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A Look at How the Pakistan Navy’s Pairing Eastern & Western Solutions

Since 2016, the Pakistan Navy (PN) has built perhaps its largest procurement pipeline to-date through the finalization of the following: eight air-independent propulsion (AIP)-equipped submarines (2,800 tons); four Type 054A/P frigates (4,000+ tons); four MILGEM corvettes/frigates (2,300+ tons); and two OPV 1900 corvettes (2,300 tons). The PN is slated to induct all these platforms through the 2020s, with the final set of ships (the final four of eight AIP submarines) due in 2028.

However, through 2018 and 2019, details started emerging of how the PN intended to configure its new ships, particularly the MILGEM and Damen OPV 1900 programs. In both cases, not only did the PN opt to elevate each platform’s role and capability-set (e.g., the PN’s MILGEM is a multi-mission frigate), but it is also configuring its ships with a mix of technologies from China, Turkey, Western Europe, and Pakistan.

Granted, it is unclear if the MILGEM customizations apply to all four ships, or only the final ship. However, in the Chief of Naval Staff’s (CNS) reported statements, the changes appear to involve all ships.

In either case, the PN is getting a MILGEM variant with 16 vertical launch system (VLS) cells for use with the HQ-16 or LY-80 medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM). In addition, it is reportedly equipping the ships with two quad-cell C-802 anti-ship missile (AShM) launchers.

Havelsan will reportedly develop a custom version of the GENESIS combat management system (CMS) to operate the Chinese anti-air warfare (AAW) and anti-ship warfare (AShW) suites.

As for the Damen OPV 1900, the PN stated (during the launch of the lead ship) that it is a corvette, and it has a displacement of 2,300 tons. The PN intends to use the corvettes as multi-mission assets, and as part of that goal, the CNS stated that the ships will be equipped with “indigenously developed SSMs (surface-to-surface missiles” – i.e., the Harba dual land-attack cruise missile (LACM) and AShM.

In both situations, it will be interesting to see where the weapons and subsystems configuration work will take place. With the MILGEM, this is the first situation of integrating a Chinese VLS to a non-Chinese ship. Be it the first or last ship, Karachi Shipyards & Engineering Works (KSEW) would undertake the integration work at some point. The key will be whether it absorbs the know-how of designing the project.

Basically, not only did the Military Factory and Shipyard Corporation (ASFAT A.Ş.) – the main contractor of the PN MILGEM program – redesign the Ada corvette to have space for VLS, but it did it to ensure that there is enough space for the LY-80. It was unclear if even integrating a smaller VLS was tenable, but ASFAT apparently managed and created the space while also maintaining the ship’s weight distribution.

Pakistan is to receive “complete” transfer-of-technology (ToT) and intellectual property (IP) rights for the Jinnah-class. This should free Pakistan to construct future ships with its choice of materials, subsystems, and weapons. However, it would be interesting if the ToT also includes turnkey knowledge on designing or at least modifying ships as extensively as ASFAT had done on the MILGEM.

The benefit of this capability is that it would allow Pakistan to redesign familiar surface platforms, such as the Azmat-class FAC. The Azmat FAC design’s war-fighting capabilities are functionally centered on AShW and, in the case of the PNS Himmat, stand-off range land-strikes. It does not offer much else.

However, if the PN opts for an additional batch of Azmat FACs (it did have a requirement for another four to six FACs in 2016), ship design expertise could help it improve the platform. As an example, Pakistan can look to create room for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, e.g., two triple-cell torpedo launchers.

It can also look at integrating new Azmat FACs credible AAW capabilities, even if those are limited to short-range air defence (SHORAD). A good benchmark would be the Finnish Hamina-class FAC. Although a 250-ton FAC (i.e., 50% lighter than the Azmat FAC), the Hamina FAC is equipped with four AShMs, an eight-cell VLS loaded with the Umkhonto IR SAM, and ASW suite with Saab’s lightweight torpedoes.

Through the MILGEM and OPV 1900, the PN has demonstrated an intent to elevate its new platforms, not stick to old – and inherently limited – designs. It evolved the MILGEM Ada corvette into the multi-mission Jinnah-class frigate with AAW, and it lifted the OPV 1900 into a multi-role corvette with AShM/LACMs.

In fact, the PN even walked away from the idea of upgrading its older Cosmos miniature SSKs – it did not see it as a feasible route. Instead, the PN is reportedly considering an offer to develop a new clean-sheet mini-SSK by Turkey’s Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik ve Tic. A.Ş. (STM).

Thus, if the PN proceeds with a follow-on FAC program, its track-record thus far makes the prospect of an AShW, ASW, and AAW-capable FAC of about 500 tons plausible. Hopefully, the Jinnah-class program will give the PN, or more specifically, Maritime Technologies Complex (MTC), to carry out the design work.

Finally, the fusion of Eastern and Western technologies on the surface ships could potentially inform the PN’s sub-surface plans as well. Thus far, the PN has been tight-lipped about its Hangor-class AIP-equipped submarine (SSP) program. However, KSEW did reveal that the Hangor SSP has a length of 76 m, speed of 10 knots (unclear if this is submerged), and displacement of 2,800 tons.

The PN did not offer information about the Hangor SSP’s subsystem suite, including its AIP type, sonar, electronic support measures (ESM), CMS, and weapons. The only surety is that the PN will use these submarines to deploy its submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCM), notably the Babur 3.

However, one outcome of the MILGEM project – even if the VLS-equipped ship is the final vessel – is that KSEW will integrate a Chinese VLS system to a Western/NATO platform. It would be interesting if KSEW is able to install the Agosta 90B’s new subsystems to the Hangor SSP.

The Agosta 90B mid-life-upgrade (MLU) includes the following:

  • Aselsan ZARGANA Torpedo Countermeasure System (TCMS)
  • Aselsan ZOKA Acoustic Jammers & Decoys
  • Aselsan ARES-2SC/P ESM & Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) Suite
  • Hensoldt Optronics South Africa OMS-200 Optronic Mast
  • Hensoldt Optronics SERO 250 Periscope
  • Kelvin Hughes SharpEye Pulse-Doppler Radar
  • Atlas Elektronik ISUS-1000 Integrated Sensor Underwater System
  • Havelsan Sonar Integrated Submarine Command & Control System (SEDA)

This is a comprehensive electronics upgrade, one that puts the Agosta 90B at-par with not only competing upgraded submarines, but newer generation platforms as well (in terms of electronics).

The main draw of configuring the Hangor-class SSPs with the same subsystems as the Agosta 90Bs is that it would allow the PN to streamline maintenance, logistics, and training.

It would be erroneous to underestimate this notion. Not only did the PN opt to standardize on the same VLS-based SAM for both the Type 054A/P and Jinnah-class frigates, but it selected the same SAM platform as the Pakistan Army (LY-80), which ordered nine of these systems in 2014 and 2015. On the same vein, the PN is also negotiating with Aselsan to equip 12 ships with the ALPER navigation radar.

Overall, it appears that the PN made custom/bespoke solutions through commercially off-the-shelf (COTS) subsystems and diverse OEMs a cornerstone of its procurement policy. Besides frigates, submarines, and corvettes, it has done the same with its new-generation aviation assets, such as the ‘Sea Eagle’ maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). The most notable aspect of the PN’s efforts is that they cut across all of its programs.

However, some aspects of the PN’s situation make this approach more tenable for it than it would be for the Pakistan Army (PA) or the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).

First, in general, it does not appear as though there are as many restrictions on naval technologies to Pakistan than airpower assets. Besides perhaps the US, Pakistan has not had trouble acquiring subsystems or integration help from Germany, the UK, or the Netherlands.

Second, the PN is working with fewer units. Yes, there is no equivalency between s ship and a single main battle tank (MBT) in macro terms. However, the PN basically requires a dozen or so ESM/ELINT kits, and the cost of that is less than trying to fit hundreds of tanks with state-of-the-art electronics (and the training requirement across all those units is much larger).

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