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Monthly Defense News Recap: December 2021

This week’s Quwa Premium article is a recap of some defence news items from around the world. Besides a basic overview of the news item, this article also offers short-form analysis of each topic.

China Launches Pakistan’s 4th Type 054A/P Frigate

On 24 December 2021, Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding launched the Pakistan Navy’s (PN) fourth Type 054A/P frigate.

Pakistan put an order for four Type 054A/P frigates in 2017 and 2018 in dual two-ship batches with China Shipbuilding Trading Co. Ltd (CSTC). Hudong-Zhongua Shipbuilding started building the lead pair of ships in 2018 and commenced work on the follow-on batch in 2019.

China delivered the first Type 054A/P – now designated the Tughril-class frigate – to the PN in November 2021. The second ship, PNS Taimur, is slated to arrive in the PN’s in April 2022. It took around 16 months for the PN to receive PNS Tughril after launch, and it seems that PNS Taimur is following a similar schedule. Thus, the PN will likely have all four Type 054A/P ships by mid-2023.

The Tughril-class frigate is a customized variant of the Type 054A, which is a mainstay surface combatant of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The most visible changes in the Tughril-class center on its main air/surface surveillance radar and its anti-ship warfare (AShW) weapons.

The Type 054A/P frigate is equipped with the SRC2410C, a 3D electronically-scanned array radar, instead of the Type 382 radar used onboard the PLAN’s Type 054As. In terms of AShW, it seems that the Tughril-class is armed with the CM302 supersonic-cruising anti-ship missile (AShM) in a two-by-two configuration instead of the standard C-802 sub-sonic AShM in a four-by-four configuration.

Otherwise, the Tughril-class is largely similar to its counterpart in the PLAN. However, while the anti-air warfare (AAW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) systems are similar, Pakistan is using export variants of the systems equipping the PLAN’s ships. For example, the Tughril-class is equipped with the LY-80 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, the export version of the HQ-16.

Of the new warships in the PN’s procurement pipeline, the Tughril-class frigate is the largest one, boasting a displacement of 4,000 tons. The PN is aiming to build a fleet of “major surface vessels” (which probably refers to ships with a displacement of over 2,000 tons) of 20 ships.

Currently, the PN is working towards operating both Western and Chinese ship designs. Where the Type 054A/P and F-22P form the latter, the former will consist of the Babur-class corvette and Jinnah-class frigate. While the Babur-class and Jinnah-class ships are of Turkish design, they will feature Western-origin weapon systems, most notably the MBDA Italy CAMM-ER SAM system, among other solutions. In fact, the Turkish solutions likely pattern NATO-grade requirements since they are primarily designed for Turkey.

Pakistan Takes Delivery of Another VT4 Tank Batch

An export-import log from 19 November 2021 shows that the Pakistan Army (PA) took delivery of another batch of VT4 main battle tanks (MBT) from China’s Norinco Group.

This is the second major VT4 MBT delivery in 2021, with the first shipment of the year taking place in May.

Officially revealed in October 2020, the PA acquired the VT4 as an off-the-shelf solution. During the tender selection process in 2015 and 2016, the VT4 competed against the Ukrainian Oplot-P. As per sources, the PA chose the VT4 in late 2018 and placed a $859 million US order for 176 units.

Interestingly, the export-import registry also says that the PA received “tank ToT” (transfer-of-technology) with the VT4 batch. The registry does not specify what the ToT in question entails.

However, the Ministry of Defence Production’s (MoDP) newest report for 2018-2021 states that Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) is developing the VT4’s gun barrel. In addition, Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) is manufacturing the VT4’s ammunition under a ToT agreement.

In a July 2021 interview, the chairman of HIT, Major General Syed Aamer Raza, indicated that HIT will use the VT4’s technology in the forthcoming al-Khalid 2 MBT. It is possible that the ToT Pakistan is getting via the VT4 program is directed towards the al-Khalid 2 program. Moreover, HIT could acquire certain inputs, such as the engine and transmission, from China on an off-the-shelf basis. In turn, the al-Khalid 2 and VT4 could end up having a significant measure of commonality in terms of subsystems and logistics.

Pakistan Continues Tank Upgrade Programs

Pakistan is also continuing ahead with its efforts to modernize its older tanks. Alongside its VT4 shipment, Pakistan also took delivery of 160 kits for rebuilding and upgrading the T-85IIAP. In addition, the newest MoDP report also stated that HIT is moving towards rebuilding the Ukrainian-origin T-80UD tanks.

There are few specifics available regarding each upgrade program. According to Defense News, there is a T-85IIAP with a new composite armour module. Moreover, HIT is already fitting the T-85IIAP with new fire control systems, new thermal imaging sights, and new engines. HIT is expected to modernize the T-80UDs along similar lines, though the specifics have not officially been confirmed.

Egypt to Become Launch Customer of New IRIS-T SLX SAM System

Germany’s Diehl Defence received approval from Berlin to sell its new IRIS-T SLM medium-range and SLX long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems to Egypt.

The IRIS-T SL is the land-based, SAM version of the IRIS-T high-off-boresight air-to-air missile (HOBS AAM). Officially revealing it in December 2021, Diehl Defence is marketing the IRIS-T SLX as the longest-range member of the IRIS-T SL family.

The official ranges of the IRIS-T SLM and IRIS-T SLX are not known, but reports have pegged them to be at 40 km and 80 km, respectively. Both systems use active radar-homing (ARH). The IRIS-T SLX is an intriguing development for both Egypt and the wider world market.

For Egypt, the IRIS-T SLX could be an effective way to modernize its ground-based air defence environment within the framework of Western-origin solutions. It will likely build upon the IRIS-T SLX with a wide range of Western-origin radars and command-and-control (C2) systems. In fact, Egypt is a customer of Thales’ new Ground Master GM400, a 3D active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar. The GM400 provides a range of 515 km. Thus, the IRIS-T SLM and SLX will likely interoperate with the GM400 fairly smoothly.

However, for the wider market, the IRIS-T SLX marks the rise of a new long-range SAM vendor. While the IRIS-T SLX does not have the same coverage as the Patriot or S-400, it would still be a significant upgrade, especially for militaries in the developing world. This is especially true if Diehl Defence can field a naval or warship-based solution similar to the Aster 30 and Standard-series.

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has yet to move its next-generation air defence programs into motion (while the Army and Navy slot new and advanced solutions to their respective pipelines). The PAF traditionally operated Western-origin SAMs, namely the Crotale and Spada 2000-Plus. The potential availability of the IRIS-T SLM and SLX could enable the PAF to add new medium and long-range SAMs within its mostly U.S. and European-origin ground-based air defence ground environment.


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