Skip to content Skip to footer

Analysis: Pakistan’s Jinnah-Class Frigate Program

Initiated in 2015, the Pakistan Navy’s (PN) wide-reaching fleet modernization and expansion efforts are now fully underway. The PN has begun to (or will) induct new frigates, corvettes, submarines, jet-powered maritime patrol aircraft, and additional helicopters as well as drones.

However, the PN’s vision to build a 50-strong surface fleet (inclusive of 20 “major surface vessels”) offers the most interesting glimpse of this service arm’s evolution.

One can expect Pakistan to double-down on anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) projects, like submarines (and it has), but growing the surface fleet to over 20 ‘large’ warships was an intriguing turn. It indicates that the PN is more focused than ever on securing Pakistan’s sea-lanes with an overt presence, as opposed to strictly secretive or less observable elements, like submarines and aircraft.

One of the keystone ingredients of the PN’s surface fleet growth plans is the Jinnah-Class Frigate (JCF), an original warship that Pakistan is designing in collaboration with Turkey. Based on its specifications and its expected capabilities, the JCF is the blueprint of its future, workhorse warship.


The JCF is a key part of the PN MILGEM program. Under this program, the PN ordered four new customized multi-mission corvettes based on the Turkish Ada design. However, it also signed onto a joint-project with the principal contractor, ASFAT Inc. (Military Factor and Shipyard Management), to design, develop, and build an original frigate tailored for the PN’s requirements.

This frigate is the JCF. PN officials have only recently begun to discuss the JCF in detail.[1] It seems that the JCF is an elaborate project. It involves the transfer of intellectual property (IP) of the JCF to Pakistan while also supporting an upgrade of KSEW to support the project.

The original design expertise and IP are crucial pieces. Traditionally, when the PN ordered ships based on ‘transfer-of-technology’ (ToT) agreements, the OEM would supply kits-of-materiel. In most situations, the OEM likely determined the selection of critical inputs, such as steel and propulsion.

However, with the JCF, Pakistan might gain the ability to control more of the cost by choosing the critical input suppliers. So, in theory, it could source the steel through a competitive bidding process, for example. By controlling the design/IP, the PN could potentially even open the tender to domestic suppliers, thereby incentivizing the private sector to develop indigenous alternatives.

The JCF could also equip the PN’s Naval Research and Development Institute (NRDI) to undertake design and development work of its own in the future. In fact, one of the apparent selling points of the JCF project was that ASFAT would help Pakistan design the frigate in Pakistan. To succeed, the NRDI would require a range of new skillsets and infrastructure, especially for design testing and qualification purposes.

This expertise could translate into a diverse range of projects in the future, including (among others) new frigates, offshore patrol vessels (OPV), fast attack crafts (FAC), and/or unmanned surface vessels (USV).

The PN has not officially confirmed how many JCFs it will procure. However, based on the number of “major surface vessels” it has in the pipeline (i.e., four Type 054A/P, four MILGEM, four F-22P, and two-to-four Damen OPV 1900s), it could acquire four-to-six JCFs.

ASFAT officially revealed the specifications of the JCF at the 15th International Defence Industry Fair (IDEF), which took place in Istanbul, Turkey in August 2021.

Design Goals

The JCF will have a displacement of 3,300 tons, an overall length of 119.45 m, and a crew capacity of 200 personnel. It will offer a maximum speed of 26 knots, a cruise speed of 17 knots, and a range of 4,000 nm.

In terms of armaments, the JCF will be armed with a 16-cell vertical-launch system (VLS), a 76 mm main gun, two quad-cell anti-ship missile launchers, and a close-in-weapon-system. The ship will use a 3D main radar for surveillance and targeting, electronic support measures suite, an electronic countermeasures suite, and other sensors. The ship will also support a 10-ton helicopter.

Interestingly, ASFAT did not detail any of the JCF’s subsurface or anti-submarine warfare (ASW) sensors or weapon systems. However, the JCF will likely have a full-featured ASW suite comparable to that of the PN MILGEM/Babur-class corvettes.

Based on these specifications, the JCF looks like an iteration of the PN MILGEM. The PN MILGEM is a 2,900-ton design with anti-ship warfare (AShW), ASW, and anti-air warfare (AAW) capabilities. However, looking at the two designs, the JCF’s most notable ‘improvement’ is its additional capacity of AAW (via four more VLS cells). It would not be surprising if the JCF uses the same sensor/electronics suite as the PN MILGEM.

The PN approached the JCF with a clear focus on balancing capability gains with controlling cost. On one end, it leveraged an existing design to a major degree, but made targeted changes. These changes include altering the bridge area, extending the length of the ship, and increasing the AAW capacity.

Interestingly, the PN kept the JCF under the 3,500-ton range, i.e., as a lighter frigate for modern standards (where ships can easily exceed 5,000 tons). The PN may have stuck to this range to align with the capacity of the Pakistani shipbuilding industry. While KSEW can carry out heavier builds, the PN might have looked to mitigate risk, support scalability or higher production output, and, possibly, draw on more local inputs.

Thus, the JCF might not be ambitious compared to other ship projects in the world, but for the PN, it fully delivers on operational, capacity-building, and industrial goals.

The JCF will factor into the final leg of the PN’s current fleet modernization plans (i.e., to get to 20 ‘major surface vessels’). However, the F-22P will age and, eventually, require a replacement.

However, one should not assume that the “next” in-house will be necessarily bigger than the JCF. There is a long-term cost to operating modern warships, especially in terms of maintenance and repair. The PN likely settled on the 3,300-ton displacement by also assessing its foreseeable fiscal constraints. So, besides delivering the desired capabilities, the PN also thought about lifecycle costs.

If the PN or NRDI design a follow-up to the JCF, it would not be surprising if they retain a < 3,500-ton slate.

Instead of going for a bigger ship, the NRDI could focus on qualitative improvements, such using materials with reduced infrared and radar signatures, or even greater automation. These elements could help boost the next ship’s capabilities, but at the same time, keep it within an ideal cost bracket.

Moreover, just because the JCF (or a potential follow-on) are smaller frigates, one should not discount the possibility of these leveraging ‘hard-hitting’ capabilities.

Technically, it is possible to integrate a long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) to a ship of this size (e.g., Qatar will use the Aster-30 from its 3,250-ton Doha-class corvette). Likewise, ASFAT says that the JCF will be armed with the P282, which the PN described as a hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM).

Finally, with the JCF, the PN may have exposed that it is still more focused on A2/AD. Traditionally, the PN did not prioritize surface warships. It had relied on second-hand frigates and missile boats. But today and in the future, that route might not produce ‘good enough’ solutions against the threats the PN expects to face. New maritime security realities may have raised the PN’s standard of a “minimally-viable product.”

In turn, the PN decided to pursue the JCF because it was the most optimal way to achieve the ‘minimally-viable’ capability. Basically, with the JCF, the PN did not want anything larger or more capable than what it ultimately got. Instead, the PN could prefer putting those additional resources into projects it deems to have more utility, e.g., A2/AD-focused programs like submarines.

[1] İbrahim Sünnetci. Interview with Vice Admiral Imran Ahmed, the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff – Projects, Pakistan Navy. Defence Turkey. 17 February 2022. URL:

Show CommentsClose Comments

Leave a comment