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Outgoing Pakistan Navy Chief Reveals 50-Ship Vision

On 07 October 2020, the Pakistan Navy (PN) appointed Admiral Muhammad Amjad Khan Niazi as its new Chief of Naval Staff (CNS). Admiral Niazi will succeed Admiral Zafar Mahmoud Abbasi as CNS.

In his change-of-command speech, the outgoing CNS outlined the service’s modernization plans for 2030 across its surface, sub-surface, and aviation domains. Overall, Admiral Abbasi emphasized that the PN will aggressively expand its deployment capabilities, and, in parallel, its in-house development capacities.

The PN has already taken a number of organizational steps to absorb these upcoming changes.

First, the PN reformed its traditional destroyer and patrol craft squadrons into three Surface Task Groups (STG). The PN stationed STG 1, STG 2, and STG 3 at Gwadar, Ormara, and Karachi, respectively.

Second, the PN activated naval air stations in Pakistan’s west coast for day and night aviation operations.

Third, the PN revised its creeks area defence strategy to focus on offensive operations through integrated strike groups comprising of both Marines and Special Operations Forces (SOF) units.

Having set these foundations, Admiral Abbasi announced that the PN is working on the following goals.

Expanding the Surface Fleet to Over 50 Ships

Historically, the PN would operate around eight or nine ‘major’ surface ships (i.e., multi-mission frigates, corvettes, or destroyers with a displacement of over 2,000 tons). However, Adm. Abbasi highlighted that these small force size “constrained [Pakistan’s] regional footprint and influence.”

To eliminate this constraint, the PN is moving towards a fleet of over 50 ships, of which 20 will be “major surface ships.” In terms of major surface combatants, Adm. Abbasi revealed that the PN will receive four Type 054A/P frigates from China between 2021 to 2023. In addition, the four MILGEM corvettes will join the PN fleet from 2023 to 2025. The PN inducted its first 2,300-ton “corvette” – which is based on Damen Shipyard’s OPV-1900 design – in early 2020, and the second ship, PNS Tabouk, will join in November. The outgoing CNS added that “six additional ships of larger tonnage are being contracted.”

Including the four F-22P frigates, the PN currently has 14 ‘major’ surface combatants in the pipeline. Thus, additional ships are still within the PN’s procurement pipeline. To this end, Adm. Abbasi had outlined two main programs: the Jinnah-class frigate and the purchase of six ships of “larger tonnage.”

Adm. Abbasi clarified that the PN is acquiring four MILGEM corvettes and that the Jinnah-class frigate is a separate, but adjoining, program. One should note that the MILGEM corvettes the PN is receiving are also significantly modified variants of the Turkish Ada-class design. The most notable difference is the addition of a 16-cell vertical launch system (VLS) in the PN ships (the standard Ada-class lacks this feature).

The outgoing CNS stated, “under the MILGEM project, complete design knowhow will be transferred” to the PN, and that the fifth ship will be the first Jinnah-class frigate. Currently, the Jinnah-class is under the design and development phase. Adm. Abbasi’s statements seem to imply that Pakistan bought ownership of both the modified corvette design and the forthcoming frigate program.

It is unclear exactly how the Jinnah-class frigate factors into the PN’s fleet expansion plans. To achieve its fleet size of 20 ‘major surface vessels,’ the PN requires six additional ships. However, in the context of the Yarmouk-class corvette program, Adm. Abbasi said that the PN will sign for six more – and larger – vessels.

This statement would imply that the PN is looking to expand the OPV-1900-based fleet to eight ships from the current two in the fleet. This route would make sense from an affordability standpoint. Because these “corvettes” are built on commercial-grade standards, they offer lower acquisition costs.[1]

However, at the same time, these ships are not as capable as the Type 054A/P or MILGEM. This may not matter to the PN as a major portion of its mandate also involves patrolling Pakistan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) support, and undertaking various counterterrorism and counterinsurgency (CT/COIN) operations.

In peacetime, the OPVs can take ownership these tasks, but switch to anti-ship warfare (AShW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations in wartime. If the PN opts for additional OPVs, then based on CNS’ statements, these would be larger than PNS Yarmouk and PNS Tabouk. It will be interesting to see if the PN opts for local production for these ships. There may be an opportunity to tie the program to an offset wherein Damen Shipyards invests in Gwadar Shipyard and manages the program from that facility.

There is no clear timeline for the Jinnah-class frigate. However, in line with an earlier analysis by Quwa, it is clear that the PN is looking at the Jinnah-class as its next-generation major surface combatant. This ship could be a long-term project, so it may not factor into the PN’s current roadmap for 2030. In this case, the PN could be looking at the Jinnah-class as a possible successor to the F-22P. For the PN, a domestic frigate could allow it to replace the F-22Ps when they reach 30 years of age in the 2040s.

In terms of smaller ships, the outgoing CNS revealed that Pakistan will build 20 locally designed gunboats by 2025. The CNS did not disclose the specifications of the gunboat, but according to a local source, these vessels will have a displacement of 200 tons and speed of more than 40 knots. The gunboats are expected to use waterjets for propulsion and, potentially, composites or aluminium for superstructure materials.

The aggressive production timeline – i.e., five ships per year from 2021 to 2025 – implies that the primary contractor, likely Karachi Shipyards & Engineering Works (KSEW), will use parallel facilities. This is feasible because KSEW is completing its capacity upgrade with the Syncrolift ship lift-and-transfer system. Through this new system, KSEW will have 13 “custom-built” in-land workstations.

The gunboats will join the four Azmat-class FAC(M) – short for Fast Attack Craft (Missile) – ships. Three of these are already in service with the PN, the fourth, i.e., PNS Haibat, will join the fleet by the end of 2020. According to the Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP), KSEW built PNS Haibat “without seeking foreign technical expertise.” The statement implies that KSEW would not need the original vendor’s prefabricated kits or documentation to construct future ships of this type.

In 2016, the PN said that it was seeking four to six new FACs.[2] To meet its requirement for 30 small ships, the PN would need six new crafts on top of the 20 gunboats and four FAC(M). It can potentially fulfill that requirement through a variant of the gunboat or FAC(M). It has two in-house designs to choose from.

Launching the Hangor Submarine Program

According to Adm. Abbasi, the Hangor submarine program is “progressing well.” Pakistan ordered these ships from China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co. Ltd (CSOC) in 2015. In 2016, the PN stated that China and Pakistan would evenly split the production of the submarines. The first four ships – which China is building – will arrive in Pakistan in 2022 and 2023. KSEW’s four ships are due by 2028.

The outgoing CNS added that the PN is acquiring one Type 039A submarine from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) for training and acclimation purposes. He added that the PN is getting this submarine on a “gratis basis,” i.e., at no additional charge.

Finally, Ormara will house a repair and rebuild facility for the Hangor. Overall, Adm. Abbasi stated that a primary goal of the Hangor is to transform Pakistan from a “submarine-operating navy into a submarine-building navy,” i.e., to locally design and manufacture future submarines. He added that the program does involve design and capacity transfer to the Naval Research and Development Institute (NRDI).

In 2018, KSEW had showcased a scale model of the Hangor and some of its specifications. The information suggests that the Hangor is similar to the S26, i.e., the export version of the Type 039A. However, neither the PN, KSEW, or CSOC disclosed the specific subsystems, munitions, or air-independent propulsion (AIP) the Hangor will use.

Specifications of the new Hangor-class submarine presented by Karachi Shipyards & Engineering Works (KSEW) at IDEAS 2018. Photo Source: Quwa

The PN does have the option of using China’s Stirling AIP technology. In terms of the subsystems, the PN will likely look to match or exceed the capabilities of the upgraded Agosta 90B.

With an intention to locally source a submarine design, the Hangor may lead to a program similar in scope to the Jinnah-class frigate. In fact, in 2030 the lead Agosta 90B – PNS Khalid – will be 30 years of age, so it may necessitate a replacement by 2040. The PN may even look to expand its subsurface fleet even further.

Interestingly, when the PN requested bids for its largely secretive miniature submarine program, Turkey’s Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik ve Ticaret A.Ş (STM) had submitted a design proposal in 2017.[3] Nothing was shown in terms of specifications or scale models for this design. However, STM did give the Pakistani MoDP a scale model of its TS1700 concept in 2017. The TS1700 is part of Turkey’s effort to indigenize the submarine production. So, a comparable project could be of interest to the PN and NRDI.


Adm. Abbasi did not offer any information about the miniature submarine program. In fact, a local source said that the program is on the secretive side of the PN’s activities.

Inducting New Long-Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft (LRMPA)

Under its Naval Air Arm Vision, the PN intends to induct a total of three RAS-72 Sea Eagle maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) and 10 new jet-powered long-range maritime patrol aircraft (LRMPA).

The PN already operates two of the three RAS-72s; the third aircraft will join in 2021. Adm. Abbasi stated that the 10 new LRMPAs will replace the PN’s aging Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion aircraft. According to the outgoing CNS, the PN has already selected the platform and contracted the conversion project. He added that the LRMPA will use the same electronics suite as the RAS-72.

Pakistan began seeking a new LRMPA in 2018. Initially, the main criteria was that the base aircraft should be jet-powered, but otherwise, the PN was open to working with any supplier, including U.S. companies.

In March 2020, the PN released a tender for one twin-engine aircraft to work as the platform for the new LRMPA. Interestingly, the specifications listed in the tender narrowed the required aircraft to the Embraer Lineage 1000E. Based on the Embraer E190, the Lineage 1000E is a specially configured VIP/VVIP aircraft. However, Embraer no longer offers the aircraft itself, so it is only available on the second-hand market.

The CNS did not reveal if the PN selected this platform, but he confirmed that the LRMPA will draw on the subsystems the PN used onboard the RAS-72. Quwa suggested this could be the case in an earlier analysis:

The PN could re-use the subsystems it chose for the ATR-72 MPA. The subsystems are a proven commodity for the PN in that it has the training and maintenance base to support them. By maintaining commonality between the ATR-72 MPA and the LRMPA, it could be easier for crews to transition between them. Finally, the ATR-72 MPA suite is comparable to the one Saab selected for the Swordfish.

According to the PN’s tender, the LRMPA must be capable of anti-ship warfare (AShW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW). It must also be equipped for airborne early warning (AEW) and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations. For the PN, the benchmark is likely the Saab Swordfish MPA which – similar to the PN LRMPA – combined a business jet with many of the same subsystems as the RAS-72.

Enlarging Marines and Special Operations Forces

Citing an elevated asymmetrical threat environment, the outgoing CNS revealed that under the PN Vision 2030 (which was approved in March 2018), the service will enlarge its Marines branch into a division-sized force. It already moved the Marines’ training center from Karachi to Gwadar. In addition, the Navy’s SOF unit – Special Service Group Navy (SSGN) – will also grow into a brigade-sized force by 2023.

The main function of the PN Marines is to defend Pakistan’s coastal areas. They comprise of infantry, low-altitude air defence, and some amphibious landing elements. It is not known if the force expansion would see the PN invest in large amphibious vessels, such as landing platform docks (LPD), in the future.

The PN does not have a force projection (aside from a deterrence element via submarines equipped with LACMs) goal. Thus, the only scenario where the PN would seek an LPD is if it wants to bolster its HADR for the sake of supporting coalition/multi-national operations. This would not be a surprising turn considering that the PN began deploying its ships overseas to set-up medical camps in 2020.

In terms of the SSGN/SOF, one can only speculate how the PN would use an expanded force. This growth could tie into the expanded OPV fleet wherein the PN could support more COIN/CT operations. Likewise, the PN may also be looking at expanding its own asymmetrical capabilities via frogmen operations. It will have a larger number of submarines (including possibly miniature submarines) to support the latter.

Developing a New Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM)

Adm. Abbasi announced that the PN is developing a ‘long-range, ship-based anti-ship/land-attack’ ballistic missile (ASBM). Designated P282, the CNS stated that the ASBM is part of the PN’s “hypersonic domain” (likely in reference to a ballistic missile’s terminal-stage hypersonic speed).

The outgoing CNS did not reveal the range or timeline of the ASBM. However, he did state that the ASBM will be a ship-launched system. In one sense, the P282 may suggest that the PN is seeking a larger VLS for its surface ships, but this need not be the case. It will depend on the ASBM.

If the PN is aiming for an ASBM similar in dimensions and weight to the CM-400AKG, then it will need VLS cannisters long enough to handle a 5.1 m missile. The LY-80N SAM, which is likely to equip the PN’s Type 054A/P frigates, has a length of 5.2 m. Thus, in theory, a ship capable of handling the LY-80N – i.e., Type-054A/P and, potentially, MILGEM – could be capable of handling the P282.

However, there are caveats – e.g., weight, maintaining the ship’s center-of-balance, and heat/exhaust – that may limit this outcome. To address these concerns, the P282 may accompany a new ship design (e.g., the Jinnah-class frigate). Moreover, if the P282 is larger than the CM-400AKG – e.g., based on the Shaheen-series – then it will necessitate a larger VLS design and, in all likelihood, larger ships.

It is unclear if the P282 is the same as the ‘supersonic missile’ project listed in the 2017-2018 MoDP report. However, a local source said that the P282 is a different project, and that the PN has an active supersonic-cruising AShM program in the works in parallel. In any case, an ASBM could enable the PN to explore some other applications, including ASW concepts (e.g., rocket-assisted torpedoes similar to ASROC).

Interestingly, the CNS had hinted as much by citing niche technology development as one of NRDI’s main activities. NRDI is taking on work in laser-based directed energy weapons, establishing sound-underwater surveillance systems, unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV), and high-speed target drones. Thus, one should not discount offshoots of the P282 similar to the ASROC.

Adding an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

Finally, Adm. Abbasi disclosed that the PN signed a contract for “long-range, high-endurance” unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) with satellite communication (SATCOM) capability. He did not reveal the model and origin of the UAV. However, local sources say that the UAV in question is Chinese, likely a CH-4 variant.

For a start, the PN will likely use its UAVs to monitor Pakistan’s coastal areas. If armed, these UAVs would likely address asymmetrical threats (e.g., non-state actors) and offer some early warning capability along adjoining areas with India and/or Iran. However, the off-the-shelf UAV would also allow the PN to build a capacity to operate these types of aircraft. In the future, it could deploy maritime ISR UAVs (ideally using a variant of Pakistan Aeronautical Complex’s ongoing UAV as the basis).

The SATCOM element is interesting. Pakistan does not yet operate satellites using Ka-band and/or X-band systems. However, it can use its existing Ku-band transponders from the PakSat-1R. While Ku-band does have limitations, the U.S. had used it to operate its Predator UAVs in the past. It is doable, but the use of Ku-band for military purposes could limit the government’s ability to use those satellites for commercial purposes. It may also be difficult to sustain if the Army and Air Force also start using UAVs via SATCOM.

Thus, limited SATCOM usage by the PN may be feasible with PakSat-1R, especially for training. However, in the long-term, Pakistan will likely need to invest in a dedicated military-grade SATCOM solution using Ka-band and/or X-band transponders. If split between the Navy, Air Force, and Army, the cost of a military communications satellite is sustainable. For reference, Turkey’s Türksat 6A – which uses 16 Ku-band and two X-band transponders – cost $170 million US.[4] This satellite can operate for up to 15 years, so the cost of supporting it is manageable for Pakistan. However, because satellites are a recurring capital expense – similar to aircraft and ships – Pakistan should take local design, sourcing, and manufacturing seriously.

Maturing into a Large Navy

Combined, the expansionary plans for the surface fleet, sub-surface force, and aviation wing will grow the PN into a large force. In fact, it could become one of the world’s larger navies (albeit a smaller force among giants) if it manages to field over 20 large multi-mission surface combatants, a dozen modern submarines, and an array of long-range surveillance assets like LRMPAs and UAVs.

However, this would only account the current phase of the PN’s roadmap – i.e., Vision 2030. Its marquee projects, such as the Jinnah-class frigate or, potentially, an NRDI submarine, would factor into to the PN’s planning after 2030. In other words, there may be additional growth in the surface, sub-surface, aviation, and other (e.g., electromagnetic, cyber, etc) domains.

The keys to sustaining this growth involve both sufficient funding and a stable supply. In terms of the later, the PN is working build a domestic design base to develop new solutions. The most obvious examples of this are the Jinnah-class frigate and the intended outcome of the Hangor-class submarine. This will allow the PN to deploy emerging capabilities more independently (albeit with some reliance on other countries for critical inputs). It similar to the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) Project AZM.

[1] Statements from Ed Veen, Manager of Naval Sales Support, Damen Shipyards Group. Available via Video:

[2] Salman Siddiqui. “Pakistan Navy considering buying warships from China, Turkey.” The Express Tribune. 25 November 2016. URL:

[3] Interview with STM’s General Manager Murat İkinci. Defence Turkey. Issue 95. Volume 14. 2019. URL:

[4]  “Turkey’s first domestic satellite enters test production phase.” Anadolu Agency (via Daily Sabah). 15 August 2017. URL:

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