The Pakistan Army has had a particularly eventful 2016. From selecting a new Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) to initiating several armament procurement programs, the past year has set a foundation for development in 2017 and beyond. Some of these programs, such as armour modernization, were largely postponed due to Pakistan’s strenuous economic situation between 2009 and 2015.
This period also coincided with many full-scale counterinsurgency (COIN) campaigns in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), adding to the fiscal strain (e.g. Zarb-e-Azb’s direct operations and civil re-integration efforts cost the public exchequer USD $1.9 billion in 2014-2015).
With the economy seeing activity, in no small part thanks to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative, and security operations shifting to low-intensity – but perpetual – engagements, it appears that Pakistan is now able to channel a higher level of investment to conventional defence programs, such as modernizing the heavy armour force.
Simultaneously, current security issues – such as COIN – will require continued investment in areas such as infantry and mobility, and as such, broader modernization efforts could be leveraged to bolster work in these areas with both short and long-term interests in mind.
For much of this decade, the Pakistan Army has not undertaken as many heavy armoured procurements – i.e. main battle tanks (MBT) – as it had likely planned prior to 2010. Consequently, the production of the al-Khalid MBT was, at best, incredibly slow in the past several years.
To illustrate the drop-off, the Pakistani Senate’s Committee on Defence Production was informed in 2015 that Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) had manufactured a total of 310 al-Khalid MBTs. For 2014-2015, the Pakistan Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) stated that HIT manufactured a total of two al-Khalid MBTs.
This is not to say that HIT was not doing any work in those difficult years. By 2015, HIT had remanufactured roughly a third (486 to be precise) of the Army’s massive T-59 tank force into the al-Zarrar configuration. With a new 700 hp diesel engine, 125 mm main gun, and turret, this was an affordable way to modernize the Army’s supporting armour element, especially for roles such as supporting infantry and flanking.
In 2015, the Pakistan Army began renewing its focus on its heavier MBT wing, most notably by raising the call for a new MBT to supplement the al-Khalid – i.e. the Haider MBT. Several options were examined for the Haider MBT program, including the Chinese VT4 and Ukrainian Oplot-M. Though a selection was not made at that time, in 2016, HIT and Ukroboronprom (an association representing Ukraine’s defence firms) signed a USD $600 million memorandum-of-understanding (MoU) for 200 diesel engines (destined for the al-Khalid) as well as technical support for other Pakistani armour programs.
In tandem with the MoU, Pakistan and the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence (MoD) also expressed interest in jointly manufacturing new tanks, pointing to possible Pakistani interest in the Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau (KMDB) Oplot-M. If interest in the Oplot-M is genuine, then it would be in relation to the Haider MBT. Pursuing the Oplot-M would mean a high level of commonality, especially in terms of engine, transmission, and possibly even armour technology, between the Haider and al-Khalid families.
During the 2016 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS), Pakistani officials also confirmed that the al-Khalid 2, the al-Khalid’s first major iterative update, is under development. While it appears that Ukraine should have little trouble participating in that program, Turkey is also interested in engaging, particularly Aselsan, which is offering an onboard electronics suite (e.g. fire control system) for the al-Khalid 2. The fact that a foreign company is familiar with the al-Khalid 2 enough to offer a solution could indicate that the program is in a serious stage of development.
Granted, these activities are mostly foundational; it will be years – notwithstanding recurring hiccups – before these initiatives materialize into fully-equipped tank regiments in the Pakistan Army. That said, HIT will likely be tasked to manufacture up to 200 new al-Khalid MBTs, which will be a welcome addition to the forward MBT force.
With internal security – and COIN in particular – in mind, the Pakistan Army has been working to secure new light armoured vehicles. In FATA, the call for mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles has been recurrent, with vehicles being bought from Navistar in the U.S. and BMC in Turkey to fulfill this role. Thus far, it appears that MRAPs are being imported, with limited production occurring in Pakistan. Streit Group does engage in a measure of local work share activities for its various light armoured utility vehicles, but Pakistan has yet to manufacture a full-fledged MRAP vehicle of any kind, original or licensed design.
The domestic industry is also being asked to produce viable solutions. For example, Blitzkrieg Defense is developing the Hamza ‘Multi-role Combat Vehicle’ (MCV), an 8×8 wheeled armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) which appears to take aim at multiple Army needs with a single solution. In 2014, the Army had sought an 8×8 armoured personnel carrier (APC), and the Chinese VN1 was slotted as the leading contender for the purchase, which was to involve local production. However, this did not transpire, but Blitzkrieg seems to interested in addressing this need via the Hamza MCV. With STANAG 4569 Level 4B protection against blasts and mine explosions, Blitzkrieg is also working to position the Hamza MCV as an MRAP-like solution.
The Hamza MCV is in its early stages, though domestic work, especially in the private sector, is something the Pakistan Army will value (as that would channel expenditure into the economy). That said, this lead time could open the floor for others, such as South Africa’s Paramount Group and Denel Group, to enter the space. Unlike heavy armour, which may not come to full fruition due to competing priorities and bad economic spells, MRAP and light armoured vehicles will see procurement for as long as the Army remains committed in COIN in FATA. At the lighter end of the spectrum, ostensibly with replacing Toyota Hiluxes in mind, the Spanish company UROVESA – in partnership with the Pakistani firm Metal Engineering Works – is offering its VAMTAC ‘High Mobility Tactical Vehicle.’
To strengthen its artillery inventory, especially in the mobility segment, the Pakistan Army is examining the Denel Land Systems T5-52 and Yugoimport-SDPR NORA B-52. With Pakistan’s increasingly common road network, wheeled self-propelled howitzers (SPH) can be useful to rapidly deploy 155 mm artillery to the front. During IDEAS 2016, several agreements were signed regarding the production of 155 mm base bleed shells at Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF). It will be interesting to see if Pakistan extends this effort towards precision-guided artillery shells.
This year has also seen the introduction of an accessible lightweight 155 mm howitzer – i.e. the NORINCO AH4. The AH4 is China’s analogous counterpart to the BAE Systems M777, which was recently ordered by the Indian Army. The AH4 weighs 4,500 kg, which is light enough for light transport aircraft, such as the Pakistan Air Force (PAF)’s CN-235, to carry the system. For the Pakistan Army, the ideal might be to procure an even lighter weapon, one that can be carried by its utility helicopters using an external sling. The Denel G7 – i.e. Lightweight Experimental Ordnance (LEO) – could be such an option. While it is a 105 mm calibre gun (reportedly with the range and terminal/impact performance of a 155 mm system), it weighs 3,800 kg, which is theoretically light enough for the Mi-171.
Although the Pakistan Army operates the M109A5, there are no publicly known activities towards adding to the armoured SPH force with another tracked SPH. The Ukrainian company KMDB is reportedly working with the Polish company Huta Stalowa Wola to develop a 155 mm SPH using the Oplot-M’s chassis. With Pakistan opting to strengthen ties with Ukrainian and Polish defence vendors, an Oplot-M-based SPH – especially if the Haider MBT is derived from the Oplot-M – could be an interesting way to modernize the tracked SPH force. Commonality across platforms would be key.
The Pakistan Army currently has 11 Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters on order. These are part of a proposed sale of 15 units; since the original U.S. State Department notice did not include an option clause, the remaining four will likely be ordered. The Army also began deploying the three (or two?) Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) Z-10 attack helicopters in various theatres for evaluation and testing, most recently in Punjab for exercises. There are also four Mil Mi-35 assault helicopters on order.
While the aim of replacing the aging AH-1S/F Cobra attack helicopters is clear, one could argue that the Pakistan Army is looking to expand the footprint and capability of its combat air arm. Had it simply been an issue of just replacing AH-1S/F and continue its close air support (CAS) role for COIN operations, then the AH-1Z would have been sufficient. However, the Army’s interest in the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) T-129 and AVIC Z-10 indicates that an expansion effort is being examined, if not sought.
Considering Pakistan’s constrained funding, the T-129 and Z-10 should be viewed as competitors. But it is worth noting that a major aspect of TAI’s marketing campaign in Pakistan is the T-129’s strong hot-and-high (i.e. high altitude) performance. In this respect, the T-129 could be an interesting support asset for the Army’s infantry in mountainous high-altitude areas. However, its selection will depend on how much the Army values such capabilities in that environment.
Alternatively, the Z-10 – which draws on China’s economies of scale and competitive manufacturing costs – is an affordable platform, one the Army can procure in large numbers. For conventional roles, such as anti-armour CAS missions, this is an important attribute because it will enable the Army to cast a wide coverage net for its infantry and armour. Tolerance to heat and resistance to sand intrusion are important in the environments in which the Army will need these helicopters, but AVIC can address it.
The T-129 and Z-10 are long-term factors, the Army’s current procurement trajectory will likely be focused on the AH-1Z and Mi-35. The former might see additional orders, especially under the pretext of COIN in FATA, which the Army might leverage to yield military aid from the U.S.
The Army’s utility wing will see some additions as well, most notably with the Leonardo-Finmeccanica AW139. Like the T-129, Leonardo marketed the AW139 for its hot-and-high performance, which it credits to its fortune in securing orders for Pakistan’s search and rescue helicopter requirements. Four AW139 units, possibly more, were ordered for the Pakistan Army. Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) is setting up a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility for the Pratt & Whitney PT6, the turboshaft variant of which powers the AW139 and Bell-412EP (which is also operated in Pakistan). This could lend support to the notion of seeing additional AW139s in Pakistan.
Nothing is known about the Army’s plans for the rest of its transport/utility fleet. Considering that talks were had to set up an MRO plant for the Mi-171 and Mi-35, one can assume that the Hip and Hind fleets will see continued investment and use. However, the fate of the aging Puma and Huey utility helicopters is not currently known. One could see several prospective options to replace these aging aircraft. The S-70i Black Hawk might be an interesting option considering its widespread user adoption and distributed supply channel, one including TAI no less. The S-70i uses the General Electric T700 turboshaft, the AH-1Z is also powered by this engine (albeit a different sub-variant). The Bell UH-1Y Venom, with its 85% parts commonality with the AH-1Z, could be another option. Europe and China can also be studied, there is no shortage of potential options, but availability and cost-effectiveness will be critical attributes.
To cope with its COIN operations in FATA, the Pakistan Army invested heavily in infantry development. In the past decade, body armour and modern ballistic helmets became commonplace, even among the para-military units, such as the Frontier Corps. However, behind the equipment, the Army has sought to elevate less noticeable – but highly important – attributes of its infantry.
In 2014 the Pakistan Army raised the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC), a training field designed to impart COIN-relevant skills and knowledge to Army and paramilitary infantry as well as law enforcement personnel. By September 2016, the NCTC trained 231,000 soldiers. In parallel, the Army also introduced the Physical Agility and Combat Efficiency System (PACES), a directed effort to improve the health and fitness of the regular infantry. PACES was designed to help with lowering the risk of injury and boosting the individual’s longevity, especially in combat environments.
Gradually, the Army will phase-in contemporary body-armour designs. Of course, one might feel tempted to push for lower profile vests, such analogues to the Scalable Plate Carrier (SPC), Modular Body Armour Vest (MBAV), and others (which are increasingly popular). While such solutions should be widely available, their adoption will depend on the on-the-ground scenario faced by infantry personnel. With domestic and foreign industry support, the Army is evidently examining its options in this regard. For example, a private Russian company named ‘GS’ presented an armour vest during IDEAS 2016. This was reportedly designed in direct response to the needs of the Pakistan Army and will enter production in 2017.
In 2016, the Pakistan Army also undertook the examination of new assault rifles in earnest. POF will also boast a new product catalogue of small arms, including – likely – a modular rifle design adaptable for different sized rounds (e.g. 7.62×39 mm and 7.62×51 mm), its new Light Sniper Rifle (LSR), and potentially more, such as handguns, sub-machine guns, and general machine guns. The entrance of private actors, such as Shibli Electronics, could also have an impact in providing the Army with various optics solutions for its small arms. With the procurement of many small arms over the long-term, it would stand to reason that there should be local actors to offer reflective (i.e. red-dot) sights and other accessories.
In 2016, the Pakistan Army maintained continuity in several key programs, such as the NCTC, and set the foundation for others which could materialize in the long-term. Granted, one will need to closely observe Pakistan’s ability to finance these initiatives considering its surrounding reality, though one should expect certain areas to persist irrespective of the pressure, such as infantry development. Security issues, such as COIN in FATA and the protection of CPEC, will require the Army to maintain a capability threshold in certain areas, albeit at the possible cost of others (if placed under new strenuous economic conditions).