This article will evaluate the Ada-class/MILGEM on its own merits. This will not be a comparative study (between the Ada-class and Zulfiqar-class, for example) – this will be reserved for part-three. Part-one provided an overview of the Pakistan Navy’s requirements.
The Ada-class corvette is a part of the MILGEM, Turkey’s national warship program. The MILGEM program was started around the time Turkey had decided to principally source its defence needs domestically. The first component of the MILGEM program was the Ada-class corvette.
The ship displaces at 2300 tons and is powered by a combined diesel and gas (CODAG) propulsion system. In practice, the ship would use its diesel engines while cruising, and when in need for high-speed movement, switch-on its gas turbine. The Ada-class corvette has a range of 6500km at 15 knots, and an endurance of three weeks with auxiliary support (and ten days without). The ship can operate in sea state 5 and (to a lesser extent) sea state 6 conditions. Sea state refers to the condition of a large body of water, such as an area in the sea. At Sea State 5 and 6, the Ada-class corvette can operate in rough conditions, i.e. with waves reaching up to six metres in height.
The Ada-class corvette uses a steel hull with a composite superstructure (i.e. the parts atop of the hull). From the design phase, focus was kept on reducing the radar cross-section (RCS) as well as infrared (IR), acoustic, magnetic and hydrodynamic signatures of the ship. It also has a flight deck and hangar for one medium utility helicopter (such as the S-70 Black Hawk).
There is nothing inherently wrong with the Ada-class in as far as the physical parameters of the ship (i.e. the hull and propulsion systems) are concerned. If the Pakistan Navy has a need for a capable surface platform, the Ada-class would be among the ships that could meet those needs. However, the Navy is unlikely to acquire the Ada-class as simply an offshore patrol vessel (OPV) for peacetime patrol and policing tasks, it would need a multi-mission platform capable of substantively contributing to wartime defence needs. In other words, the real value – in terms of capability and cost – of this ship would be determined when one factors in the on-board sensors, electronics and weapon systems, particularly its anti-air warfare (AAW) systems.
The Ada-class corvette in service with the Turkish Navy uses a mix of indigenous and imported subsystems and weapons. An excellent layout of the Ada-class’ subsystems and weapons can be viewed here. The MILGEM Batch-II (or MILGEM-G) is a slightly longer version of the Ada (by 10 metres), but has room for 16 vertical launch system (VLS) cells. This is in lieu of the TF-100 light frigate program, which was more ambitious in its scope. The MILGEM-G was likely chosen on the basis of being less complex and costly.
Based on what is shown, a number of the vital sensors are of foreign origin, such as the Thales SMART-S Mk2 air surveillance radar and Thales Sting EO Mk2 fire control radar and electro-optical tracking system, among others. While acquiring the Turkish subsystems, such as the Aselsan ALPER low probability of intercept (LPI) radar, should not be a problem, some measure of third party contact will likely be required in order to source a radar suitable for AAW.
Due to likely vendor sensitivities, be it from Turkey or any of the other Western suppliers involved in the MILGEM (or MILGEM-G), the only outcome possible for Pakistan is to procure a Western radar. Its options could include Leonardo-Finmeccanica, Saab or even Aselsan, provided Aselsan could acquire re-export licenses for the SMART-S Mk2 from Thales Nederland.
The anti-ship warfare (AShW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) weapon systems will have to come from Western vendors as well. The Turkish Navy’s Ada-class corvettes are equipped with Harpoon Block-II anti-ship missiles (AShM) and Mk46 ASW torpedoes. Pakistan already operates both of these munitions on a number of its naval platforms, acquiring them should not necessarily be a problem. In the case that it is, Pakistan could potentially acquire alternatives from MBDA Italy. A less likely option would be Saab and its RBS-15 AShM and Lightweight Torpedo (LWT), but at this stage it is unclear to what extent Saab would be willing to release offensive hardware to Pakistan, especially with its current overtures to India.
In terms of AAW, the Ada-class is currently protected by a point-defence missile system (PDMS) in the form of the Raytheon RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM). The RAM is basically a close-in weapons system (CIWS) meant for protecting a surface warship from incoming AShM and nearby aircraft. There is nothing inherently contentious in exporting the RAM to Pakistan, but if that avenue is closed, already exported CIWS solutions – such as the Phalanx – could be considered.
In addition, such a warship ought to have short to medium-range AAW capability, which is afforded through vertical launch systems (VLS). Commonly used systems include the MBDA Aster-15 and Raytheon Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM). The latter will be used on the Turkish Navy’s MILGEM-Gs. If Pakistan is unable to acquire the ESSM, it could consider MBDA or Denel Dynamics. MBDA UK could be approached for the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM), but it will be an expensive and potentially troublesome from regulatory and long-term support standpoints.
There may be more flexibility in that Pakistan could talk to Denel Dynamics in South Africa, which does have experience integrating its Umkhonto with the Thales SMART-S radar (and should not have problems with Saab if Pakistan were to acquire a Giraffe radar). Ideally, the Umkhonto-EIR – with a range of 25-35km – would be available in time for Pakistan to use on the MILGEM (ideally MILGEM-G) and other ships.
One might have noticed a major underlying point in the article – the MILGEM is not the most cost-flexible system. Fortunately, the climb from the current Ada-class to the VLS-equipped MILGEM-G is relatively marginal, so the added cost of getting a ship better suited for AAW is not significant (cannot necessarily say the same about the ship in general).
This is going to be a significant investment for the Navy, and it could truly impact its acquisition route moving forward. Like any other complex system, there is an investment required in raising the base to operate the corvette; training personnel, sourcing and/or producing parts, domestic maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) capacity, etc. In fact, these vessels will likely be built in Pakistan, hence there is also an industrial input to be accounted for as well.
Thinking back to the article about Pakistan’s potential frigate options, the acquisition of the MILGEM (or MILGEM-G) would likely close any other frigate outcome. Pakistan’s limited fiscal capacity and the costs involved in committing to a comparatively costly platform means that Pakistan will likely (and would be advised to) stick with the MILGEM platform for its mainstay needs.
Part-three will offer a comparative analysis of the MILGEM to other potential options, but to emphasize a key point should Pakistan decide to choose the MILGEM – Pakistan will stick with the MILGEM. While a sufficiently capable design, its value as a multi-mission combatant will depend on the subsystems Pakistan succeeds in sourcing. The better the radars, sensors, combat management systems, and weapon systems, the superior the overall system. For Pakistan, intricately learning about the MILGEM design, and in time, becoming capable of integrating diverse electronics and weapons suites will be vital, so as to draw the full value of the acquisition.