Last week, Italy and Pakistan agreed to strengthen their defence ties. Rana Tanveer Hussain, Pakistan’s Minister of Defence Production, said, “There should exist cooperation in the fields of defence production between the two countries”. Although the two sides affirmed their interest to cooperate, Pakistan and Italy actually signed an accord – the Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP) – in that direction in 2013.
Comment and Analysis
Italy is among Pakistan’s leading Western suppliers. In the 1990s Finmeccanica (now known as Leonardo) provided radars for the Pakistan Air Force (PAF)’s F-7s and Mirages, most notably the Grifo-7 and Grifo-M, the latter being particularly interested in that it imbued the Mirage ROSE I (Retrofit of Strike Element) with the capacity to utilize a beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missile (AAM).
In more recent years, the PAF ordered 10 batteries of MBDA Spada 2000 Plus medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems for approximately $475 million U.S. The purchase was concluded in 2007 and the Spada 2000 Plus system (an improved variant of the Spada 2000) was inducted in the PAF. Alongside RAC-3D radars and 750 Aspide 2000 missiles, the package also included maintenance and testing facilities.
Around this time the PAF also ordered a number of Falco unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), which were co-produced under license at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC).
At present, Italian firearms maker Beretta is among the handful of competitors seeking a new standard-issue rifle deal with the Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) and the Pakistan Army. The ARX-200 – battle rifle chambered for 7.62x51mm – is (or at least was) being evaluated.
Beyond that, there other possible routes for cooperation, but they are merely possibilities. For example, the Pakistan Navy (PN) could consider Alenia Aermacchi – among other competitors – to configure its ATR-72 turboprops for maritime surveillance. The Chief Project Director of the JF-17 Thunder also listed the Leonardo Vixen active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar as a possible option for use on the JF-17 Block-III, which is currently under development. In October 2015, Finmeccanica’s Selex ES branch said it would also try to compete to source the cockpit for the JF-17 Block-III.
We at Quwa also suggested that the PAF consider working with Leonardo to source a complete radar and avionics suite for the JF-17 Block-III. The Raven ES AESA radar, Skyward infrared search and track (IRST), and BriteCloud self-protection decoy (equipped with a radar jammer) were developed for the Saab JAS-39E/F Gripen NG platform, but are available for use for other platforms (though this is unclear in regards to the Raven ES). The PAF does not even need to embrace every sub-system, it could simply acquire the IRST (which could be integrated or optionally podded) or BriteCloud (which just needs to be placed in the chaff and flare dispenser of the fighter).
Besides the JF-17, Pakistan could also try engaging with the Italians in order to access certain munitions from MBDA, such as the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM) or Aster platforms, these may be of interest to the Navy should it ever manage to push new multi-mission frigates into the pipeline.
Once again, it is important to reiterate that this is merely speculation and thinking on our end. The extent to which Pakistan could ever engage with Italy (or another Western firm) will be limited by its capacity to finance pricy acquisitions, and to build foreign relations muscle as a means to thwart others who may seek to undermine its purchases. For the time being, it would be worth keeping an eye on Beretta and perhaps even Leonardo, albeit to a relatively limited extent.