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IDEAS 2018: Summary

On 27-30 November 2018, Pakistan held its biennial defence tradeshow, the 2018 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) in Karachi, Pakistan. Quwa will release a series of articles from its coverage of the event, but this article will summarize most of what we learned at the event.

China, Turkey and Western Europe

It was clear that China and Turkey were Pakistan’s dominant defence partners. Not only did the suppliers from these countries maintain the largest exhibits at IDEAS, but their efforts were pervasive.

Most will be aware of the contracts Pakistan already signed with the likes of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) and others, but most bids and ongoing contract negotiations involved suppliers from China or Turkey. For example, the Pakistan Navy (PN) is negotiating with Turkish Aerospace for the Anka-S medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), ASFAT A.S. is submitting a bid for the PN’s submarine rescue vessel bid, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) is proposing its L-15 for the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) lead-in-fighter-trainer (LIFT) program and so on.

However, while China and Turkey dominated the big-ticket space, Western European companies were in a strong position for subsystem contracts. The Italian electronics company Elettronica maintained a large exhibit showcasing its electronic warfare (EW) and electronic support measures (ESM) solutions. Some of these have even made it to the PN’s ATR-72 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), while others are being pushed to the PAF for use on the JF-17 multi-role fighter. RAMSYS from Germany was also promoting the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) for use on the PN’s forthcoming MILGEM corvettes and existing warships.

One notable factor at IDEAS 2018 was the increased presence of South Korean defence vendors, namely Kia Motors and Poongsan. Kia Motors in particular is banking on a local partnership with Hajvairy Group to promote its KM1 Light Tactical Vehicle (KLTV) to the Pakistan Army. Kia Motors and Hajvairy Group will be competing against Cavalier Group and others for this bid, which alludes to the LAVA (i.e., ‘Light Armed Vehicle Assault’) program listed in the 2015-2016 Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) yearbook. While it is unclear if the Army will finalize a LAVA/LTV contract, the intended objective – as explained to Quwa by both Hajvairy Group and Cavalier Group – is that the design will, ultimately, be procured in sufficiently large numbers to justify local manufacturing at Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT).

In other words, though some programs – e.g., the LAVA/LTV or the PAF’s need for a low-level surveillance radar – are not worth as much on an individual basis, the cumulative need of hundreds of vehicles or two dozen radar systems could amount to large contracts. This has brought many new competitors to IDEAS.

Controlling Cost by Sticking to Existing Platforms

At IDEAS 2018, HIT revealed its own multi-purpose infantry fighting vehicle (MIFV) design, the Viper. Quwa was told that the Viper MIFV was an original design and separate family from the Talha or M113 armoured personnel carrier (APC), but as one can clearly observe, the Viper MIFV is derived from the Talha/M113.

The Army’s interest in a such an MIFV is a discussion in its own right, but the theme emerging out of HIT and Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) is to fulfil new requirements with existing platforms. In HIT’s case, the infrastructure to manufacture, support, repair and remanufacture the M113 is already in place. While a new-generation IFV (e.g., the Otokar Tulpar from Turkey) is desirable, the question of ‘how much more does it add relative to its cost?’ is a recurring factor in any decision. In the Army’s case it is acute because the new vehicle must be inducted by the hundreds, possibly 1,000+ in a reasonable time period.

However, the Viper MIFV is HIT’s proposal. This does not preclude private sector entities, such as Cavalier Group and others, from proposing new designs. In fact, HIT is hoping to use its underused capacity through public-private sector partnerships wherein the Army selects a private sector design, and, in turn, the private company uses HIT’s facilities to fulfil the order. It is not entirely clear how this works, but it appears that HIT leases space to the private sector firm at a lower cost than building an entirely new plant, and the private firm is responsible for adding extra machining and other inputs for the external design.

Thus far, Cavalier Group’s Interceptor is being manufactured under this program, but Hajvairy Group and Pasha Group are looking to join through their light armoured vehicles and military trucks. It is not known if main battle tanks (MBT) could be had under this program, but it is worth noting that Ukraine wishes to factor into the production of al-Khalid I MBTs. However, Ukraine had also proposed its Oplot-M, but the Army appears to be reluctant to commit to an off-the-shelf purchase today. It is possible that, at some point, the (increasingly ill-fated) Haider MBT was being explored as a partnership-based project through HIT’s underused tank manufacturing line. It is unclear if walking away from the Haider will see the Army increase its al Khalid I MBT purchases, or a different strategy entirely.

Leaders Change Goals

By IDEAS 2018, it was clear that changes in the respective leaderships of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and the Pakistan Army (PA) had also changed the goals of those service branches. The most glaring example of this was the PAF preparing a bid for a new LIFT platform, even though it had spent 2015-2017 standing against such a platform as a matter of principle (e.g., “OEMs have added too much”). While it is true that the PAF does not intend to use LIFT for its fighter conversion units (FCU) – it still believes the K-8 is more than sufficient for FCU – it now requires an after-burning aircraft to bridge an apparent gap between FCU and OCU (operational conversion unit). This is why AVIC and Leonardo were promoting the L-15 and M-346, respectively, at IDEAS 2018. However, it is clear that a policy shift had occurred between the previous Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Sohail Aman and the current CAS, ACM Mujahid Anwar.

These changes are apparent in the Army as well (between General Raheel Sharif and General Javed Bajwa), e.g., walking away from the standard-issue rifle program and Haider MBT. Granted, these programs might have been affected by near-term uncertainty about outlay/funding, but transitioning POF to a new rifle was only a portion of the total expected cost ($1 billion-plus), while a small number of Haider MBTs were sought. The sole program that had been signed between the two leaderships was the T129 ATAK, which is, according to some reports, at risk of a delay due to Turkish-Pakistani issues with Washington.

Interestingly, the PN appears to be following a sequential strategy. Whereas the previous Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah, pursued big-ticket, fleet-recapitalization programs across the Navy’s surface and sub-surface combatants, Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi is focusing on the supportive or complementary elements, such as airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), logistics and auxiliary ships for surface combatants, and naval infrastructure programs. These programs are meant to build upon the programs the previous CNS inserted into the procurement pipeline.

The Theme of Hybrid Warfare

Be it the opening seminars to several marquee solutions by Global Industrial & Defence Solutions (GIDS) and the NRTC (National Radio & Telecom Corporation), countering ‘hybrid warfare’ or ‘grey warfare’ was a major theme at IDEAS. This was clearly apparent in the attention the NRTC drew towards its Safe Cities solutions, which aim to provide governments with the ability to closely monitor activities in public areas and impose access controls via biometric authentication, metallic scanning and other measures. Likewise, the NRTC also showcased unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) that could be used for diffusing bombs.

These solutions focus on the combat-side of ‘hybrid warfare’, e.g., counterinsurgency (COIN) and counter-terrorism (CT) operations. However, there was also an increased focus on cyber security, especially in the fall-out of the spate of cyber-breaches that occurred in Pakistani banks and, reportedly, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) itself. At IDEAS, Air University signed a ‘document-of-understanding’ (DoU) with Turkey’s STM (Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik ve Tic. A.Ş.) to establish a National Centre of Cyber Security (NCCS).

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