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Analysis: Ideas on How Pakistan Can Leverage the MILGEM Ada

By Arslan Khan

In July 2018, Pakistan inked a contract with Turkey’s Military Factory and Shipyard Corporation (i.e., ASFAT A.Ş.) for four MILGEM corvettes for the Pakistan Navy (PN).[1]

In addition to acquiring a heavily customized version of the MILGEM, Pakistan will also gain ownership of the design’s intellectual property (IP).[2] Earlier articles on Quwa outlined the likely capabilities of Pakistan’s MILGEM configuration – also known as the Jinnah-class corvette (or frigate) — and how owning the IP could lead to the construction of units beyond the initial four ships.

In fact, the latter should be the likeliest outcome considering that, by 2030, the first of the PN’s existing four F-22P frigates will by 20-years of age, which may necessitate a successor ship by 2040-2045. However, there is more potential in the MILGEM design than simply a 1:1 means of replacing old ships. Should the PN continually invest in the MILGEM, it may gain a cost-effective qualitative and quantitative driver.

The Pakistan Navy’s Challenges

Structural economic woes and, in turn, recurring fiscal constraints have prevented the PN from effectively pursuing a qualitative edge over the Indian Navy (IN). In fact, the PN has arguably lost its qualitative edge against the IN as well, especially as the latter adds high-tech surface warships, helicopters, and other key technologies to its arsenal. Fortunately, the PN has built a relatively impressive procurement pipeline too – by 2030 it will have 12 modern large (i.e., 2,400+ ton) surface warships (i.e., Type 054A/P, MILGEM and F-22P), 11 submarines with air-independent propulsion (AIP) (i.e., Hangor and Agosta 90B), and a fleet of new long-range maritime patrol aircraft (LRMPA) to complement its aging P-3C Orion LRMPAs.

However, the PN’s varied acquisition plans will induce logistical challenges, at least in the near-term. The F-22P, Type 054A/P, MILGEM, and FFG-7/Oliver Hazard Perry (OHP) each draw on propulsion, electronics, and weapons from different sources. This is costly from a maintenance overhead standpoint as it involves multiple supply chains (some from potentially tenuous Western sources). However, it also presents some training and operational/deployment challenges, especially as each ship-type generally operates its own distinct suite of combat management systems (CMS) and weapons, among other subsystems.

Thus, while the PN’s acquisition pipeline will result in key capability gains – especially in terms of anti-air warfare (AAW) – they will not solve existing logistics issues. However, after 2030, the PN can – and should – leverage the MILGEM to consolidate most of its fleet on one design. Yes, one can expect more MILGEM ships, the PN should enlarge the program’s scope by pooling all future ships under this design.

Option 1: Design an ‘AAW MILGEM’

One route the PN can take is to design a MILGEM/Jinnah-class configuration that delivers ‘high-end’ war-fighting capabilities, such as long-range AAW. Qatar’s forthcoming Doha-class corvettes – i.e., which use a design similar in dimensions to the Jinnah-class – will deploy MBDA Aster-30 long-range surface-to-air missiles (SAM). Thus, fitting the MILGEM with long-range SAMs of similar size should be possible. Granted, the main limitation in this scenario would be the lower number of vertical launch system (VLS) cells (i.e., 16 cells in the MILGEM versus the Type 054A/P’s 32 cells).

However, considering that the Jinnah-class is a lengthened version of the Ada corvette, the PN can opt to further lengthen the design. Indeed, the Turkish company Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik (STM) had showcased a 3,500-ton variant of the MILGEM in 2017 (i.e., CF3500). Thus, the PN can enlarge the MILGEM further and, in turn, spawn a new sub-class under the MILGEM family.

Otherwise, the PN could optimize the Jinnah-class’ existing VLS cells by mixing “quad-packable” SAMs in addition to a larger long-range SAM. This would allow the PN to configure 32-64 SAMs from each individual MILGEM. However, the challenge in this case would be finding available options. Since Italy is the leading owner, the CAMM-ER may be available to the PN.[3] On the other hand, the French may block the sales of the Aster 30 to the PN (out of fear of upsetting India). In this case, the PN would have to wait for Turkey’s in-house long-range SAM (or, ideally, collaborate with Ankara).

In any case, the PN need not invest in a large, entirely new class of warship to deploy long-range AAW or, for that matter, land-attack capabilities. The benefit of leveraging the MILGEM/Jinnah-class is that the PN can draw more mileage from its logistics and maintenance to support the first four ships by filling its fleet with more units of the same design. The PN could also standardize the main air-and-surface-search radar, electronic support measures (ESM), sonar suite, CMS, and other subsystems.

Finally, as Karachi Shipyards & Engineering Works (KSEW) builds these ships, it will also forge the in-house expertise and facilities for the project. Procuring additional ships would distribute this overhead across more units and, potentially, see other cost-savings through familiarity. KSEW could, for example, learn enough about the MILGEM to find ways to reduce costs, or a deeper commitment to building more ships locally without prefabricated kits from original equipment manufacturers (OEM) may encourage the local industry to invest in producing inputs – like steel and electronics – locally.

Option 2: Design Simplified, Low-Cost MILGEMs

Instead of importing offshore patrol vessels (OPV) or other sub-2,000-ton ships, the PN could also look at designing a low-cost variant of the MILGEM. Basically, the PN can strip the design to the hull and select a specific set of subsystems. In other words, the PN can ‘dumb it down’ to only mission-critical systems.

For example, an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) oriented MILGEM would carry a form of towed sonar array – rather than the hull-monted TBT-01 sonar. Towed sonar systems enable you to search at varying depths (assuming your cable is of sufficient length), letting the PN to look for sub-surface threats in deeper waters compared to hull-mounted systems. However, by omitting the VLS and ESM, Pakistan can produce these simplified single-mission corvettes at markedly lower cost than a full-fledged Jinnah-class.

In fact, the PN need not limit itself to only warship applications of the MILGEM. It can leverage the design to build OPVs for sea-control/policing, or even special mission ships such as mine countermeasures vessels (MCMV), unmanned surface vessel (USV) management/control ships, electronic intelligence (ELINT) ships, humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR) assets, and/or hydrographic ships.

Not only can Pakistan support its own needs with a diverse MILGEM-based family, but it can offer unique and lower cost products to other countries. The more Pakistan logs in the way of shipbuilding orders, the more it will incentivize local and foreign investors to manufacture inputs in the country (so as to cut costs and boost competitiveness), which could spawn technology and jobs growth in Sindh and Baluchistan.

If Pakistan builds in-house design expertise, it can also change the rule base of the MILGEM by using Class Society rules (i.e., commercial standards). Thus, instead of a proprietary naval standard – which requires non-recurring engineering work, certifications, and testing – the PN could use proven design standards, such as those of the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) and others.

Using commercial standards would eliminate the risk of over designing, extensive testing, and the need to secure sensitive and/or high-cost inputs. This would basically be the approach the Netherlands’ Damen has taken with its OPV 1900-series (which the PN acquired).

Next Steps: Get a Hand on Inputs

Fundamentally, the challenge for the PN is not as much in acquiring a ship design and creating variants of it for different needs. The Jinnah-class is clear proof that (1) such expertise is available on the market and (2) certain foreign OEMs (at least the Turks) are open to helping Pakistan. Rather, the challenge ahead is finding affordable sources for on-board weapons (e.g., SAM), electronics, the steel, and other inputs. Even if the PN can ‘own’ a ship design, foreign governments may condition the transfer of their inputs with the purchase of their competing ship designs. This will be extremely challenging as Pakistan is not an industrial power, nor a fully developed research and development (R&D) powerhouse.

Fortunately, there may be an opportunity to collaborate across most critical inputs with Turkey. The Turks are actively investing in a wide range of programs including, among others, medium and long-range SAMs, anti-ship missiles, ship-based radars, ESM, composite superstructures, CMS, and many other inputs. Flag-ship products include the ÇAFRAD radar for the TF-2000 AAW frigate, the Hisar-U/SIPER long-range SAM, Hisar-O medium-range SAM, Atmaca anti-ship missile (AShM), and ORKA lightweight torpedoes.

However, with a struggling economy, the Turks will need help in supporting these programs. This can be an opportunity for Pakistan to leverage its (albeit modest) cash to secure native access to each of these inputs. If Pakistan adds itself as a partner that shares funding obligations and drives economies-of-scale through its own requirements, the Turks may be amenable to sharing the IP with Pakistan or, at least, set-up their own subsidiaries (e.g., Aselsan, Havelsan, etc) to manufacture these inputs in Pakistan.

This outcome would help secure the supply of these critical technologies and, through near at-cost pricing and local manufacturing, lessen procurement’s strain on Pakistan’s budget. By collaborating on these key programs, Pakistan may also learn enough about them to carry out engineering and integration work on its own, which can further cut costs and boost national control over key programs.

For Pakistan, a peculiar aspect of the Turkish angle is Ankara’s open willingness to invite Islamabad in its major defence programs. This is not common for Pakistan – other countries either want it as a passive customer or, worse, out of their scope entirely (so as to capture more of the Indian defence market). Thus, Pakistan ought to explore Turkey as well as other amenable states, such as Poland, South Africa and South Korea.

Author Profile: Arslan Khan is an aerospace engineering student and an analyst/observer of Pakistani defence issues.

[1] Press Release. “Pakistan Navy Signed Contract for Acquisition of 4x MILGEM class warships with Turkey.” Press Information Department. Ministry of Information. Government of Pakistan. 05 July 2018. URL:

[2] Ibid.

[3] Pietro Batacchi. “The CAMM-ER Starts Again.” Rivista Italian Difesa. 20 June 2019. URL:,3_id,3109.html

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