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Monthly Defense News Recap – December 2022

Turkish Aerospace continues showcasing the progress it is making on its key aircraft projects. The Pakistan Navy confirms its supersonic anti-ship missile capability as well as speaks to its ongoing development programs.

Turkish Aerospace Makes Progress on Hürjet Trainer Prototype

On 23 December, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) rolled out the (partially completed) prototype of its Hürjet lead-in-fighter trainer (LIFT).

According to Dr. Rafet Bozdoğan, the Chairman of TAI/TUSAŞ, the Hürjet’s aerostructure work is mostly complete. Moreover, the second Hürjet prototype is also under production.

TAI is aiming to conduct the maiden test flight of the Hürjet on 18 March 2023. To reach that milestone, TAI will start carrying out the Hürjet’s engine integration and ground test work in the coming months.

The Hürjet is one of TAI/TUSAŞ’ key homegrown aerospace programs, alongside the MMU/TFX next-generation fighter aircraft, the Hürkuş turboprop-powered trainer, T625 utility helicopter, and T929 heavy attack helicopter. TAI is developing the Hürjet for both domestic and export purposes.

Domestically, the Hürjet will play the critical role of replacing the Turkish Air Force’s legacy T-38 Talon advanced jet trainers (AJT) and F-5 Tiger II lightweight fighters. In this respect, the Hürjet will serve as both a LIFT/AJT and a light combat multirole aircraft.

A Naval Hürjet?

In addition, TAI is believed to be carrying out studies of using the Hürjet design as a potential manned fighter aircraft for carrier-based naval operations. It is unclear (if not unlikely) the Hürjet in its current form would suffice for the carrier role. India had developed a functional naval variant of its Tejas (also being a lightweight fighter), but the Indian Navy opted not to use it due to substantial trade-offs being made to the payload, range, and weight of the aircraft.

It would not be surprising if TAI reaches similar conclusions with the Hürjet in its current configuration. But at the same time, the initial study could potentially lead to another project, one for a heavier class of single-engine fighter that could efficiently operate from carriers.

Engine versus Exports

The Hürjet will use the GE F404 turbofan engine. While a credible powerplant, the F404 may constrain the Hürjet’s export potential due to the fact that it is an ITAR-compliant product. The LIFT/AJT market, especially among users of Western equipment, is already saturated. Thus, Turkey might try promoting the aircraft to countries that cannot readily buy Western, especially American, equipment.

In this sense, it will be worth watching Turkey’s indigenous turbofan development work. In fact, it has gradually been scaling up the scope of its turbofan engine programs. Currently, it has the TF6000 and TF10000, which offer 26.6 kN and 44.5 kN in thrust (with afterburner), respectively.

While this is not as powerful as the 78 kN afterburner thrust of the GE F404, it at least shows Turkey progressing towards that territory. In fact, other TAI programs, like the TİSU unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), could necessitate a GE F404-class engine.

Thus, if the Turkish Air Force (and Turkish Navy) greenlight several key development programs, such as the naval operations fighter, a medium-weight complement to the TFX/MMU, a new UCAV, and an ITAR-free Hürjet, there could be enough economies-of-scale to warrant the development of a homegrown F404-class engine.

Pakistan Navy Keeps Making Steady Progress

In an interview with Defence Turkey, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral Muhammad Amjad Khan Niazi, discussed provided updates about the Pakistan Navy’s (PN) major programs, notably the Babur-class corvette, Jinnah-class frigate, and Hangor-class submarine, among others.

Pakistan Starts Building First Hangor-Class Submarine (Lays Keel for Second)

The PN’s Hangor-class air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarine program is moving along.

Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works (KSEW) laid the keel of the fifth boat (PNS Tasnim) and cut the steel of the sixth boat. Under the original contract signed with China in 2015, KSEW was to manufacture four of the eight Hangor-class submarines. The PN is aiming to induct all eight boats by 2028.

According to Pakistan’s previous Chief of Army Staff (COAS), the PN had intended to acquire Germany’s MTU engines for use on the Hangor SSP. However, Berlin did not release the export permits, and thus, the PN had to seek an alternative engine.

The Hangor SSP is likely using both a Chinese engine and a Chinese AIP, the latter probably being the export variant of China’s Stirling system. Likewise, the PN is probably acquiring a set of off-the-shelf Chinese anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-ship warfare (AShW) weapons, like the Yu-series of torpedoes and, potentially, the CM-708UNB anti-ship cruising missile (ASCM).

Ultimately, going with the stock Chinese package was the most cost-effective route for the PN. It also protects against the risk of delays due to technical complications or supply-side issues. Even the MTU engines were, originally, a stock input when China believed it could procure them.

Once the eight Hangor SSPs are inducted and the three Agosta 90Bs upgraded, the PN will possess a credible sub-surface fleet. With that basis in place, it can then explore an original submarine project, one that it designs, develops, and manufactures domestically. In fact, an original submarine program would likely be the PN’s avenue of eventually replacing the Agosta 90Bs and, as importantly, further enlarging its ocean-going sub-surface fleet.

Pakistan Navy Chief Confirms CM-302 Missile Induction

The PN Chief also confirmed that the Tughril-class (Type 054A/P) frigates are indeed equipped with CM-302 supersonic-cruising ASCMs.

Marketed by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), the CM-302 relies on a ramjet engine that gives it a cruising speed of Mach 2 at low-altitude and up to Mach 3 at high-altitude.

The PN’s Tughril-class frigates are equipped with CM-302s in a two-by-three configuration. Basically, by inducting the Tughril-class frigate, the PN has also activated a supersonic ASCM capability. In a way, it is ‘countering’ the Indian BrahMos threat by emulating a similar capability of its own.

Finally, the CNS suggested that the PN may consider additional Type 054A/P frigates after fully inducting its first tranches of new warships (i.e., Type 054A/P, the MILGEM, and the Damen OPV). Thus, it appears that the PN’s long-term roadmap still envisions a growth in its surface combatant fleet.

Pakistan Navy Looking at Upgrading F-22P Frigate With MBDA Albatros NG

The PN Chief discussed why the PN opted for the MBDA Albatros NG (CAMM-ER) surface-to-air missile (SAM) system for use on the Babur-class corvette. Several factors were in play, namely, the role of the MILGEM in the PN fleet, the integration process, and cost. Moreover, the PN was also confident in its main contractor’s (i.e., ASFAT Inc.) experience in integrating Western and Turkish subsystems.

However, the PN is also cognizant of the value of standardizing subsystems across ships. It simplifies the maintenance, logistics and training aspects. Thus, the PN is also considering the Albatros NG for use on both the forthcoming Jinnah-class frigate and the existing F-22P or Zulfiquar-class frigate.

The note about potentially upgrading the F-22P with the Albatros-NG is interesting. It suggests that the PN is both willing to use the F-22P as a mainstay asset in the long-term and, as importantly, invest in a significant way into the platform. If equipped with the Albatros-NG, the F-22P functionally becomes as capable (at least qualitatively) as the Babur-class and Jinnah-class. It could serve a similar role as those ships in a composite flotilla (which would likely center on the Tughril-class).

This lines up with an earlier observation, i.e., the Zulfiquar-class/F-22P, Babur-class, and Jinnah-class are broadly similar ships from a size, displacement, and AShW and ASW standpoint. The main differentiating factor between the MILGEM-line (Babur/Jinnah) and F-22P (Zulfiquar) was the former’s superior anti-air warfare (AAW) element (due to the Albatros NG).

By standardizing the AAW element, the PN is working to make the three ship types similar in more areas than just the size or displacement. The PN could potentially standardize the ships in terms of their AShW and ASW weapons as well. In that sense, the F-22P may get the P282 surface-to-surface missile (SSM).

 

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