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Monthly Defense News Recap: January 2022

In January 2022, Pakistan started inducting its new mainstay weapon systems, notably the SH-15 wheeled self-propelled howitzer (SPH) and Tughril-class (Type 054A/P) frigate. Leaning on China as its primary arms supplier, Pakistan is adding a range of net-new warfare capabilities.

Pakistan Army Receives First Batch of Norinco SH-15 Self-Propelled Howitzers

According to publicly available export-import logs, the Pakistan Army took delivery of its first Norinco SH-15 self-propelled howitzers (SPH) on 13 January 2022. It is not clear how many SH-15s Pakistan received, but the logs indicate that Norinco delivered 76 packages comprising of guns and ammunition.

The Pakistan Army selected the SH-15 following a series of trials in 2015-2016 when it evaluated numerous wheeled SPH systems, including the Denel T5-52 and Yugoimport SDPR NORA-B52, among other SPHs. In 2016, Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) officials reportedly suggested that the Army could acquire as many as 500 SPHs under a transfer-of-technology (ToT) deal.

Pakistan likely settled its wheeled SPH choice in 2017 as it ordered 1,332 VLAP (very long-range artillery projectile) shells that year. None of the Army’s existing howitzers/guns can support that type of shell, so a new SPH order was certainly in the procurement pipeline.

The SH-15 uses a 155 mm/52-caliber gun mounted on a 6×6 chassis. According to Norinco, the SH-15 can fire a variety of munition types. These include VLAP shells, which can offer a range of up to 50 km. It could also fire laser-guided, satellite-guided, and guided top-attack shells.

In addition to the SH-15, the export-import logs indicate that Pakistan acquired ToT to locally produce the new artillery shells. This ToT deal is likely in reference to the VLAP shells Pakistan bought in 2017.

Like the VT-4 main battle tank, the SH-15 is a major piece of the Army’s modernization efforts. Not only is the SH-15 a new platform, but it adds significant net-new capabilities. The Army will leverage the SH-15’s compatibility with VLAP shells to add a stand-off weapon (SOW)-type capability. Pakistan will likely acquire various guided and top-attack shells to improve its striking accuracy.

Pakistan may work to downstream these new artillery capabilities to its future towed howitzers too. Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) is developing a homegrown 155 mm gun. Given that Pakistan will manufacture VLAP shells, it would make sense to induct compatible guns at the mainstay/workhorse level. Moreover, as the Army invests in guided, long-range artillery capabilities, it will seek more target-acquisition solutions too, likely through an assortment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

Pakistan Navy Inducts ex-Qatari Sea King Helicopters

On 24 January 2022, the Pakistan Navy (PN) announced that it inducted second-hand Sea King helicopters from the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF). The PN assigned the helicopters to its No.111 Squadron.

Of the 10 WS-61s, the PN received seven Commando Mk3s and three Commando Mk2As. The Commando Mk3s are capable of anti-ship warfare (AShW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations. On the other hand, the QEAF had used the Mk2As for transporting soldiers.[1]

Prior to inducting the Qatari WS-61s, the PN has been operating nine Sea King helicopters. These include three recently acquired former Royal Navy and Royal Air Force helicopters (one Mk3A and two HC4s). It is not clear if the PN will fly all 10 of the ex-Qatari WS-61s. It may store some of the aircraft as attrition reserves and/or cannibalize them for spare parts.

The advantage of acquiring used Sea King helicopters is that the PN can immediately leverage its existing support infrastructure. In other words, it can induct these helicopters seamlessly, even though it is adding to its capacity by a factor of 1.5X to 2X (depending on whether it flies all 10 ex-Qatari WS-61s).

That said, the PN is also seeking new-built naval multi-mission helicopters, especially for operations from its forthcoming frigates and corvettes. For the Tughril-class (Type 054A/P) frigate, the PN will likely source the helicopter from China. Doing so would simplify the sensor integration process.

However, it is unclear what the PN will procure for the Babur-class (PN MILGEM) corvette and Jinnah-class frigate programs. As these are custom designs with Turkish and Western-origin sensors and subsystems, the PN may be leaning towards a Western naval helicopter, such as the AW159.

Pakistan Navy Inducts First Tughril-Class (Type 054A/P) Frigate

On 24 January 2022, the PN officially commissioned its first Type 054A/P frigate, the PNS Tughril (F-261).

Having ordered the ships in 2017 and 2018, the PN will likely receive all four ships by mid-2023. Currently, the second (PNS Taimur), third, and fourth ships are all undergoing sea trials. Thus far, it seems that each Type 054A/P frigate takes 16 months from launch to commissioning.

The Tughril-class frigate is also the PN’s first surface warship equipped with a vertical launch system (VLS) for surface-to-air missiles (SAM). The PN’s ships are configured with the LY-80, a semi-active radar-homing (SARH) missile with a range of 40 km. It seems that the Tughril-class frigate is also armed with the CM-302 supersonic-cruising anti-ship missile (AShM). Thus, this frigate adds two new critical capabilities to the PN, i.e., a means to match India’s BrahMos threat, and a local-area anti-air warfare (AAW) solution.

It is interesting to note that the PN is making both VLS and ‘large’ AShMs a standard feature across its new ships, at least the Tughril-class frigate and Babur-class corvette. Where the Tughril-class frigate deploys a 2×2 slanted-launcher configuration, the Babur-class corvette has a 2×3 system. This system may be meant for the Harbah, a long-range, dual-anti-ship and land-attack cruise missile. In any case, it seems that the PN is moving away from (at least partly) the C-802/Harpoon/Exocet-sized AShM.

Turkey’s Bayraktar Akıncı Secures an Export Order

Turkey’s Baykar Makina announced that it secured an export order for its Bayraktar Akıncı, a twin-engine unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). The company said it will deliver the Akıncı in 2023.

With a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 6,000 kg, the Akıncı is a large UCAV design. The Akıncı relies on two Motor Sich AI-450T turboprop engines, each providing an output of 560 kW. It offers an endurance of 24 hours and a payload capacity of 1,500 kg split across eight hardpoints. The Akıncı can carry a diverse array of systems and weapons, including radars, electronic support measures (ESM), precision-guided air-to-surface bombs, air-launched cruise missiles, and even air-to-air missiles.

Baykar Makina did not announce the customer. However, the sale is a significant milestone for the drone producer. Not only is the sale a sign that a military is confident in Baykar Makina’s prowess with designing and producing large drones, but it marks a growth point for the company, which had previously leaned on the commercial success of its smaller TB2.

[1] Gordon Arthur. “Pakistan Navy inducts Sea Kings and Chinese-built frigate.” Shephard Media. 25 January 2022. URL: https://www.shephardmedia.com/news/air-warfare/pakistan-navy-inducts-sea-kings-and-chinese-built/

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