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Outgoing Pakistan Navy Chief reveals new frigate purchase from China and ‘Harba’ missile

In his speech during the change-of-command ceremony of the Pakistan Navy, outgoing Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah outlined the Navy’s modernization efforts, which appear to include the acquisition of new frigates from China.

The statement was made in the context of new acquisitions, wherein Zakaullah detailed the procurement of eight new air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarines (i.e. Hangor II-class), additional Azmat-class fast attack missile craft – also known as FAC(M) – and offshore patrol vessels (OPV) from Damen Shipyards.

Zakaullah had added that an agreement had been reached with China for the acquisition of new frigates. Additional details, such as the design, displacement and/or desired capabilities were not disclosed.

Of the prior naval contracts, Zakaullah confirmed that work was underway on the implementation of the submarine order (which is due for completion by 2028) and that one of the two Damen OPVs will be built at Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW).

In tandem, the outgoing CNS also outlined efforts being undertaken to modernize the Pakistan Naval Air Arm. The PN ATR-72s that have been undergoing maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) conversion at Rheinland Air Service (RAS) in Germany are due in January 2018, while the additional Sea King helicopters acquired from the U.K (and refurbished by Vector Aerospace) will be inducted by the end of 2017.

Speaking of efforts to build the Navy’s offensive capabilities, Zakaullah had touched upon the Babur 3 sub-launched cruise missile (SLCM) and Zarb shore-based anti-ship missile (AShM), which had been disclosed in January 2017 and April 2016, respectively.

Zakaullah also revealed the existence of a new surface-to-surface missile (SSM) designated “Harba”, which he stated was ready for use. The outgoing CNS praised the domestic defence industry for bringing each of those programs to fruition. Specifics of the Harba SSM are not known.

Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah was succeeded by Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi as the Pakistan Navy’s Chief of Naval Staff.

Notes & Comments:

The Pakistan Navy’s frigate selection would depend on its budget and desired capabilities. However, this announcement now confirms that the PN has a successor route in place for the Type 21. It is not known how this impacts the proposed purchase of four MILGEM Ada corvettes from Turkey. Though Pakistan had signed a letter-of-intent in May, it has yet to finalize the process.

However, the MILGEM Ada was designed for ASW operations. It does not benefit from an anti-air warfare (AAW) element besides PDMS, but it was tailored for a specific role – i.e. to protect littoral waters and to support peacetime missions such as policing one’s sea-lanes and exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Ada (especially without VLS-based AAW) and the Chinese frigate may not be mutually exclusive in terms of the PN’s acquisition plans. In January, Quwa had noted, “If the MILGEM-G [i.e. MILGEM with VLS] is not being sought, then the Pakistan Navy could have its eyes on a CSOC frigate, be it an improved version of the C28A (itself an improvement of the F-22P), but with VLS, or a new design.”

In 2016-2017 the China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Company (CSOC) had revealed a new line-up of multi-mission frigate designs. These included, among others, the 2,800-ton Tiger-class frigate, a new 2,450-ton trimaran-hull frigate and 4,000-ton multi-mission frigate.

The Tiger-class frigate appears to be an evolution of the F-22P, but with a stealthier (i.e. lower radar cross-section) hull coupled with a 16-cell vertical-launch system (VLS) for surface-to-air missiles (SAM). As per Monch Publishing, the Tiger-class has a displacement of 2,780 tons and can be equipped with dual quad-cell (2×4) AShM launchers, two triple (2×3) anti-submarine warfare (ASW) torpedo-launchers, a 76-mm main gun, a 30-mm gun and 24-cell point-defence missile system (PDMS). The Tiger-class can reach a top speed of 27 knots and a ferry range of 4,000 nm at 15 knots.

CSOC Tiger-class Frigate

The trimaran-hull frigate displaces at 2,450 tons, but is armed with a 32-cell VLS, 2×4 AShM launchers and a 76-mm main gun. It is not known if the trimaran-hull frigate is capable of ASW, but the aim of the design is to reach a markedly higher top speed than most other frigates – i.e. 30-35 knots.

China Shipbuilding Trading Corporation (CSSC) trimaran-hull frigate at the 2017 International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX). Photo credit: Christopher P. Cavas and Defense News (

CSOC’s 4,000-ton multi-mission frigate design retains the AShW and ASW capabilities of its sibling designs, coupling them with a 32-cell VLS system for SAMs. It is considered a variant of the Type 054, but with a “renewed superstructure” (IHS Jane’s). It featured a phased-array radar with a complementary over-the-horizon (OTH) radar for long-range passive surveillance of aerial and surface targets.

CSOC 4,000-ton frigate

At the 2016 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) in Karachi, CSOC had displayed a frigate model of a new platform. The frigate was fitted with a full sensor suite akin to the 4,000-ton design (i.e. with a passive OTH radar paired to an FCR). Like the 4,000-ton frigate, this unknown design also had a 32-cell VLS system.

Unidentified CSOC frigate


Unidentified CSOC frigate

The future-oriented approach would be to select a design that uses a SAM with a terminal-stage active-seeker. The HQ-16 is a semi-active radar-homing (SARH) SAM, which requires the use of a separate target illumination radar (STIR) to maintain a constant lock on the target for the missile. An active-seeker SAM could have its inertial navigation system (INS) linked to a fire control radar (FCR), which would feed the missile with guidance information of the target until the missile is sufficiently close to switch to its terminal seeker.

Regarding the Harba SSM, specific details are not known. However, there have been reports of Pakistan developing its own AShM platform. The Ministry of Defence Production’s (MoDP) annual report had also listed the development of “the indigenous (sic) developing of ship-borne system with Land Attack Missile and Anti ship Missile” for completion by October 2018. In March, Pakistan also tested a ‘long-range’ AShM from land, though it not did disclose the model or technical specifications.

Pakistan has the option of recycling the development of the Babur land-attack cruise missile (LACM) into an AShM. In fact, Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) had stated that the Babur Version-2 was capable of engaging targets on land and at sea. With regards to the Harba, a possibility could be fitting the Babur Version-2 with an INS-supported terminal-stage active radar-homing or imaging infrared seeker.