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MILGEM Part 1: Why is Pakistan seeking the Ada-class corvette?

Last week, Turkey’s new defence minister, Fikri Işık, visited Pakistan and announced that the Pakistan Navy had requested four Ada-class corvettes from Turkey. Although the process is in its early stages, with Pakistan seeking a $400 million U.S. loan from Turkey in order to help fund the program, but it would be a good idea to understand why the Pakistan Navy is seeking the Ada-class.

“Why is the Pakistan Navy seeking the Ada-class corvette?” This is not a simple question to answer – there are multiple core issues to examine: First, what are the Navy’s needs? Second, how does the Ada-class – and MILGEM generally – fit within those needs? Third, how do the alternatives fare against the MILGEM? Fourth, what does Pakistan gain by taking the MILGEM route over the alternatives?

This article – i.e. part-one – will focus on the first question, the remaining three will be examined in parts two, three and four, respectively.

What are the Pakistan Navy’s needs?

This question was discussed at length on numerous occasions, but to keep it short for this piece, the Navy’s needs essentially focus on the following: First, sufficient littoral defence (discussed in detail here), so as to defend Pakistan’s coasts from enemy strikes, especially against assets of immense strategic value, such as economic hubs. Second, securing the safety of merchant ships travelling along Pakistan’s sea lines of communication or sea-lanes (examined in-depth here). Of course, there is also the topic of Pakistan’s own merchant navy, a maritime arm that should be of great strategic value, but has unfortunately languished relative to Pakistan’s economic needs – we will need to discuss this at a future time. Third, providing an air umbrella for the Navy’s principal strike assets, its attack submarines.

In terms of the littoral defence sphere, one’s threats could emerge from any ‘dimension’ – sea surface, air and underwater. A cruise missile (which could double as an anti-ship missile or AShM) could come from any platform, so – in addition to intercepting those missiles (ideally) – it is a matter of interdicting the presence of enemy platforms close to one’s coasts. In Pakistan’s case, this issue would be addressed using fighter aircraft as well as medium and – hopefully – long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. One would also use coastal radars capable of detecting air and sea-based threats.

Fast attack crafts (FAC) – typically under 1000 tons in displacement – could credibly protect one’s littoral waters from intruding surface warships. In fact, contemporary FACs are being built with an emphasis on low-observability and detectability on enemy sensors (by reducing infrared, sound/acoustic and radar signatures). When paired with speed and lethality, typically in the form of four or six AShM, these ships can be an affordable method of building up one’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) threshold. With the Azmat-class and Zarrar-class (MRTP-33) FACs, Pakistan is well set in this area.

Subsurface threats are a significant threat, but only when they are real. At this stage, it is not clear if India would feel compelled to use its submarines in Pakistan’s littoral waters. For one thing, it already possesses stand-off strike capabilities in the form of long-range cruise missiles – ships, submarines and aircrafts can strike Pakistan from a distance. To be fair, that same rationale could be extended to thwarting aerial and surface threats (discussed above) as well, so let us encompass all of them as something that ought to be deterred.

Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) assets such as maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) and ASW-equipped surface warships are the principal methods through which one would counteract enemy submarines. The Pakistan Navy has P-3C Orion MPAs deployed for this role, which – in war time – could be supported by Zulfiqar-class (F-22P) frigates. An effective ASW suite is typically comprised of heavy and lightweight torpedoes and sonar (for sensing acoustic signatures underwater). Of course, one could also use radar, laser and infrared sensory methods to search for a submarine’s surfaced parts, but when underwater, acoustic (i.e. sound) is the only effective method. The smallest ASW surface platform we can identify is the Saab Visby-class corvette – at 640 tons – in use with the Swedish Navy. Pakistan’s FACs are not equipped for ASW.

The second mission profile, guarding Pakistan’s sea lanes, comprises of two principal duties. In times of peace, it is a matter of patrolling and policing those sea lanes from pirates, smugglers and other criminal entities. An offshore patrol vessel (OPV) can handle these tasks. But in times of war, it is the challenge of preventing one’s enemies from interdicting those sea lanes, thus preventing merchant ships from ferrying trade goods to and from Pakistan. The “presence” of a ship has to actually achieve operational aims – anti-air warfare (AAW), anti-ship warfare (AShW) and ASW. In other words, OPVs will not work. The Navy would need multi-mission warships capable of AAW, AShW and ASW.

In a way, the “presence” at sea connects to the need to protect one’s submarines from aerial and surface threats. Frigates equipped for AAW in the form of sufficiently ranged radars and medium/long-range SAM systems can be a problem for enemy MPAs patrolling an area for nearby submarines. The combined sub-surface and surface presence could be a means to make interdicting sea lanes connecting to Pakistan an arduous task. As stated earlier, there is a discussion to be had about actually having a sufficiently-sized merchant navy as well – this is something that Pakistan will need to address sooner than later.

Part-two, which will be posted on Saturday, will offer an overview of the Ada-class’ design and capabilities, and an insight of what the Navy will likely look for as it configures its ships.

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  • by U
    Posted June 9, 2016 10:20 pm 0Likes

    Excellent! Looks like you figured out my curiosity. Eagerly waiting for part two, three and four.
    This picture of the F511 looks nice, I am starting to fall in love with them MILGEMs.

  • by Quraishi
    Posted June 10, 2016 10:16 am 0Likes

    Pakistan needs to vastly improve its navy, Infact if given a choice it should be the most advance amongst the 3 army branches.
    I feel Pakistan needs top of the line ships and equipment for the navy, good is no longer good enough in the 21st century. (Not referring to this corvette)
    So the naval blockade that happened during kargil shall never be repeated, and it’s the Pakistans navy that blockades others.

  • by Mohsin E.
    Posted June 10, 2016 1:48 pm 0Likes

    Good analysis. IMO, the only Naval assets we have that are worth anything are the newer diesel subs and our Maritime Patrol Aircraft, because their purpose will be to hunt enemy subs close enough to launch cruise missiles at coastal military facilities. That’s basically it. Everything else, (the corvettes, frigates etc.) are strategically useless without a Merchant Navy to carry on wartime trade. Also, coastal protection against surface vessels is better accomplished by land-based anti-ship batteries and land based aircraft. The only use of our surface fleet is development of a naval tradition and experience of operating vessels, that may come in handy one day… Which means that our Naval budget (10% of the total) should remain as low as it is. Any requests by the Navy for more surface vessels should be rejected, and the funds directed to building the Merchant Navy first, so the Navy can actually carry out its primary strategic purpose: Protect wartime trade.

  • by Syed
    Posted June 10, 2016 10:49 pm 0Likes

    That might be prudent for a nation that can fight more than a month long war without going nuclear,that my friend is not in the cards not even for India

  • by MT
    Posted June 11, 2016 12:05 am 0Likes

    Ship is lashed with French equipment mainly radars & pak is dreaming if they believe that turkey ll b allowed to export a ship with 60-70 % foreign content including warship steel to french radars to American sam, torpedo launcher & engine while pak foreign minister keep threatening french govt

    Turks just can’t make simple warship grade alloy to VLS of a ship which speaks for their ship building capabilities. They should thank Mtcr & good relationships while erdogen is trying hard to isolate turkey

  • by jigsaww
    Posted June 11, 2016 3:29 am 0Likes

    True that.

  • by jigsaww
    Posted June 11, 2016 4:34 am 0Likes

    Overall a well suited opinion for a defensive mindset lacking any substantial counter-offensive focus. Precisely the fault Pakistan is trying to reverse.

    Last sentence = Falsifiability. Merchant navy should be expanded by diverting funds from 10% of military navy budget to merchant navy. Surface fleet of PN should be kept same/reduced but expected to carry out its role of protecting wartime trade (as well as carry out wartime ops) with its need-based requests of more surface combatants getting rejected. Protect the trade without giving tools of protection to navy. Great!

    Focus on merchant navy is need of the hour, but can actually come alongside non-neglection of naval capabilities.

  • by Mohsin E.
    Posted June 11, 2016 12:13 pm 0Likes

    As usual, Jigsaw, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    * You don’t hire security guards to protect a house you don’t have ! *

    Our merchant Navy has 9 ships (so basically zero.) Without a merchant navy, there is no wartime trade. If there’s no wartime trade, these surface vessels have ZERO strategic purpose, other than serving as training platforms. As for your “counter offensive focus,” are you frekkin serious? The budget required to build a proper BLUE WATER fleet is so beyond the reach of our current economy, it’s not even worth discussing. What world do you live in? Cuz I live in the one where Ishaq Dar is our frekkin “finance minister” and our GDP is less today than Germany’s was in 1939 (and we’re not even talking per capita!)

    Now go and rub your bravado off on someone else. I already told you to stop trying to engage me in discussion.

  • by Sami Shahid
    Posted June 11, 2016 12:30 pm 0Likes

    Pakistan should stop thinking too much and should get all this stuff as soon as possible….more maritime vessels , more fast attack crafts , corvettes and sub-marines

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted June 11, 2016 6:00 pm 0Likes

    “You don’t hire security guards to protect a house you don’t have”. Very true but would you start building a house without provision for it’s security? Or is Pakistan’s current surface fleet enough “security guards” to secure the “construction site” and more guards can be hired when the house nears completion? I don’t know hence I’m asking, not challenging your comment. I feel I had to add that. The atmosphere here tends to get heated at times over nothing much, lol!

  • by Bilal Khan - Quwa
    Posted June 12, 2016 1:11 am 0Likes

    Thread will be kept open.

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted June 12, 2016 3:50 am 0Likes

    Wow, that’s some reply! But thanks, you (almost) answered my question in the last paragraph and I do understand your frustration with Pakistani politician’s failures.

    In your opinion PN’s surface fleet is more than enough to protect the “nothing”. My “construction site” was a reference to your proposed investment in building a merchant navy worth the name. Not to some actual project already in progress. Just borrowed your analogy of security guards to protect the house. Fair enough, Pakistan’s merchant navy is nothing to protect but is that ALL an ehanced PN navy would need to protect?

  • by jigsaww
    Posted June 12, 2016 4:05 am 0Likes

    Haha…Well you need to be corrected, whether or not your ego lets you accept it. So, i don’t think i’ll entertain your request. You are free to stop responding.

    On your comment. Yes. Pakistan’s caught between the likes of corrupt people like Ishaq Dar and apologists like you whose only reaction to corruption is cutting on budgets and diverting budgets to other non-military organs of the country. That is where all the confusion is taking toll.

    The only purpose you see of Navy is protection of wartime trade. That should explain it all.

    I don’t fully disagree with you everywhere but i think you’ve taken something somewhere to your heart. Sorry about that.

  • by jigsaww
    Posted June 12, 2016 4:14 am 0Likes

    And i’ve said this before 100 times…if CPEC takes off as it is supposed to and which China is hell bent on making sure it does, your current surface/sub fleet as well as mindset/strategy will not only be insufficient but also need to be doubled and tripled.

    Your opinion is well suited to lazy era of 90’s. Not anymore.

    And i hope if you’re not able to practically prove your argument, you will not come back with the logic of calling everyone wrong, and only yourself as the righteous one.

  • by jigsaww
    Posted June 12, 2016 4:28 am 0Likes

    Just wondering…if apparently 9 = 0…would 18 be = 1, and 27 be = 3 ??

    Some logic i’m not getting.

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted June 13, 2016 1:39 am 0Likes

    Yes, I did realise later you had indeed covered my second question in your first post so the apparent contradiction as I thought was a mistake on part. I tried to update my comment but gave up after about 10 failed attempts.

    But I still have lingering unease about your position on both this and SSBN topic. Admittedly it is not (neccessarily) because of the arguments you present. I can’t quite put my finger on the reason. Maybe I’m too long affected by what you call bandwagon logic. Maybe it’s something else, I don’t know but I will get back to you if something springs up in mind (wether or not you want me to,.

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted June 13, 2016 2:07 am 0Likes

    With the SSBN, Mohsin did say his argument is Pakistan-specific and not a general across-the-board reason why no country ought to have an effective sea-leg. However, even going by his argument that much of PN’s fleet is just a practice run for the real thing, to me it seems to be sensible to stay ahead of the game and keep upgrading. But then of course there is the economic argument and all the multitude of problems mentioned by Mohsin – education, poverty, disease, hunger, extremism plaguing Pakistan. What to prioritise? Build up the defence capability to safeguard the “nothing” or give substance to the nothing to make it something worth defending? Spending too much on one compromises the other. Investing in the latter will give better resources in the longer term to develop the former too but then what to do in the interim? A difficult one this. Perhaps the solution is somewhere in the middle? Not nev

  • by jigsaww
    Posted June 13, 2016 3:19 am 0Likes

    Some people have a problem of presenting “alternative” theories just because they want to be heard, no matter how illogical their arguments are in theory, let alone in practice. Last time you were found moving heavens and earth in order to stop Pakistan from developing a sea based deterrence. This time you are guilty of pushing to strip Pakistan navy off its entire surface fleet as well as not only rejecting any of its need based requests in future but also diverting its already allocated budgets, when Pakistan is on verge of developing four major new ports in the south and starting CPEC.

    The question to you is. What kind of agenda are your promoting here.

  • by jigsaww
    Posted June 13, 2016 3:26 am 0Likes

    I think we’ve established that a number of times. Pakistan’s core problems is NOT allocation of budgets to military. It is corruption. Take any internal or foreign media report. Pakistan is known for its corrupt political elite. It’s not like Pakistan has “nothing” to defend. It’s an idiotic comment, let alone an argument. We know that very well what is at stake to protect. Priority should always be on bringing economy back on track, but not at expense of stripping off the teeth from guardians of the country n economy. This kind of understanding normally a person should be able to develop at grade 3, but i guess that’s too much to ask from people like Mr. Mohsin. But of course, we don’t have scarcity of people of this mindset.

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted June 13, 2016 10:19 am 0Likes

    Do you know what is really depressing? If Pakistan could rid itself of the corrupt “leaders”, me, you and Mohsin would not even be having these never-ending diagreements, at least with the same intensity. The three of us all seem to be in agreement on the need for a change of poltical leadership but that is US, one in Canada, one in Sweden right now and the other residing in the UK. What about the Pakistanis in Pakistan? Do they really hold the leaders in high esteem? Apparently many do, incredible as it sounds. We have seen it here often. Speak against the politicians and their murids are up in arms! So the root cause of so many ills is not even close to getting uprooted. I’m about to pose a very provocative question here. Are Pakistan’s leaders to blame or their murid-like supporters?

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