This is a continuation of our analysis of Pakistan’s decision to select the MILGEM platform as part of its naval modernization needs. In part-one, we offered an overview of the Pakistan Navy’s requirements. Part-two examined the MILGEM on its own merits and discussed ideas on how the Pakistan Navy may opt to equip the platform. For part-three, i.e. this article, we will examine the MILGEM in comparison to the Pakistan Navy’s other surface warship options.
In as far as Western naval designs are concerned, it would be safe to suggest that the MILGEM – and the Turkish shipbuilding industry in general – are Pakistan’s only viable options. Even if one were to succeed in getting past political and regulatory hurdles, European frigate and corvette designs are cost prohibitive. For example, the French DCNS Gowind 2500 – which could be considered very close in scope and capability to the MILGEM – cost Egypt about €250 million a unit, which is about $280 million U.S.
The complete cost of a modern surface warship is determined by its suite of sensors, electronics and weapon systems, and a country’s ability to source subsystems indigenously and/or domestically integrate subsystems of different origins helps in managing costs.
The French, by virtue of their comprehensive and largely self-sufficient defence industry, have an incentive to encourage vertical integration across their many product segments. In other words, the French would want the customer to buy as much as possible from French companies. In the case of the Gowind, it would mean buying one’s sensor and electronics suite from Thales and the weapons suite from MBDA. Pakistan, which would rely upon a French loan to finance a deal, will be pushed to select French subsystems at every level. This could potentially result in an expensive package that could cost Pakistan into the long-term.
Alternatively, the German or Dutch route (via the MEKO and Sigma designs, respectively) could be flexible, i.e. the customer could select their desired set of subsystems and weapons. However, if the integration work is done by the foreign shipyard, one may again be hit with high costs (for the integration work). This is not including the potentially high costs of the basic hull itself (if sourced from the West).
In the end, cost prohibits Pakistan from pursuing many Western options. With the MILGEM, it is possible that Turkey is being more flexible, e.g. it is willing to sell a hull that Pakistan could build upon with its own selection of subsystems. In turn, Turkey may be more willing to enable Pakistan (in terms of rights as well as domestic capacity) carry out the work at home. As discussed in part-two, a surface warship purchase is a major investment, and Pakistan would be well advised to make the absolute most of its purchase.
That major investment was also made in another platform, the Zulfiqar-class (F-22P) frigate. Ordered in 2006, the F-22P is a distant evolution of the Type 053H3 design, but with a stronger emphasis on reducing its detectability and observability. While the ships in service with the Pakistan Navy lack anywhere near the necessary anti-air warfare (AAW) capability for the current maritime threat environment, the design itself has the potential to meet the Pakistan Navy’s future needs.
The Algerian C28A – a development of the F-22P – offers a cleaner hull profile. One would have thought that Pakistan could simply take the C28A and have another variant developed, but with vertical launch system (VLS) tubes for a short-to-medium range surface-to-air missile (SAM), such as the Umkhonto-EIR. The design can certainly handle VLS as Thailand managed to integrate an 8-cell Mk41 VLS (for 32 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles or ESSM) onto the older Type 053H2.
Pakistan could have utilized the materials, expertise and maintenance infrastructure it had built for the F-22P and simply scale for additional ships using the same fundamental design and components. It may have been more affordable in the end. To be fair, the inclusion of the MILGEM does not necessarily discount the added possibility of this happening, but it is incredibly unlikely. While the F-22P/C28A is larger than even the MILGEM-G, the two basically solve the same core needs, especially in Pakistan.
The Pakistan Navy’s decision to pursue the MILGEM (ideally MILGEM-G) could be borne from a number of considerations. Note, this is merely speculation on our part. First, it could simply have been an issue of funding. Pakistan depends on loans to initiate big-ticket defence acquisitions, and having recently finalized a $4-5 billion U.S. deal for eight submarines from China, it may have “maxed” its tab with Beijing. Second, the Pakistan Navy may have determined that there are operational cost savings to be had from the Ada-class by virtue of the MILGEM platform requiring fewer personnel to operate it or its combined diesel and gas (CODAG) propulsion configuration.
In part-four, we will try identifying what Pakistan would gain from the MILGEM or MILGEM-G route, and a set of ideas as to what might be an appropriate or ideal configuration for the Pakistan Navy’s ships.