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Monthly Report: Why the MILGEM Ada?

Pakistan has been negotiating with Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM) and its defence contractor – Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik ve Ticaret A.Ş. (STM) – for the purchase of four MILGEM Ada corvettes since June 2016. Pakistan had formally requested the corvettes with credit during an official visit by Turkey’s then Minister of Defence (MoD), Fikri Işık. Ultimately, the Pakistan Navy’s (PN) principal goal with this corvette acquisition is to recapitalize its surface fleet, most of which is still composed of old surface combatants, namely five ex-Royal Navy Type 21 frigates and single ex-US Navy FFG-7 frigate (i.e. the PNS Alamgir). However, beneath that self-evident goal are key nuances, each of which is important to acknowledge in order to properly understand why the PN is content with the MILGEM Ada.

This report overviews the history of the PN’s pursuit of this corvette while also outlining relevant details of the MILGEM program. The objective is to analyze the projected impact of these corvettes should they get inducted into the PN fleet. Though a final contrast has not yet been signed, this report will argue that the PN may consider this an indispensable program, albeit in relation to its surface fleet, which itself may not be critical to the PN’s wartime interests (this is also discussed in this report). Ultimately, even with the MILGEM Ada in place, the PN is not planning to change the underlying nature of its surface fleet, which is intended to excel in peacetime sea control, but fulfill a secondary role in wartime.

History of the Pakistan Navy’s Corvette Program

The PN originally began its pursuit for a corvette in 2006. The objective behind its pursuit has not changed – the original aim was to recapitalize the surface fleet with high-quality new-built ships. Like today, the original PN corvette requirement was for four ships. Interestingly, the ship to secure that requirement was the MILGEM Ada. However, the MILGEM Ada was still in development at that time; hence, it was a vote of confidence by the PN in an untested platform. However, as it emerged in recent years, the MILGEM – i.e. short for Milli Gemi or National Warship – Turkey’s government and naval leadership were serious about bringing the MILGEM to fruition and, besides completing the Ada, evolved it into new platforms, such as the I-Class frigate, LF-2400 and CF-3500 (with the first I-Class under construction since 2017).

In 2006, the PN’s scope of options was also relatively wide. In a sense, the MILGEM Ada at that time was an untested quantity. In addition, Pakistan was able to generate commercial interest from leading French and German shipbuilding companies, both of which were pining to secure a conventional submarine deal from the PN. It would have been a logical option to package the submarines and corvettes together, which could incentivize the supplier to push for the requisite funding mechanisms and industrial concessions. In 2006-2007, the PN selected the Type 214 from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) for its requirement of three new air-independent propulsion (AIP)-equipped submarines.[1] Thus, the TKMS MEKO-series could have amounted to genuine competition, especially considering that Berlin was willing at that time to offer credit to back the PN Type 214 deal.[2] However, the Type 214 and corvette programs collapsed in the end.

The PN’s pursuit of the MILGEM Ada ended by 2009-2010 due to a paucity of funding and the Government of Pakistan’s need to impose austerity measures on public funding to meet specific fiscal discipline goals set with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In 2010 the PN also ordered four Azmat-class fast attack crafts (FAC) from China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Company Limited (CSOC). Described FACs, each of these ships has a displacement of 560 tons and have complete anti-ship warfare (AShW) capability – the third and fourth Azmat-class FACs can even deploy the Harba dual-AShM/land-attack cruise missile (LACM). Thus, the Azmat-class FACs provided the PN with improved AShW capabilities suitable for an anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) mission profile at $50 million US per ship.[3]

However, while providing comparable AShW capabilities, the Azmat FAC would not match the range and endurance benefits of the Ada corvette. For example, the Azmat FAC has a ferry range of 1,000 nautical miles compared to the Ada’s 3,500 nautical miles. In addition, the Ada – along with comparable other corvette designs – offer anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities and organic aviation element. In other words, despite improving the A2/AD element, the Azmat FACs do not provide the requisite capabilities to replace the legacy Type 21s for the PN’s peacetime sea control requirements, such as guarding the sea-lines-of-communication (SLOC), farther edges of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and coalition support with Combined Task Forces (CTF) 150 and 151. Thus, the Azmat FAC did not resolve the PN’s problem.

MILGEM Ada: 2016-Present

The PN renewed its corvette program in June 2016 when it formally requested four MILGEM Ada corvettes from Turkey. In August 2016, the principal contractor for managing the export of the MILGEM STM stated that it was in the process of working with the PN to design a custom variant of the MILGEM Ada.[4] Critical to this deal is the provision of $400 million US as a loan or line-of-credit from Turkey, which the Turkish MoD forwarded to the SSM and Turkish Ministry of Finance.[5] In November 2016 during the International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) in Karachi, Pakistan the SSM confirmed that the line-of-credit will be provided to Pakistan for the purchase – in fact, the SSM said it would pilot the program with Pakistan.[6]

However, Turkey’s loan can only cover a portion of the total deal. Speaking to the state-owned Anadolu Agency, the head of STM Davut Yilmaz outlined that the Pakistan MILGEM Ada order would be worth up to $1 billion US.[7] Yilmaz added that Pakistan’s customizations requests had brought the unit-price of each Ada down from the projected $300 million per ship to $250 million.[8] From the start (including the ill-fated 2006 deal), a measure of activity was expected in Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW) involving the construction of the ships. In November 2017, Pakistan’s Minister of Defence Production (MoDP) Rana Tanveer Hussain outlined to Anadolu Agency that negotiations were “completed and construction of the ship will start in the near future”, though he added that financial proposals were being reviewed by the Pakistani government.[9] According to the MoDP, two of the four ships would be constructed at KSEW, with the remaining two built at Turkish shipyards. It would not be surprising if, in reality, the financial element of the deal only covers for two of the ships, with the remaining two being exercised once Pakistan has the funds in place. In other words, this would be a long-term (e.g. eight to ten-year) program.

The underlying theme informing Pakistan’s apparent preference for Turkish defence hardware appears to be the Turkish industry and government’s willingness to accommodate, not just in terms of loans but for unconventional procurement and financing arrangements as well. For example, though the total value of the PN’s Agosta 90B submarine upgrade program – being implemented by STM at KSEW – is $350 million US, Pakistan is able to segment its commitment into three separate contracts.[10] Thus far, it has signed onto upgrading two of the PN’s three Agosta 90Bs.[11] Likewise, during IDEAS 2016 Aselsan had noted that Pakistan makes small-batch purchases on an irregular or unforecastable basis, but the company caters to the issue due to the positive nature of Turkish-Pakistani relations.[12]

One can reasonably expect the four MILGEM Ada corvettes to supplant the PN’s five Type 21 frigates, and in turn, assume the Type 21’s peacetime sea-control duties and wartime tasks. However, interestingly, in 2017 the PN also confirmed that it ordered one Type 054A frigate from China with an option for another two ships.[13] Overall, this indicates that the process of acquiring new-built surface ships is in motion and that this corvette deal, though it has yet to be inked, is on the PN’s roadmap as a priority item. Basically, it requires new-built surface warships – hence dissuading it from used ships – to comfortably serve for the long-term without escalating maintenance and operating costs resulting from age.

Expectations of Pakistan’s MILGEM Ada Corvettes

Pakistan’s Ada corvettes will be a custom platform incorporating a fusion of European, Turkish, Chinese and local content. How this suite manifests is currently unclear, but one can reasonably assume that AShW and ASW will materialize. First, the Ada was specifically designed to deliver those capabilities. Second, these would directly match and supplant the capabilities on-hand with the Type 21s.

For Pakistan, there are also other considerations, not least its turbulent ties with Washington and the impact of likely lacking US suppliers in the chain. This could negate the inclusion of the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM), the Harpoon Block-II AShM and other American-origin weapons on use on the MILGEM Ada. Likewise, one should not assume that Turkey can integrate these – potentially including stocks in Pakistan – without the approval of Washington. The Turkish shipbuilder Yonca-Onuk faced this exact obstacle when trying to arm the PN’s MRTP-33 FACs with the Harpoon Block-IIs.[14] However, there are many alternate suppliers in the AShW and ASW space – Pakistan’s fiscal constraints notwithstanding, the PN should have limited trouble arming the MILGEM Ada for AShW and ASW.

The actual omission of concern in the Pakistani corvette program is that of a vertical launch system (VLS) for surface-to-air missiles (SAM). Besides a close-in-weapons-system (CIWS) or potentially a point-defence missile system (PDMS), Pakistan’s corvettes will lack area-wide anti-air warfare (AAW) capabilities. While the fact of the MILGEM Ada’s design being closed for such an addition is correct, the question at hand is why the PN is choosing to skip VLS when the option to include is there through other MILGEM variants.

Why No Naval Air Defence?

By omitting VLS, the PN is effectively shutting the door on the idea of using the corvettes for a substantive air defence mission profile. In fact, by selecting the Ada specifically, even the prospect of an upgrade in the long-term is closed (though not impossible if externally-mountable VLS cells become commonplace). In one respect, it could simply be an issue of cost-effectiveness. Granted, Pakistan is fiscally constrained, but the only other MILGEM variant that has undergone the requisite design tests ahead of construction (e.g. pool tests) is the I-Class frigate, which is a different class of ship than what the PN wanted with the Ada (i.e. evidently a sub-2,500-ton ship). Otherwise, the Ada’s sister MILGEM designs – such as the LF-2400 – are untested designs, which may incur added developmental costs in order to bring into fruition.

However, the cost-effectiveness question is deeper than just the MILGEM’s design issues. The PN also has to contemplate on whether available VLS SAM solutions are worth pursuing over externally-mounted or pedestal-based SAMs. Of the systems on the market, the lowest-cost option would be the Denel Dynamics Umkhonto-IR, which has a range of 20 km. However, while the Umkhonto IR SAM system itself is low-cost, it would also accompany the cost of having a VLS-capable Ada corvette. It is true that another OEM could have provided a VLS-capable corvette, but that would have closed Pakistan to Turkey’s accommodations – i.e. the factors that were making this corvette program even possible. France and Germany were simply not available/accessible options. To justify VLS in the MILGEM, one would have to substantially improve upon the best pedestal-based SAMs, but those VLS-based SAMs are unlikely to be available to the PN – withheld due to fiscal constraints and pressure from the US and/or India.

In effect, the PN’s $250 m per ship budget, dearth of available suppliers and financing options combined to negate a VLS-based SAM as an option. However, the PN could plausibly pursue pedestal-based solutions which at least match the practical benefits on offer by the Umkhonto IR and MBDA MICA-VL. Granted, the specific range might not be matched, but it could retain ability to intercept immediate threats – i.e. have a measure of defensibility for the ship at least. Such options can include China’s FL-3000N PDMS or Thales’ Crotale Naval Mk3, the latter armed with the hypervelocity VT1 SAM for intercepting sea-skimming and supersonic-cruising threats.[15] The VT1 has a range of 15 km, it can be deployed on a pedestal with eight missiles ready-to-fire. Ultimately, the PN can look to seal its immediate ship-defence requirements, but its medium-to-high-altitude air defence coverage will have to come through the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).

The one avenue for long-term change is the Type 054A. The Type 054A is in the same capability-class as the I-Class, i.e. a multi-mission ship with AShW, ASW and AAW capability, with the latter through the 40 km-range SAM. One could speculate that having the Type 054A in the fleet at least provides the PN the long-term option of upgrading these ships with medium-to-long-range SAMs. Moreover, the selection of the Type 054A also negates the possibility of the I-Class. One could expect this high-capability frigate to essentially serve as a command ship for the non-AAW-equipped MILGEM Ada and F-22P.

Corvette Mission Roles: Peacetime Sea Control, ASW and A2/AD

The result of the MILGEM Ada program would be a AShW and ASW-equipped ship with a displacement of 2,300 tons and ability to support a medium-weight utility helicopter. In effect, the PN is basically adding a ship that is directly analogous to the F-22P frigates. Granted, the F-22P is heavier in displacement, but the AShW and ASW capabilities on hand between the two ships is identical. Moreover, with the omission of VLS, the two platforms will not provide area-wide AAW coverage. On the other hand, the virtue of being a newer ship gives the PN the option to configure its Ada with superior sensors and electronics compared to the F-22P. For example, this could include a phased-array air and surface surveillance radar, electronic support measures (ESM) including electronic intelligence (ELINT) and electronic warfare (EW) systems. In contrast to the mechanically-steered radars of the F-22P, this would be a substantive improvement.

In terms of peacetime sea control, the Ada will join the F-22P in securing Pakistan’s SLOC and EEZ from an array of threats. However, the burden of responsibility to neutralizing those threats will likely fall towards the forthcoming offshore patrol vessels (OPV), which are lower-cost and sufficient for deploying special operations forces (SOF) units for interdiction tasks of maritime criminals. It could also potentially join CTF-150 and CTF-151, which the PN views as integral avenues for maintaining relations with other navies and, in turn, leverage those ties for bilateral and multilateral exercises and learning exchanges. However, the inclusion of ESM/ELINT equipment could enable the Ada to contribute to conventional defence interests in peacetime – i.e. operate from the edges of Pakistan’s EEZ to compile frequency data for Pakistan’s EW threat-library (for use in wartime). The PN’s Agosta 90Bs are being upgraded with ESM/ELINT through the Aselsan ARES-2SC/NS – adding an identical ESM suite to the Ada would be logical.

In wartime, the Ada and F-22P will pivot to securing Pakistan’s littoral waters. It is unlikely that they will be deployed to guard the SLOC and EEZ in wartime; the lack of credible maritime air defence exposes the ships to a battery of ship, submarine and airborne AShM threats. However, ASW capabilities may be key for guarding Pakistan’s littoral waters from intruding submarines. Likewise, equipping the Ada with a long-range air and surface surveillance radar could enable it to guide long-range AShM from its own stock as well as those of other ships (i.e. distributed lethality; discussed in an earlier Quwa Premium article). In this case, the objective would be to strengthen Pakistan’s littoral A2/AD posture.

Analysis: No Change in the PN’s Surface Ship Strategy

Essentially, the MILGEM Ada will supplant the Type 21s while augmenting the F-22Ps, particularly from a quantitative standpoint. However, despite the induction of new-built ships, it would not alter the nature of the PN surface fleet. Currently, any prospect of an AAW element will occur through a single ship (with an option for two more), but it will not be a standard element of the surface fleet. Granted, the Ada will bring qualitative improvements in terms of the sensor package – which could, in theory, be applied to the F-22P as well through an upgrade – but the wartime roles of Ada and F-22P are AShW and ASW, likely of Pakistan’s littoral waters as part of securing them of naval intrusion (particularly from submarines).

This suggests that the PN does not view its surface fleet as essential to bridging the capability gap between itself and the Indian Navy (IN), at least in terms of practical effect. Ultimately, a strong surface fleet built of many multi-mission ships with robust AAW is meant to fulfill an objective, like wartime sea-control and mounting offensive operations by supporting amphibious and expeditionary assets. The cumulative effect of having aircraft carriers which are supported by strong surface fleets is what alters the balance in one’s operational environment. However, the PN does not intend to have amphibious or expeditionary assets, so the necessity of a strong wartime surface fleet is minimal. Moreover, using these ships – even with the AAW capability – for contesting Pakistan’s SLOC and EEZ will expose them to risk from submarines along with saturated aerial cruise missile strikes (note: India has the supersonic-cruising BrahMos AShM).

In this respect, Pakistan has basically conceded that it will not match the IN surface fleet in a direct way; rather, the PN surface fleet’s wartime value is to reinforce the A2/AD posture. Thus, while AAW is omitted, the ability to field high-quality ASW might find emphasis. Indeed, the Ada was precisely designed to offer this capability, and so the PN could look to invest in the requisite sonar and munition suites. The rationale would be to secure Pakistan’s littoral waters of intruding submarines, which could – in theory – force the PN’s own submarines (along with merchant vessels) to stay at port. In turn, any desire for AAW (e.g. the Type 054) likely stems from protecting the F-22P and Ada within the littoral seas environment to ensure that these ships continue their ASW operations unabated.

Thus, the main emphasis is to recapitalize the surface fleet and excel at peacetime naval duties, not least engagement in CTF-150/151 and, potentially, other multi-national initiatives. For the PN, the Ada provides a long-range ship that could interoperate with the naval assets of other states, including the US and NATO. Furthermore, relatively sizable investment today in high-quality new-built ships would enable the fleet to operate unencumbered of maintenance or age-related hazard issues through the long-term.

Analysis: Submarines are the Practical Effect

For the PN, the centerpiece of its efforts to practically alter the naval balance is through a relatively large submarine purchase, namely the eight AIP-equipped submarines it ordered in 2015 from China. Using AIP, the emphasis is evidently ensuring that the submarines can operate for long-range and long-endurance missions, especially in a low-detectability mode through long periods (potentially weeks at a time) without snorkelling. Thus, one can expect the PN’s submarines to factor in protecting Pakistan’s SLOCs and EEZ by essentially attempting to deter an IN effort for sea-control, e.g. a maritime exclusion zone (MEZ).

Basically, by having the submarines operate in the EEZ, the PN is hoping that the resource investment for thorough ASW (to enable a MEZ) will dissuade the IN from seeking to impose a MEZ. To clear the area of submarines, the IN would have to make sizable use of its high-value surface, sub-surface and aerial assets. The ships and submarines involved in the ASW mission would themselves come under threat by Pakistan’s submarines. However, the PN’s long-range AShMs – which could be deployed from many different assets, including FACs – and the PAF’s shore-based fighters add to the risk of imposing ASW. The availability of submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCM) for land-strikes could also be a reinforcing agent of this idea – i.e. have India focus its ASW assets to prevent Pakistani submarines from striking India’s coastline (e.g. dockyards, shipyards, etc) instead of trying to control Pakistan’s western SLOCs (which are essential for its trade and connectivity). These A2/AD efforts were discussed in a previous Quwa Premium piece.[16]

Thus, the interesting question would be to see how far the PN goes in terms strengthening its submarine fleet. Could additional submarines be sought? Is there an emphasis on increasing the range of AShM and perhaps deploying supersonic-cruising AShM to strengthen the submarines’ AShW value? Could it look to leverage Chinese research and development in submarine development (e.g. pump jets) in the future?

Conclusion: Reality of Fiscal Constraints

Ultimately, the PN’s unwillingness to build a sizable surface fleet stems from its fiscal constraints. To fully leverage the value of a surface fleet, one needs the fiscal bandwidth to invest in expeditionary, offensive sea-control and power-projection assets – the PN cannot afford any of these. In turn, the PN does not see its surface fleet as the means of achieving a practical effect against the IN (this will be delivered through the burgeoning submarine fleet). Thus, what is the need to escalate the cost of the corvette program by adding an area-wide AAW element? If it is to defend the ship, then solutions comparable to the available VLS-based SAMs are already available in pedestal form, i.e. with limited modifications required of the Ada.

However, not equipping the Ada with area-wide AAW does not mean that the PN is ignoring the issue. In fact, the PN has one Type 054A on order with an option for an additional two ships. One could see these ships serving as command-ships for the Ada/F-22P fleet while also providing them higher-altitude/longer-range AAW coverage. Still, the wartime emphasis of this AAW element is likely to defend the littoral seas – and the ASW assets operating there – instead of projecting power. Moreover, the PN is unable to fully commit to more than one Type 054A at-a-time, again demonstrating its fiscal constraints.

Interestingly, if the approach to a ‘high-end’ AAW-capable ship is to order on an incremental – i.e. single-ship – basis, then one could ask why a European frigate was not instead. Granted, each one would cost a relatively high amount, but single-ship orders would cost comparatively less than multiple ship orders. If not from France, Germany or the Netherlands, then perhaps the Turks could have been an option through the I-Class frigate. However, for the PN, delivering quality AAW requires a supplier willing to provide the sensitive technology (and at a feasible cost). In this sense, the Chinese route is likely to evolve (for the PN) more rapidly and cost-effectively; the PN will have less trouble accessing Chinese long-range naval SAMs than Europe (with whom Turkey is developing its programs).

Addendum: Industry Outlook

Though it does not include VLS-based AAW, a prospective Pakistani MILGEM Ada order does provide many opportunities for the industry, especially in terms of electronics as well as AShW and ASW weapons.

The Ada’s standard weapons suite comprises of one 76-mm main gun, two 12.7 mm stabilized machine guns, two quad-cell AShMs, two triple lightweight ASW torpedo launchers and a 21-cell RAM PDMS. Pakistan’s tenuous defence relations with the US could present the AShW, ASW and PDMS subsystems as opportunities for European and Chinese suppliers. Though Turkey is developing its own AShW and ASW solutions, these are unlikely to factor in this program. It is unclear if Pakistan will have a bid for helicopters to operate with these frigates, it may simply add new Z-9ECs from China.

In terms of electronics, the Ada includes a phased-array air/surface-surveillance radar, ELINT/ESM, sonar, combat management system (CMS), communication hardware and electro-optical (EO) system. The PN is already engaged with Aselsan and Havelsan for ELINT/ESM and CMS under the Agosta 90B, respectively. However, the PN had worked with Elettronica and Leonardo for ESM and radars, respectively, under the ATR-72 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) program. Furthermore, the STM head’s statement of each Pakistani Ada costing $250 million US – which is average for a European corvette – suggests that there is relatively high fiscal bandwidth in terms of standard weapons and subsystems involved in this program.

[1] “Pakistan to Buy German Submarines”. DW. 26 November 2008. URL: (Last Accessed: 15 March 2018).

[2] “Germany sells tanks to Qatar, delays on subs to Pakistan”. Khaleej Times. 16 May 2009. URL: (Last Accessed: 15 March 2018).

[3] Baqir Sajjad Syed. “Stealth missile naval craft inducted”. Dawn News. 23 April 2012. URL: (Last Accessed: 15 March 2018).

[4] Press Release. “STM’s Proud is Launched in Pakistan”. August 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 15 March 2018).

[5] “National Defence Minister is in Pakistan”. Millyet. 03 June 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 15 March 2018).

[6] “Turkey-Pakistan Defence Relations Moving to Next Level”. MSI Turkish Defence Journal. January 2017.

[7] Göksel Yıldırım. “MILGEM’s $1 billion export journey”. Anadolu Agency. 11 May 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 15 March 2018).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Sena Guler. “Pakistan looks for helicopters, naval ships from Turkey”. Anadolu Agency. 25 November 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 15 March 2018).

[10] “Defense Industry Focuses on Quality and Quantity to Step-up Turkey’s Exports”. Defence Turkey. 30 September 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 15 March 2018).

[11] Company Statement via. Social Media. “Pakistan has entrusted a second #Agosta 90B Class submarines to Turkish defence industry and engineering with #STM as the main contractor.” STM Twitter Account. 28 February 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 15 March 2018).

[12] “Aselsan Sets Eyes on Air Defence and Tank Modernization” in “Turkey-Pakistan Defence Relations Moving to Next Level”. MSI Turkish Defence Journal. January 2017.

[13] Usman Ansari. “Pakistan shops for warships to replace British frigates, modernize Navy.” Defense News. 27 December 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 15 March 2018).

[14] “A New Life of Yonca Onuk’s MRTP-33” in in “Turkey-Pakistan Defence Relations Moving to Next Level”. MSI Turkish Defence Journal. January 2017.

[15] Promotional Material. “VT1 Hypervelocity Missile for SHORADS”. Thales. URL: (Last Accessed: 15 March 2018).

[16] “The Impact of Pakistan’s Harba Dual-AShM and LACM”. Quwa Premium. 09 January 2018. URL:

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