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Pakistan Defence Review: News Updates

Swiftships Says Talks are Still Ongoing with Pakistan for Ships

In an interview with Mönch during EURONAVAL 2018 (23-26 October 2018), the CEO of Louisiana-based Swiftships, Shehraze Shah, said that talks are still ongoing with Pakistan for an undisclosed program.

Responding to a question regarding Swiftships’ activity in Asia, Shah stated:

“In Pakistan, the nation is attempting to fund kits to build their own platforms for a class that I cannot name yet. We are assisting them so that, starting this year [or] hopefully next year, they can build these at the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works Ltd. (KSEW), with whom we’re setting up a joint venture.”

In 2017, Swiftships announced that the Pakistan Navy (PN) placed an order for two 75 m corvettes. The PN had sought the corvettes for “anti-surface and anti-air operations, maritime security, day-and-night helicopter activities, combat search and rescue, and surveillance and intelligence gathering” operations.

However, with Pakistan finalizing contracts for four MILGEM Ada corvettes and two Damen Shipyards 1900-ton offshore patrol vessels (OPV) from Turkey and the Netherlands, respectively, the Swiftships deal seemed uncertain. Based on Shah’s recent statements, it appears that a program of some kind – though not necessarily the Swift Corvettes – is still viable.

As for the potential program in question, there are several possibilities. The PN is already an operator of the company’s 11 m Special Operations Craft Riverine (SOC-R) – follow-on ships (built at KSEW) could be plausible. Alternatively, the Pakistan could be interested in Swiftships’ patrol vessel platforms, such as its 35 m and 45 m cutters (it had sought GRC43M cutters in 2014 from the US).

Swiftships intends to see this undisclosed ship-class enter production at KSEW in 2018 or early 2019. It is unclear what Shah meant by “setting up a joint venture”; on the surface, that would imply an offset where Swiftships would invest in Pakistan in-exchange for the contract.

Pakistan Greenlights $184.3 m JF-17 Sale to Nigeria

In October 2018, the Pakistani cabinet’s Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) greenlit the sale of three JF-17 multi-role fighters to Nigeria.[1] In July 2018, Nigeria approved the transfer of $82 million US for these aircraft (adding to the $14 million US it allotted in 2016).

However, the contractual value of the deal is significantly more than estimated on Quwa’s end (of $96 million US). Besides training, munitions and after-sale support, logistics might be a major cost driver. But if the overhead is scalable, then subsequent Nigerian orders could come at a lower per-aircraft cost.

Given that the JF-17 is a partnership between Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), profit and workshare will be split evenly between the two sides. Of course, this split does not include the value owed to third-party suppliers, such as Klimov (RD-93) or the munitions manufacturers (which could involve AVIC and potentially others). In other words, PAC’s share is unlikely to be as high as $92 million US, it will be lower.

The Pakistan Air Force is Now Reportedly Seeking a LIFT Platform

British aviation journalist Alan Warnes reported (via Twitter) that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is planning to procure a lead-in-fighter-trainer (LIFT). The type/make, configuration and origin of the PAF’s LIFT needs are not yet known, but the bid departs from a previously held unwillingness to procure such aircraft.[2]

Quwa – with input from retired PAF Air Commodore (AC) Kaiser Tufail – had previously discussed why the PAF was unlikely to procure a new LIFT platform. To summarize, PAF observers and analysts were skeptical about the value offered by LIFT platforms. AC (retired) Kaiser Tufail noted, “if a student has undergone jet training in an advanced trainer with a glass cockpit, and a speed of around 300 knots, (the pilot) should be ready to move onto the F-16 and JF-17 via their respective dual version.”

In fact, in 2015, the previous Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Sohail Aman implied that the JF-17B would resolve the PAF’s advanced fighter training needs.[3] In May 2017, Alan Warnes reported that the PAF would not use the JF-17B for LIFT, but at the same time, the PAF was unconvinced about the value of LIFT aircraft. Instead, the PAF would use its FT-7/F-7Ps for the role.

This came to fruition in December 2017 when the PAF inaugurated a LIFT unit, i.e., “Shooter Squadron.”

The PAF lauded the unit (via Hilal) as “an innovative idea of establishing a temporary flying squadron which would serve as a lead in fighter training … this squadron would give the future [pilots] enough confidence to ultimately undergo their conversions [on the F-16 and JF-17].”

The question now is, “what changed?”

Since 2015, the PAF – notably the previous CAS – had expressed concern about the high-cost procurement and operating costs of modern LIFT platforms.[4] In his May 2017 tweet, Alan Warnes reiterated this point, noting that the PAF found current LIFT platforms to be over-equipped for the role.

In that time, of two (or both) factors changed: (1) the cost of procuring and maintaining a LIFT has gone down or (2) the PAF has changed its doctrine. The first scenario is plausible. In 2015, the PAF did not have access to as many LIFT options as it does today. For example, the Aero Vodochody L-159 was not in serial production in 2015, nor did the U.S. Air Force (USAF) commit to a large-scale purchase of one LIFT platform (i.e., the Saab-Boeing T-X).[5] The second is also possible, though it would be surprising if a change in (1) – i.e. the availability of potentially low-cost options – did not affect the second.

In November 2017, Czech media outlets reported that the PAF was in talks with the Czech aircraft maker Aero Vodochody for the L-159.[6] Quwa had reached out to a contact in Aero Vodochody about the news, but the company stated that it could not comment (i.e., it neither confirmed or denied the reports).

In technical terms, the L-159 is a strong candidate. Firstly, unlike most other LIFT aircraft it is powered by a single 28 kN turbofan engine instead of two or – in the case of the Korea Aerospace Industries T-50, the Saab-Boeing T-X and the Turkish Aerospace Hürjet – fighter-class engine such as the General Electric (GE) F404. Secondly, in its pursuit for high-profile launch customers for the revived L-159 production line, the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) could be amenable to configuring the aircraft to the PAF’s needs.

Though larger and higher-performing platforms, the T-X and Hürjet are relatively plausible. The T-X, while similar in some key respects to the T-50 (e.g., it uses a single GE F404), will benefit from a high production run of up to 350 aircraft (for USAF). This is higher than any other existing or prospective LIFT platform bar maybe the Chinese L-15 and Russian Yak-130. The USAF tender is valued at $9.2 billion, which – if achieved through 350 production aircraft – would result in a flyaway cost of $26.28 million US per aircraft.

The Hürjet, though unlikely to ever be produced in numbers as high as the T-X, could be sought as a joint-project with Turkish Aerospace. It follows a similar design pattern to the T-X and T-50, i.e., built around a single GE F404 with payload and range characteristics of a lightweight multi-role fighter.

Ultimately, the main problem with the Hürjet and T-X is that the potential operating costs are likely to be close to that of the JF-17. In fact, the basic specifications (e.g., range and payload) are similar. It is unclear if any of those platforms would cost less than the JF-17. On the other hand, the L-159 was initially out of production and then revived; if the original research and development overhead is not a factor (as Aero originally wrote-off the expense by shuttering production), then it could be comparatively cheaper.

Pakistan Aeronautical Complex to Upgrade Leonardo Falco UAVs?

On 05 November 2018, Pakistan imported software from Leonardo. According to local export-and-import registries, the software is meant for upgrading 12 Falco unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). It is not known to what extent the Falco UAVs will be updated; it could simply be a software change.

Pakistan Imports Kit-of-Materials (KoM) from Damen Shipyards

On 28 October 2018, a Pakistani entity imported “shipbuilding materials” from Dutch shipbuilder Damen Shipyards. This is unrelated to the Pakistan Navy’s (PN) purchase of two Damen OPV 1900s, both of which are being manufactured by a Damen subsidiary in Romania. However, this does not preclude other ships.

In March 2018, Karachi Shipyards & Engineering Works (KSEW) handed over two Damen Stan Patrol 1605 fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) fast-response boats to Pakistan Customs. The FRPs were constructed at KSEW through kits-of-materials (KoM) from Damen Shipyards.

[1] Zafar Bhutta. “ECC okays sale of JF-17 to Nigeria for $184.3m.” The Express Tribune. 24 October 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 12 November 2018).

[2] Alan Warnes. “Exclusive interview with new Pakistan Air Force Chief: PAF’s Cutting Edge Grows.” Air Forces Monthly. June 2015. Issue #327.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Gareth Jennings. “Saab awarded first T-X contract as window for protests closes.” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 19 October 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 11 November 2018).

[6] Ondřej Stratilík. “Nadějné vyhlídky. Thajsko i Pákistán uvažují o letadlech z Vodochod Více na.” Euro. 23 November 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 12 November 2018).

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