the apparent commonality between the Ada-class and Istanbul-class could factor into the Pakistan Navy’s frigate decision. Assuming the two share a substantial proportion of internal subsystems, the long-term savings in logistics and maintenance costs could position the Istanbul-class frigate as a viable purchase. Considering that up to three of the new corvettes are to be built at Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW), it would be easier to re-utilize the production infrastructure for a relatively close MILGEM variant (likewise, the same argument can be made for an improved F-22P variant, such as the C28A).

Costs will also be shaped by Pakistan’s selection of subsystems and weapons. Considering the depth of Turkish-Pakistani defence transactions thus far, one can expect a Pakistani MILGEM (corvette or frigate) to utilize available solutions from Aselsan, Havelsan, and Roketsan. Aselsan can offer its Variable Depth Sonar (VDS), HIZIR torpedo-countermeasure system, ZOKA torpedo countermeasure decoy, Integrated Naval Communication System, etc. Havelsan could provide its GENESIS combat management system.

The main question would be the main radar, VLS, and medium-range SAM. The added cost of an off-the-shelf solution could push the cost-threshold beyond what is readily sustainable for Pakistan. However, it is worth listing the plausible options (though costly): the Leonardo KRONOS Naval and MBDA Aster-15 or Common Anti-air Modular Missile (CAMM); the Saab Sea Giraffe AMB and Denel Dynamics Umkhonto combination; the Thales SMART-S Mk2 and MBDA Aster-15 or CAMM.

Although the prospect of Pakistan procuring the Istanbul-class frigate is unlikely, the Istanbul-class should be considered the most viable Western frigate option available to Pakistan. In any case, the Istanbul-class frigate is a positive step for the Turkish shipbuilding industry, providing it with a competitive and capable product for domestic needs and the overseas market. This bodes well for this emergent naval supplier.

  • Donny G

    Pakistan should build its own frigates instead, and maybe use Turkish or Chinese subsystems.

  • Alex Retiman

    What is wrong with Chinese 054 multi role frigates? And additional F-22s?

    • Seahawk

      Nevaide Turkey can supply navy ındustries technology and all combat managenent system software to Pakistan as an alied and muslim country

  • galdiator

    usa will never allow turkey to export mark41 vls ,essm and radars or ciws to pakistan navy.

    • Steve

      Well we will never know unless we ask! They sold us AMRAAM and Hellfire. Important to ask for some TOT with some built locally, help with building marine radars, sensors and modular construction. Need to learn sometime..

      • Superior Shakeel

        The AMRAAM was pre Osama bro back then we were chums with the US as Musharraf would have us believe also we haven’t gotten the Hellfire’s yet so can’t say for sure we will get them.

        Also our AMRAAM are approaching their shelf life I wonder whether they will refurbish and recertify them at all if so then I can bet they will charge us full cost this time around.

        As for new Hellfire’s it could turn out like the recent F-16 fiasco a last minute committee can cockblock it citing some national security or monetary reason don’t forget that Everytime there is some anti Pakistan bill in US Congress it’s sponsored by some Republican senator like Ted poe, Newt Gingrich (he is a long time Indian puppet and is being seen as a possible candidate for secretary of state or defense committee),Dana rorbacher you name it so I really don’t have any good hope from this administration.

        Even the so called Muslim Obama was a disaster for Pakistan and never visited here once in 8 years Trump would not be better if not worse for us he is already pretty anti china and anti Muslim and we are one of the greatest allies of china this could all go south politcal climate in US is really toxic and hateful against Pakistan.

        • Steve

          We cancelled F16 when we had earthquake years ago. Again we could not pay for them last year when Congress said no freebies. I’m not disputing the fact that we have had differences with America, but it’s not all their fault. We cannot or will not deliver an Afghan peace deal, and people America dislikes are found living in our country. American equipment is ready and better than China’s, and F16 is our frontline fighter. As a smaller country vs India added quality is important especially as we can afford less in numbers. Religion plays no part in international relations anymore, so Pakistanis should not even think about it. It muddles our thinking and makes us look stupid. Congress has interfered with our plans sometimes in the past but it’s a result of Indians gradually getting more clout with its population in USA and geopolitics with China. We should also try to maintain relations at all levels especially lobbying congress and having really smart patriotic people in our Western embassies appointed on merit rather than family or political connections. with USA. USA is indispensable for us for a number of reasons we all know about. The Pakistan government and army obviously agree and know more than us armchair strategists, hence the overture by our ambassador.

    • Turkey doesn’t have to export those, one can select different subsystems for the ship.

    • Superior Shakeel

      It’s good that they won’t allow it that would mean we would have to buy from China and that’s exactly we should do people still think begging the US for trinkets is somehow respectful and will work out.

      US was never a friend and never will be we got some stuff for letting them use our soil for their nefarious purposes but the cost of doing so has taken toll on our nation in the longer run and our society our country has changed forever because of that and it can’t be undone so please for the sake of God don’t go asking them for weapons and aid.

  • Steve

    Can we please have clarity and could someone explain. Where is the logic in getting 4 small, lightly armed frigates for ‘peacetime patrol and maritime security’, while also talking about a FURTHER 4 for actual war fighting like proper AAW guided missile frigates? We are short of money and can’t waste it on baby ships that have minimal weapons. For that we already have F-22P. We need 4 heavily armed proper frigates like Istanbul class or CSIC Type-057 with 32 VLS at least. That is if we are serious about building a surface fleet. If a Brahmos attack happens on any assets near Karachi, Qasim or Gwader we need more to fight with than CIWS, FM-90/LY-90, and prayers. Maritime patrol and peacetime etc can be handled by uparming the 1500 ton MPV’s we have already bought from CSIC. Let’s spend money wisely and get maximum bang for the buck. I hope the government and the forces will not allow any commission at all!

  • terminator

    Pakistan should and must ask russia if they can provide streguschy class corvettes or they should ask turkey for istanbul class frigate /milgem corvette modified to accommodate Chinese vls offered in zuhai airshow 2016 instead of mark 41 vls or any arrangement to replace the us system with the chinese ones or better to go with new chinese frigate.
    Usa has a clear intention that Pakistan navy should be weaker and remain as a small maritime patrolling force because a stronger pakistan navy will put pressure on indian navy which usa is offering all sorts of deadly weapons to act as a pawn in case if a war happens in south china sea.
    Considering not a single pakistan naval vessels have a medium or long range air defence system , pakistan navy has been reduced to a maritime patrol force with outdated ex british type 21 frigates as it’s mainstay frigate.If a war with india happens indian mig 29 k can easily take out all Pakistani navy , leave aside their submarines or frigates.
    Pakistani Planners need to think about their navy specially it’s airdefence and faster antiship missiles platform which can accomodate cm 302/cx 01 missile .
    They should follow russian example of deterrence against usa/nato navy, like smaller multirole buyan corvette which can fire long range cruise missiles or israeli saar class corvettes which can even fire barak 8 lrsam.
    But the most critical component of deterrence pakistan vis a vis india ,can learn from ussr/russia vis a vis usa is underwater warfare ,for example smaller but deadlier swarm of piranha attack midget submarine. Pakistan should produce more and more midget submarines on piranha series which russia wants to produce in more variants some will carry 8vls for antiship /cruise missile , some will carry torpedoes only while some will be equipped with Aip system. If pakistan cant get it from russia then join hand with china to get piranhas answer.

    • Steve

      I agree with your post, and also partially agree about Streguschy/Buyan as Buyan is armed with serious LACM (Kalibr/Onyx), but has only 8 VLS. Streguschy has 12. However they won’t face Brahmos..we will, so need AAW with big VLS arrays. I don’t know why everyone advocates smaller and smaller platforms like tiny corvettes and midget subs. Soon we will have to view Pakistan navy with a microscope lol. Problem with midget subs, no weapons (only 2 torpedos in Piranha), no endurance (2 days in Piranha), no speed, no ocean going capacity. Who are we going to fight with it? No enemy ship is going to come to the littorals and wait for your little midget swarm to attack them. OTOH there’s no shame in saying we are not a seafaring nation, and we are too small and weak to afford ships, so let our navy become a maritime patrol force only. That does not sit well with our entire reason for existence as a nation. We talk about nuclear triad. Talk is cheap, time to put money down, otherwise be prepared to surrender when the enemy blockades us and interdicts our oil and goods coming via the sea. S-20 subs can’t do everything and save us. Also bye bye CPEC. Apologise for being emotive but that is reality.

      • Terminator

        Well first of all the whole idea about Russia’s detterance vis a vis USA was that Russia couldn’t match USA huge defence budget , Russia learnt it’ learn from the demise of ussr which had huge defence budget but suffered economic catastrophe and distingeration.Russian navy focussed on smaller platform which can be build in more nos , which can have deadly firepower and above all make their presence felt to the NATO/ USA navy , the fine example would be buyan class corvette which fired 1500 km cruise missile from Caspian sea.A cheaper corvette whose firepower is more than any western corvette or to an extent even greater than German navy 500 mn dollar destroyer. This is called innovative idea. As far as brahmos is concerned no Sam is 100 % effective in shooting down antiship missile , but areal threat can be reduced by opting for corvette / frigate with medium range Sam and effective ciws ,It is more moral boosting for navy.But submarines in large quantities can make any navy panic,like the ussr used the idea of piranha class submarines of various versions, now today Russia is seriously considering this proposal after sanctions.piranhas will be equipped with aip, it can go in the ocean, it will also have vls to launch cruise missiles. Plus it can be built in good nos , the total tonnage capacity will be 500 ,600 to 900 tonne depending on the versions. Maybe Russia won’t sell to Pakistan under Indian pressure but we can use their naval warfare concept with China in building more different,deadly and cheaper submarines.

  • True, but we have the habit of naming the ships after the first of class.

  • bill

    People in case of frigate discussion are forgetting that PN 5 frigates of F21 calss have passed their lifespan and no extension or modernization program is yet known. Meanwhile PN OHP has no SAM defense. Meanwhile F22P only have eight FM90N with limited range up to 15KM.

    Result is clear we are not going for additional ships rather trying to maintain existing fleet strength by replacing F21s with new ships in next 5-10 Years which to me is seriously long period of time with lot of risks. We should immediately induct fairly capable readily availble frigates most probably Chinese one to cover the gap and to provide some sort of capable AD.

    We should also go for up gradation of F22P with some capable SAM/VLS of either Chinese or foreign origin to make them fully capable for multi mission tasks.

    PN should seriously consider new version of HQ16 with 70+KM range for any future naval SAM role as it is especially designed to counter Indian supersonic missiles.

  • Türker Demircan

    Simply thinking…If Pakistan has interest for Ada-Class corvettes, better to consider I-class frigate because in any case it presents an improved product…This is not about the class, size, tonnage or weapons etc

  • Faisal Ur Rahman

    Pakistan can go for a customized derivative of Ada-Class or I-Class like they did with F22p program. TOT should also be a major decision making point as well as the supply of the subsystems especially keeping possible future sanctions in mind.

  • DB100-SM2

    The I-class frigates will eventually use a derivative of the ASELSAN CAFRAD radar planned for Turkey’s Tf-2000 AAW frigates. Once the naval variants of the HISAR-A and HISAR-B are developed they will also be used by the later models of the I-class. We already know that Turkey intends to utilise the ATMACA ASM’s and also Gezgin Land Attack Cruise missiles. Thus, the I-class is an evolving platform which will eventually utilise advance Turkish made systems and weapons platforms. Additionally the I-classes 3,000 Ton displacement should not mislead us. The I-class by far offers more than the current Oliver Hazard Perry Class Guided Missile frigates.

  • Syed

    With the launch of of Ababeel the equation has changed now u don’t need a lot of defensive equipment

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