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Pakistan Defence Review: News Updates

‘Sea Eagle’ – The Official Name of the Pakistan Navy’s ATR-72 Maritime Patrol Aircraft

At the 2019 Paris Air Show (17-23 June), the Pakistan Navy (PN), Rheinland Air Service (RAS), and Aerodata exhibited the PN’s ATR-72 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). The official designation of the PN’s ATR-72 MPA is ‘Sea Eagle’ and is slated to replace the PN’s aging F-27 Fokker MPAs.

The Sea Eagle is configured with the following:

  • Leonardo’s Seaspray 7300 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar;
  • Aerodata AG’s AeroMission mission management system;
  • Elettronica’s electronic support measures (ESM) system;
  • FLIR Systems’ Star SAFIRE III electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) turret;
  • and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability through two torpedo hardpoints.

In a press release, the Director of RAS’ Special Mission Aircraft Division, Nikolaos Mavrikis, stated:

“With its long endurance and low operating costs, along with excellent parts and maintenance availability, the ATR 72 series was the ideal platform to fulfill our client’s most demanding operational needs for maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare missions.”

Currently, RAS and Aerodata AG hope that the PN will order up to two additional MPAs. However, the Sea Eagle program could also shape the PN’s plans for a new-generation long-range maritime patrol aircraft (LRMP) to complement and, eventually, supplant the P-3Cs. In an interview, the PN’s Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, stated that the PN is seeking a new LRMP.

One avenue for this LRMP project could involve a bespoke design using commercially off-the-shelf (COTS) subsystems – such as the Leonardo Seaspray AESA radar – and subcontractors to design and execute the project (akin to RAS with the Sea Eagle). It can also use the same subsystems as the Sea Eagle as well, and scale the training and maintenance infrastructure overhead in the process.

Pakistan Orders Aselsan’s Zargana Torpedo Countermeasures Suite for Agosta 90Bs

On 29 May 2019, the Turkish defence electronics vendor Aselsan announced it secured an order from the Pakistan Navy (PN) for its ‘Zargana’ torpedo countermeasures system (Anadolu Agency). The order is part of the PN’s Agosta 90B mid-life-update program, which is due for completion in the early-to-mid-2020s.

The Zargana works through a deployable acoustic jammer (i.e., the ZOKA) that aims to disrupt oncoming torpedoes by copying the acoustic characteristics of the target submarine. The launch platform can deploy up to 24 Zarganas, which it can launch individually or through a salvo.

Though the Zargana is currently a passive torpedo countermeasure system (that aims to fool torpedoes), Aselsan is developing a hard-kill system as well, i.e., the TORK. As per Aselsan, ships that can deploy the ZOKA should be able to use the upcoming TORK active, hard-kill torpedo countermeasure system as well.

As part of the Agosta 90B upgrade program, the PN is procuring subsystems from a number of vendors in addition to Aselsan, namely Havelsan, Hensoldt Optronics South Africa (HOSA), Kelvin Hughes, and Atlas Elektronic. It is evidently a significant upgrade program, one that will make the Agosta 90B comparable to newer submarine platforms, such as the Naval Group Scorpene.

Pakistan Chooses Aselsan’s ALPER LPI for Damen Corvettes

On 29 May 2019, the Hürriyet reported that the Pakistan Navy (PN) selected the Aselsan’s ALPER LPI (low-probability-of-intercept) radar for use on its forthcoming Damen OPV 1900s. The Hürriyet also reported that the PN is negotiating with Aselsan to equip at least 10 additional ships with the ALPER.

Aselsan states that it developed the ALPER as a “navigational radar during war time.” Its main objective is to reduce the chances of opposing ships picking up the host ship on radar. Besides the Damen OPV 1900s (which the PN now officially calls as a ‘corvette’), it is likely that the PN is seeking the ALPER for use on its forthcoming MILGEM ships and, potentially, the PNS Moawin, its new fleet tanker.

With the ALPER, Zargana, ASELPOD, and other programs, it is evident that Aselsan has become a leading subsystem supplier to the Pakistani military. For Pakistan, Aselsan – and other Turkish defence suppliers – are likely a stand-in for accessible arms built on Western technology. The interesting aspect to Pakistan’s Aselsan orders is that in many cases, Pakistan is the only other user aside from Turkey.

Pakistan has taken a similar approach with China, but the Chinese also leverage much more economies of scale through its domestic requirements. So long-term production, support, and upgrades are guaranteed. Moreover, the economies of scale (combined with lower labor and material costs) also results in weapons at lower prices, which makes them more accessible to Pakistan.

However, with Turkey, the economies of scale is much lower, and with the presence of third-party systems from the West (contributing to Turkey’s products), the price is higher. It is possible that the price of various subsystems, such as radars or targeting pods, are not cost-prohibitive (though pricier than Chinese goods), so as long as the performance up to mark, Pakistan is willing to invest in them.

On the other hand, with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) reportedly considering Turkish Aerospace’s TF-X as a potential fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) option, to push to explore Turkey may be stronger than what observers generally believe. A Turkish Aerospace official also told Quwa (during IDEAS 2018) that it was getting interest from the Pakistan Navy in the T-625 utility helicopter and Anka drone.

 

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