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Monthly Defense News Recap – November 2022

During the 2022 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS), Pakistan showcased a number of projects and initiatives. Some of these projects may indicate the direction of its modernization efforts.

Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) Reveals VT4 MBT Co-Production Plans

During IDEAS 2022, Pakistan’s Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) officially revealed that it will co-produce the VT4 main battle tank (MBT) as the “Haider” in collaboration with NORINCO.

The NORINCO VT4 is among the latest in China’s armoured offerings for the export market. It has a total weight of 52 tons and is reportedly powered by a 1,200 hp turbocharged diesel engine (some sources also report it using a 1,300 hp powerplant), explosive reactive armour (ERA), and 125 mm smoothbore gun.

The Pakistan Army (PA) initiated the Haider MBT program in 2015 in an effort to acquire a new-generation tank. With the Haider, the PA had two goals in mind. First, to accelerate the replacement of its aging tanks, such as the T-59. Second, to complement the domestically-built al-Khalid MBT with a platform that brings new technologies and capabilities into the PA’s armour inventory.

The PA had shortlisted the Ukrainian KMDB (Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau) Oplot and NORINCO VT4. It chose the VT4 and, in 2018, signed a deal with NORINCO for 176 tanks with an option to expand the order to around 300 units. NORINCO started delivering the VT4s to Pakistan in 2020 and, later that year, the PA officially inducted the platform.

However, with HIT announcing that it will involve itself in the supply of the VT4/Haider, it seems that the PA is committing to the platform at a wider level than solely an off-the-shelf purchase. The actual extent of the expansion was not officially revealed, but there are observer reports claiming that the PA will more than double its Haider MBT order.

It is unclear how HIT launching the Haider MBT line impacts the al-Khalid 2 program. In fact, in its current form, the VT4 already contains many of the improvements the PA sought in the al-Khalid 2. These include, among other things, a higher-torque engine, improved armour technology, the ability to fire guided anti-tank rounds, and network-enabled warfare capabilities.

Moreover, it is unclear how much additional production capacity HIT can handle in its current set up. HIT’s focus on the Haider MBT could take away from the al-Khalid-series. On the other hand, though HIT could potentially localize the Haider to the same extent as the al-Khalid and manufacture it, the PA could, at the same time, draw on NORINCO in parallel. Thus, the PA could leverage dual supply channel to drive a faster induction rate, which would align with the idea of accelerating the replacement of legacy tanks.

In 2021, HIT had suggested that it could use the VT4’s technology in the al-Khalid 2. While that approach certainly offers value from a standardization perspective, it may not be optimal. Basically, the actual MBT that the PA wants already exists in the Haider/VT4. Is it feasible to extend the al-Khalid 2’s development cycle to just, ultimately, end up with another Haider/VT4 when that tank is already available?

If the al-Khalid 2 is to continue, it would likely be as a parallel platform. In this case, there may be value in taking a simpler approach to the tank so as to reduce costs. In other words, instead of significant changes to the chassis and turret, the PA could largely retain the set up of the al-Khalid I.

In this respect, the al-Khalid-series could function as a lower cost complement to the more sophisticated Haider-series. While some of the VT4’s subsystems – e.g., electronics and ERA – could readily make their way to the al-Khalid-series, there would still be significant differences between the two tanks.

It is a reasonable approach, but it depends on whether HIT offers enough capacity to support two major MBT programs simultaneously.

Pakistan Hints at Key Advancements in its Munitions

Currently, the main focus areas of the Pakistan Army’s (PA) modernization efforts are in tanks and artillery systems. In terms of the latter, the PA inducted NORINCO’s SH-15 wheeled self-propelled howitzer (SPH). HIT is also developing in an in-house 155 mm towed howitzer.

However, at IDEAS 2022, it was the offerings of the wider Pakistani industry that signalled key movements in the PA’s plans. For example, a Pakistani company known as Harobanx marketed guided control kits for 155 mm shells. Such proposals could indicate that the PA is looking to add precision-guided shells, possibly as a workhorse solution (as an end-user could integrate such guidance kits to existing shells).

Overall, with each of the tri-services arms moving towards network-enabled warfare, the ability to pair a real-time target acquisition element with accurate strike delivery is becoming key. This is no different for the PA. Thus, it seems that the PA is actively moving towards adding guided attack capabilities across its tanks, artillery, rocket artillery, and aviation assets.

Pakistan’s Industry Dives into the Loitering Munition Space

From state-owned enterprises (SOE) like Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) to private sector competitors like Integrated Dynamics, the Pakistani defence industry has entered the loitering munitions space.

Having played a noticeable role in Ukraine (on both sides), loitering munitions have caught on as a crucial workhorse solution for militaries around the world. Thus, it is not a surprise that Pakistan is also seemingly seeking loitering munitions (hence local defence industry’s interest in such solutions).

The designs on offer at IDEAS 2022 were diverse. They ranged from target drones reworked into kamikaze weapons to more specialized designs. With the latter, the PA’s in-house design bureau, the Research and Development Establishment (RDE), is offering a micro-loitering munition called the ERAD.

The ERAD seems like it is capable of vertically dropping towards its target. While marketed as a portably-carried and launched solution, the ERAD might be a suitable sub-munition too.

For example, an end-user could potentially load a dispensing munition (like the NORINCO GB500A) with several dozen ERADS. This dispenser could launch ERADs over an enemy formation, for example. In turn, each ERAD would search for a target and, upon acquisition, pursue it.

This would potentially give Pakistan a solution similar to the CBU-105 Sensor-Fuzed Weapon in the sense of being a submunitions-based anti-armour solution. Of course, it would work quite differently, but with its own advantages. For example, with each ERAD submunition being a drone in itself, Pakistan could cue them with mid-course re-targeting. It could also have them cluster towards one area or, alternately, have them spread farther across the area to engage a wider distribution of targets.

In any case, the development of loitering munitions by an internal entity like RDE indicates that the PA is actively interested in acquiring such solutions. Not only that, but different types of loitering munitions are emerging out of Pakistan. Thus, the PA could be interested in experimenting and using a diverse array of such drones so as to cover a wider subset of operational requirements. In terms of the latter, the PA could be looking at leveraging different types of deployment platforms, varying warhead sizes, or diverse range and loitering capabilities.

 

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