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Pakistan Adds to Agosta 90B Submarine Upgrade Program

On 08 March 2019, Pakistan signed a deal with Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik ve Ticaret A.Ş. (STM), a state-owned Turkish defence contractor, to add torpedo countermeasures and acoustic measurement sensors to the Pakistan Navy’s (PN) Agosta 90B submarine upgrade program (Anadolu Agency).

This expands the PN’s Agosta 90B upgrade program, which will already see the PN’s first air-independent propulsion (AIP)-equipped submarines equipped with new optronic masts, periscopes, radars, electronic intelligence (ELINT) and electronic support measures (ESM), sonars, and command-and-control system.

Signed as a $350 million US contract in 2016, the upgrade is evidently extensive, and it is poised to bring the PN’s Agosta 90B up to modern electronic standards (i.e., comparable to the Type 214 and Scorpene).

Thus far, two of the three Agosta 90Bs are slotted for the upgrade, but STM expected to sign the contract for the third ship during the 2018 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar.

However, it is unclear if the upgrade will also include a structural upgrade. It may not be necessary, but a program of this scope will certainly require the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), Naval Group (i.e., DCNS) involved. Naval Group is not involved at this stage, having lost the submarine upgrade bid to STM in 2016, with STM claiming its bid was “technically and commercially superior.”

As outlined in an earlier Quwa Premium article, STM is relying on multiple third-party vendors – Turkish, British, European, and South African – to equip Pakistan’s Agosta 90B submarines.

These vendors include:

  • Hensoldt Optronics South Africa
  • Kelvin Hughes
  • Aselsan
  • Havelsan
  • Atlas Elektronik

Moreover, the first upgraded submarine – i.e., PNS Khalid – is scheduled for delivery in 2020, the next two are to follow within one year of other, i.e., by the mid-2020s. The first four Hangor AIP submarines are to join the PN by the mid-2020s as well, providing the PN sub-surface fleet with a capability boost.

In terms of this specific agreement, neither the PN or STM have disclosed the specific acoustic sensors or torpedo countermeasure systems the PN is to acquire for its submarines. However, Aselsan is offering at least one torpedo countermeasure system for export, the ZOKA.

The ZOKA comprises of acoustic jammers and decoys for incoming torpedoes, regardless of whether the torpedoes are operating in active and/or passive modes. The goal of the ZOKA is to mask its submarine’s acoustic signature by saturating the surrounding acoustic environment. This is meant to reduce a passive torpedo’s ability to pick-up its target while also reducing the detection range of active torpedoes.

Fundamentally, the ZOKA is a passive or soft-kill torpedo countermeasure system. It will not intercept an incoming torpedo or employ hard-kill systems to destroy the threat. However, Aselsan is developing such a system under its TORK, an “anti-torpedo torpedo aiming to destroy acoustic homing, wire-guided, non-wire guided and wake homing torpedoes.” However, this will not factor with the Agosta 90B, though the OEM’s marketing material implies that a system capable of using the ZOKA should be able to use the TORK.

As discussed in an earlier Quwa Premium article, the upgraded Agosta 90B will imbue the PN with a range of new capabilities it previously did not have in its submarines. The most notable is ESM/ELINT, but now, the Agosta 90B will also have an enhanced survivability element.

If these subsystems are limited to solely the Agosta 90B (and not extended to the Hangor), then it may indicate a delineation in roles between the two submarines. One – i.e., the Hangor – could operate in the farther reaches of Pakistan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to carry-out anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-ship warfare (AShW), and stand-off range weapon (SOW) strikes. The Agosta 90B could be defensively oriented with an added focus on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) via its ESM/ELINT.

Finally, during the signing ceremony of the submarine countermeasures contract, officials from both sides were shown holding a miniature mock-up of a submarine. It is likely to just be a generic model.

However in December 2018, STM stated that it is designing a miniature submarine with a crew of 30 people. During IDEAS 2016, STM raised the idea of collaborating on miniature submarines with Pakistan, which is seeking a replacement for its aging Cosmos MG110s. Thus, the notion that STM is promoting its miniature submarine program through that model should not be discounted.

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