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IDEAS 2018: Is Pakistan Prioritizing New Munitions Development? (Part 3)

At IDEAS 2018, Pakistan displayed a measure of seriousness in developing its defence industry to take on the country’s burgeoning defence needs, especially from a qualitative standpoint.

Be it an indigenous fighter, expanding the shipbuilding industry, or advocating original designs for its next-generation armoured vehicle needs, Pakistani officials called for a growth in domestic defence suppliers.

In that vein, Pakistan appears to be exploring partnerships with its key overseas suppliers, notably China, Turkey, and Ukraine, to jointly develop and manufacture munitions (as discussed in part-one).

Without a doubt, China is poised to play an integral role, if not in developing specific munitions, then in helping the Pakistani industry build the capacity to develop its own programs (see part-two).

In part-three, Quwa will examine how agreements made with Ukraine and Turkey could result in options for a wide-range of munition systems and their critical inputs, such as propulsion and electronics.

Turkey: Pakistan’s Emerging Defence Partner

Following China, Turkey is now Pakistan’s second-leading supplier of big-ticket weapons. Its notable deals include the sale of 30 Turkish Aerospace T129 ATAK attack helicopters and four MILGEM warships. There are also talks with the Pakistan Navy for the sale of ANKA-S unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

Considering Turkey’s overt willingness to invite Pakistan to its own marque programs, such as its national fighter program (TF-X), the notion that a collaborative effort emerges would not be surprising.

However, the scope and complexity of such partnerships would remain an open question given the fact that Turkey’s industry efforts draw on Western European expertise and technologies. If not supply-side restrictions (by Europe on Pakistan), Pakistan’s fiscal constraints will limit its options.

That said, munitions – i.e., air-to-air missiles (AAM), stand-off weapons (SOW), anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), and surface-to-air missiles (SAM) – could be an accessible route on both fronts.

In terms of munitions, Turkey is working to achieve each of the three essential elements (outlined in part-two): critical inputs, scale, and continual technology advancement.

These programs are at various stages of progress, though for the most part, are still in development.

  • Bozdogan (Merlin) Beyond Visual Range (BVR) AAM (in-development)
  • Gokdogan (Peregrine) Within Visual Range (WVR) AAM (in-development)
  • Atmaca (Hawk) Anti-Ship Missile (AShM) (in-production)
  • HİSAR-A (short-range) and HİSAR-O (medium-range) SAM (in-development)
  • HİSAR-U and SIPER long-range SAMs (in-development)
  • OMTAS and UMTAS ATGM (in operational use)

This is not an exhaustive list, but it encompasses Turkey’s marque munitions development programs. For Pakistan, there may be opportunity in collaborating in any one or several of them. However, participation would depend on whether the programs were not only promising in scope, but fulfil Pakistan’s needs.

There are two interesting aspects to participating with Turkey.

First, Turkey could provide Pakistan an alternative avenue to procure sophisticated technology. Pakistan need not rely solely on China, but can – provided it can muster the funding – procure an alternative set of long-range SAM. The Turkish Siper, reportedly a joint-project between Turkish R&D bureau TÜBİTAK SAGE and the Turkish vendors Aselsan and Roketsan, is an example.

Second, while Turkey is not the only source for ‘alternative’ high-tech munitions (Pakistan can cooperate with South Africa and Ukraine), it may be the only one in a position to support its programs. South Africa’s industry, namely the work of Denel Group, is suffering from an uncertain fiscal future and a lack of scale; for now, these programs do not plague the Turkish industry.

Ukraine: In Need of a Partner

Kiev is aiming to rebuild its military, and a critical aspect to that is developing a wide range of munitions, including, “new missile weapons, cruise missile systems, modern artillery systems, precision munitions, unmanned aerial vehicles, electronic warfare complexes, counter battery radars, space reconnaissance (capabilities)” And to get there, Kiev has been anything but coy about recruiting partners.

For Pakistan, the appeal may not be in the specific missiles Ukraine is developing, but in underlying R&D, especially of core inputs such as propulsion. Ukraine has proven engineering and technology expertise in miniature turbofan engines for cruise missiles. There are also reports of Ukraine developing supersonic-cruising – and hypersonic-cruising – missile technology.

Like China, Ukraine could help Pakistan with developing core inputs. If the patience is there to see through a long-term, gradual development program, Pakistan could be in a position to design and produce its own inputs (e.g., propulsion). In that process, Pakistan could look at how to manufacture gas turbines, design flight control systems for projectiles, and other disciplines.

Poland and South Africa: Potential Factors

Poland had actively courted Pakistan in late 2017. Like Ukraine, while it lacks market-ready products, the Polish industry has expertise in core inputs. That expertise is beginning to show, e.g., PIT-RADWAR’s active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar. The Polish company WB Electronics says it is working with the Ukrainian industry to develop new vertically-launched, short-to-medium-range SAMs derived from the R-27 AAM. There are reportedly plans to develop a passive-seeker variant with a range of 110-km as well.

Pakistan need not be interested in these specific programs, but one can see the desired scope of Poland and Ukraine alike when it comes to their respective collaboration goals. While not tangible, the vision is a first-step nonetheless, and for Pakistan, it offers opportunity for yet another avenue.

In 2017, South Africa had sought to engage with Pakistan. It is unclear if those efforts are still in place or if Pakistan is interested. Nonetheless, while partially complete, programs such as the Marlin BVRAAM and Umkhonto EIR medium-range SAM could enter the discussion in the future.

Conclusion

Overall, there are options. In the end, which one of these Pakistan selects may be inconsequential to the armed forces leadership’s willingness through the near-term to deliver on their commitments. Taking the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Chief of Air Staff’s (CAS) statement about wanting to be free of foreign suppliers; the PAF will not get there without having its own BVRAAM and WVRAAM projects. If that commitment is held, then a decision to work with the right partner on a collaborative basis will be made.

Part-One

Part-Two

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