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IDEAS 2018: Pakistan Navy Updates

During the 2018 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS), the Pakistan Navy (PN) laid-out an ambitious long-term strategy encompassing new procurement, improved threat-response capabilities as well as investment in Pakistan’s maritime economy, particularly through shipbuilding.

Fleet Recapitalization & Growth Through Procurement

Since 2015, the PN activated a series of big-ticket procurement contracts, notably from China, Turkey, the Netherlands and (in terms of electronic subsystems) South Africa, Germany and the UK. While it is already sustaining a multi-billion-dollar outlay through existing programs, the PN still has additional purchases on its procurement radar. Outlined below, formal bids for these are expected to be released in 2019.

MILGEM Corvette & Frigate

Inked in July 2018, the PN’s MILGEM purchase from Turkey’s ASFAT A.S. (Military Factories and Shipyards)comprises of three anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvettes and one frigate. The latter, designated Jinnah-class frigate is to be an original design (ostensibly based on the MILGEM) built with ASFAT’s support.

Type 054A Frigate

Inked in June 2018, the PN’s four Type 054A frigates are slated for delivery by 2021. Currently, the PN’s Type 054As are expected to be equipped along similar lines as their People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) counterparts,albeit with export-grade equivalents of the PLAN frigates. No additional details were given.

Hangor Class Submarine

The PN officially disclosed some of the specifications of its forthcoming Hangor-class air-independent propulsion (AIP)-equipped submarines (SSP). As per the Karachi Shipyards & Engineering Works (KSEW), the Hangor SSP has a displacement of 2,800 tons, a length of 76 m, draught of 6.2 m and maximum speed of 10 knots. Interestingly, the Hangor SSP is heavier (2,800 tons vs. 2,550 tons) than the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) S26 and is also apparently slower (10 knots vs. 17 knots).

Neither the PN, KSEW or CSIC explained the reasons behind the differences, though each did acknowledge that the differences were real. In 2016-2017, Quwa had maintained that for the Arabian Sea, an AIP using fuel cells would be the appropriate way forward for the PN. It would keep the Hangor SSP’s acoustic profile low, though at the cost of reduced speed. Unfortunately, Quwa was unable learn about the Hangor’s AIP.

Submarine Rescue & Salvage Vessel

At IDEAS 2018, the PN also formally unveiled its plans for a new submarine rescue and salvage vessel. This was a much-expected step considering that the PN has plans for at least 11 SSPs by 2028. Turkey’s ASFAT A.S. will submit a design based on the Turkish Navy’s TCG Alemdar, but a PN official told Quwa that this is an open bid, i.e., the PN expects other vendors to submit proposals as well.

Gun/Patrol Boats

The PN also has a bid for two new main gun-equipped patrol boats. It did not provide other specifications, but ASFAT is preparing a bid. Like the submarine rescue and salvage vessel, this is open to other bidders; based on past programs, one can expect China, Netherlands and, potentially, Poland to submit proposals.

Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), Drones & Helicopters

Quwa was able to confirm that the PN was studying the feasibility of new maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). These are to be larger and more capable than the ATR-72 MPAs, but the PN has yet to finalize additional capability requirements, e.g., whether it should be jet-powered, payload, range, subsystems, etc. But the PN did confirm it was evaluating several proposals from the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy.

Turkish Aerospace told Quwa that the PN was also negotiating for the Anka-S medium-altitude and long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The company representative was clear that the Anka-S’ satellite-communications (SATCOM) capability was a priority for the PN.

The industry was also aware of the prospect of the PN needing new helicopters to support its burgeoning surface fleet. Though on a gag-order, Leonardo did display mock-ups of the AW101 and AW159, while the Turkish Aerospace representative claimed that the PN was interested in the T625 utility helicopter.

Improving Network-Enabled Warfare Capabilities

The PN also emphasized its push for network-enabled warfare capabilities, especially in terms of providing all its assets with complete situational awareness and ability to rapidly respond to conventional and non-conventional alike. In addition to the Naval Information Exchange System (NIXS) and Recognized Air and Maritime Picture (RAMP), the PN also listed SATCOM as an emerging capability.

Interestingly, though SUPARCO (Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission) would not confirm if a future communications satellite with military-grade X-band transmitters will be built, it did say (via its promotional material) that the PakSat-1R can support air and naval data-links. It appears that the PN will utilize that infrastructure in the foreseeable future and, potentially, help expand it.

For the PN, the goal is to combine extensive situational awareness (provided to every compatible platform via data-link) and beyond-line-of-sight (BLoS) communication via SATCOM with a diverse set of response assets. These will include long-range anti-ship missiles (AShM), special operations forces (SOF), frigates as well as offshore patrol vessels (OPV) and, where intruding submarines are concerned, MPAs and SSPs.

Supporting the Maritime Economy

On the second day of IDEAS, the PN held its seminar. One of its major topics was the need to support the Pakistani maritime economy, especially through shipbuilding and ship repair services. For the latter, it had promoted the nearing completion of KSEW’s ship-lift-and-transfer system, which will be ready “in the next few months.”The new system will enable KSEW to undertake up to 13 separate projects in-land.

The PN called for investment in the new shipyards being built at Gwadar and Port Qasim. However, it was not entirely clear on where the new shipbuilding (to sustain those sites) would come from, but it did note an opportunity in providing ship repair and maintenance services to those passing through Pakistan’s sea-lines-of-communication (SLOC) to India, East Asia, Arab Gulf and Africa.

That said, the PN also implied that there was an opportunity in expanding Pakistan’s merchant navy, and that –alongside future PN warship procurement – could sustain Gwadar, Port Qasim and KSEW. The case for “taking on all maritime duties domestically” was accruing long-term savings on foreign/hard-currency and channeling major maritime expenditure (e.g., trade, naval shipbuilding, etc) to the local economy.

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