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More Pakistan Navy Ships Enter Construction

On 01 May, the Pakistan Navy (PN) announced that Hudong–Zhonghua Shipbuilding Group in Shanghai and Istanbul Naval Shipyard (INSY) laid the keels of the PN’s third Type 054A/P frigate and second MILGEM corvette, respectively.[1] The PN is also expected to receive its first (of four) Type 054A/Ps this summer.

The Type 054A/P and MILGEM programs are centerpiece projects of the PN’s efforts to modernize as well as expand its major surface fleet (to more than 20 ships). The PN ordered four Type 054A/Ps in 2017 and 2018, and four MILGEM corvettes in 2018. Under the latter program, the PN is also designing an in-house warship – i.e., Jinnah-class frigate – with ASFAT A.Ş.’s (Military Factory and Shipyard Corporation) support.

By accounting for the Type 054A/P and MILGEM corvettes, the PN would have 12 ‘major surface vessels’ (14 if one includes the two Damen OPV 1900s). This is still well short of the 20+ vision. It is possible that the bulk of the remaining six-plus ships could come through the future Jinnah-class frigate program.

In terms of design, the Type 054A/P is similar to the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Type 054A, but with some export-oriented changes. The most obvious of these changes is the inclusion of the SRC410C phased-array radar instead of the Type 382 3D air search radar. Likewise, the Type 054A/P will use export-only munitions rather than the domestic versions used by the PLAN.

On the other hand, the PN MILGEM is a heavily customized version of the Ada corvette. It has a longer hull at 108.8 m, space for a 16-cell vertical-launch system (VLS), and a two-by-three set-up for anti-ship missiles (AShM). The PN MILGEM has a displacement of 2,988 tons (making it closer in size and capability to the I-Class frigate than the Ada corvette).[2]

The Jinnah-class frigate will follow the PN MILGEM, with the first frigate being the fifth ship of the whole program. The PN will likely use the MILGEM as the basis of the Jinnah-class frigate, and a ship based on the I-Class is plausible. Alternatively, the PN could look to enlarge the MILGEM design even further.

This is a massive expansion for the PN, which had traditionally operated less than 10 large (i.e., 2,000-ton-plus) surface warships. In addition, not only is the PN expanding its fleet, but its new ships will also deliver much improved electronics and weapon systems, notably integrated air defence set-ups.

The PN was originally slated to receive all four Type 054A/Ps by 2021. However, with the third frigate only entering production in 2021, this schedule will likely extend into 2022 and 2023. In parallel, the MILGEMs would join the PN fleet by 2024. In light of the global pandemic (which could affect both production output and funding), the PN could potentially see delays in its surface warship programs.

Network-Enabled Warfare Deployment

However, even with such delays factored into the equation, the PN surface warship fleet will be a different force to what it is today by the late 2020s. Though both the Type 054A/P and MILGEM promise to deliver new anti-ship warfare (AShW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and anti-air warfare (AAW) capabilities to the PN, the true added value of these programs rests in their network-enabled warfare integration.

The PN already set-up the infrastructure for this integration, i.e., the Naval Information Exchange System (NIXS) and “Link Green” tactical data link (TDL) protocol. NIXS was designed with the support of Turkey’s MilSOFT Yazılım Teknolojileri A.Ş, while Link Green was developed indigenously.

NIXS and Link Green facilitate the sharing of information between different air, surface, land, sub-surface, and space-based assets. It allows for different PN systems to see the same set of targets and organize the various weapon systems across various platforms to engage targets at long range.

In the case of both the Type 054A/P and MILGEM, it seems that the PN will configure both ships with new anti-ship cruising missiles (ASCM). These ASCMs could either be the newly inducted Harbah, which seems to be a Babur-based design that can serve as both a land-attack and anti-ship weapon, or a forthcoming supersonic-cruising ASCM currently under development.

NIXS and Link Green will allow the Type 054A/P and MILGEM to share their radar information – as well as use similar data from other platforms (such as the next-generation long-range maritime patrol aircraft or helicopters) – and deploy their ASCMs. Likewise, the two major surface vessels could also help small fast-attack crafts (FAC), such as the Harbah-equipped FAC(M), deploy long-range ASCMs as well (despite those FACs lacking long-range search and targeting radars of their own).

The PN will also deploy satellite-communication (SATCOM)-enabled drones under NIXS. From what Quwa was told by sources familiar with the Directorate General Defence Purchase (DGDP), these drones are of Chinese origin (likely a CH-4 variant). However, with Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) developing its own medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drone, the PN has the option to build a large UAV force via a domestic solution in the coming years for surveillance and, potentially, attack roles.

Close Integration with the Air Force

It is worth noting that the PN also has access to a joint-intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) set-up shared with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and Pakistan Army (PA). The armed forces integrated their various radar systems – such as land-based radars, sea-based radars, airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) and others – into one unified picture available to each service arm.[3]

In other words, the PN can see well beyond the limitations of its own radars, so its targeting capabilities are extensive. Likewise, the PAF will also have access to the PN’s situational awareness feed, which helps the PAF closely coordinate with the PN when deploying the JF-17 and Mirage 5PA. This is a crucial area to master because the PN will soon deploy its own medium-range air defence capabilities.

Interestingly, the PA is also deploying similar capabilities (through the LY-80), so the PAF will have learned how to operate with the air defence systems of its sister arms. Traditionally, only the PAF was maintaining medium-range AAW capabilities (i.e., it had owned the entire air defence stack for most periods of time), but now (at least with the PN), inter-services communication and coordination is becoming critical.

Silent Sub-Surface Aspirations

The PN is slated to receive its first four Hangor-class air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarines (SSP) in 2022 and 2023. The last four, which will be built by Karachi Shipyards & Engineering Works (KSEW), were scheduled for 2028. There have been no announcements about the Hangor since the program started.

However, this may be information control on the PN’s part. Based on the information released by KSEW, it seems that the Hangor is a customized variant of the export-focused S26 design. There are differences in the displacement and specifications between the S26 and Hangor designs, but other details, such as the onboard electronics suite, weapons load-out, or even AIP type are not publicly known.

The PN is also upgrading two of its three Agosta 90B SSPs with Turkey’s help. However, the PN has yet to announce when it will upgrade the third ship (i.e., PNS Hamza). It may be delaying the upgrade until it has operationalized the first four Hangor-class SSPs and first two upgraded Agosta 90Bs.

The last piece of the PN’s sub-surface aspirations is the purchase of a new shallow-water attack submarine (SWAT). Quwa was told by a source that the PN was seeking a SWAT design with a displacement of 700 to 900 tons. The SWATs would also need AIP. However, like the Hangor SSP, the PN is not disclosing any clear information about the SWAT program. But it is likely a key priority and, potentially, may not be known to observers until late into the program (i.e., the induction phase). The PN did not disclose how many SWATs it is seeking, though three or four boats would be a plausible estimate (i.e., to replace the legacy MG110s).

Finally, the Turkish industry has hinted that the PN is also interested in jointly developing a new submarine in the same manner as the Jinnah-class frigate. If accurate, this initiative may reflect a roadmap to replace the Agosta 90Bs and, potentially, further expand the submarine fleet through the long-term.

[1] “Pakistan Navy keel laying ceremonies of Type-054 A/P Frigate, Milgem Class Corvette held.” Associated Press of Pakistan. 01 May 2021. URL:

[2] İbrahim Sünnetci. “A Look at PN MILGEM/Jinnah Program.” Defence Turkey. Volume 15. Issue 103. 2020. URL:

[3] Alan Warnes. “PAF’s Eagle-eyed view.” Asian Military Review. 29 November 2018. URL:

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