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Pakistan Defence Review: News Updates and Short Analysis

The Pakistan Navy Received Marine Assault Boats (MAB) From Poland

Through Q4 2019, the Pakistan Navy (PN) took delivery of two 12-ton Military Assault Boats (MAB) from the Polish shipbuilder Techno Marine under a transfer-of-technology (ToT) agreement signed in 2018.

According to open source export-import (EXIM) logs in Pakistan, the MAB deliveries (of the initial as well as potentially additional ships) were taking place since at least June 2019.

The PN’s contract with Techno Marine reportedly covers four 12-ton MABs for patrolling creek areas, and 14 30-ton MABs to cover the country’s coastal areas (source: PAR 5 on Pakistan Defence).

It is unclear to what extent the ToT agreement allows for Pakistan to manufacture the MABs on a turnkey basis, i.e., without material kits (KoM) from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). The MABs are a new or original design, and, interestingly, are not listed in Techno Marine’s product catalogue.

The PN is among Techno Marine’s leading customers. Prior to the MAB program, the PN also procured 30 of custom designed SOF Chaser TM-1226 rigid inflatable boats (RIB) from Techno Marine. Each TM-1226 can carry up to 16 personnel and is capable of reaching a top speed of 50 knots through two 250 hp engines. These RIBs are being used by the PN’s Special Service Group Navy (SSG-N) arm.

Overall, it seems that the PN is relying on China and Turkey for its big-ticket naval needs, but for non-naval and niche requirements, it is working with Techno Marine, Damen Shipyards Group, and Swiftships. The latter two are supplying 2,300 ton corvettes and a fast-patrol vessel (FPV), respectively.

While these other programs are smaller in scope and cost than the Chinese and Turkish contracts, there may be an opportunity for growth atop of increased maritime activity in Pakistan. First, there could be a growth in requirements if Gwadar gains momentum, which will see the PN, Maritime Security Agency and other entities acquire more ships. Second, Pakistan is looking to build new shipyards in Baluchistan, and it may sell-off some of the new capacity to privately owned shipbuilders.

Techno Marine, Damen Shipyards Group and/or Swiftships could factor into both growth opportunities in the medium-to-long-term through sales and, potentially, investment in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Air Chief Says Air Force Will Have Solution for India’s Rafale

Alan Warnes, an aviation journalist, recently spoke to the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Mujahid Anwar Khan about the PAF’s upcoming plans. The PAF CAS told Warnes that the PAF will match the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) forthcoming acquisitions, including the Dassault Rafale.

The statement is interesting because the CAS acknowledged that the Rafale will cause an imbalance, and the PAF will have to address it. Currently, the only new fighter in the PAF’s procurement roadmap for the 2020s is the JF-17 Block-III. However, observers will question whether it alone would be enough to repel a Rafale threat, even with the inclusion of a new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and new longer-ranged beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM).

Even if the Block-III offers a baseline or minimally serviceable defensibility against the Rafale, by the mid-2020s, the PAF will only have 50 of these aircraft. So, it cannot even rely on the benefit of numbers as a means to compensate for any inherent lack of capability in the fighter. Moreover, the IAF’s capability gains are not confined to solely the Rafale, it is also procuring new air defence systems and other fighters.

Thus, the PAF may alter its fighter procurement plans for the 2020s. One solution could involve increasing the Block-III’s production output from 12 aircraft to 16 or 20 aircraft per year until 2024. The other solution may see the PAF an off-the-shelf fighter, even at the cost of delaying Project Azm.

In terms of an off-the-shelf fighter, the F-16 will remain the PAF’s top priority.

First, the PAF is certainly looking to upgrade its existing fleet, ideally along the lines of the F-16V upgrade (i.e., with an AESA radar). This is a sensible goal seeing how the F-16s are a mainstay fighter, and in decent quantity; with the F-16V upgrade, it could field up to 76 credible AESA-equipped fighters.

Second, the PAF had sought 30-40 off-the-shelf fighters in 2016.[1] It told Jane’s Defence Weekly that the J-10 and Su-35 were its leading options.[2] However, the Su-35 is a non-starter as it would jeopardize the now warmer, but still delicate, relationship with Washington. The J-10CE could be an option, but the route will necessitate an entirely new logistics and maintenance line for a similar fighter to the F-16. In this situation, the PAF could simply move to increasing the production rate of the JF-17.

If there is scope for another fighter, it would be for the F-16 Block-72. The airframe and engine would be the same as those on the PAF’s Block-52+, while the radar and avionics would be standardized across the new-built fighters and the F-16V upgrade. Moreover, of the fighters on the market, the Block-72 still has the lowest acquisition and operating costs. Though a F-16 program would come at the cost of delaying Project Azm, it could yield a 100 (both new-build and upgraded) AESA-equipped fighters in the 2020s.

However, the PAF is unlikely to commit to any F-16 deal unless it involves subsidies or assistance from the US. The PAF walked away from the purchase of eight F-16C/D Block-52+ in 2016 because Congress blocked Foreign Military Financing (FMF) support for those fighters, asking Pakistan to pay for them with only its own funds. Given its experience with the Pressler Amendment (and the US’ refusal to release military aid), the PAF will not assume the risk alone, especially at the cost of its next-generation fighter.

Thus, the likeliest outcome would be an increase in the Block-III’s induction rate. Currently, PAC is to roll-out 12 aircraft per year, but it has a capacity for up to 24. So, it can sustain an order increase in the same timeframe, should the PAF ask for it. The second likeliest outcome would be an upgrade program for the existing F-16s, but to mitigate its risks, the PAF could request it be done in Pakistan, and (ideally) through a mix of Pakistani and US funding. Together, these avenues could enable the PAF to field more than 100 AESA radar-equipped fighters by the mid-2020s (and 136 JF-17 Block-I/II/B equipped with BVRAAMs).

Pakistan Army’s Attack Helicopter Problem

Turkey’s President of Defense Industries (SSB), Dr. Ismail Demir, said the Pakistan Army is extending the delivery window of its T129 ATAK attack helicopter purchase by one year.

Demir stated that the US would either release the export permits for the ATAK’s CTS800 turboshaft engine by next year, or Pakistan will evaluate the progress of Turkey’s indigenous TS1400 turboshaft engine.

However, if the US does not release the permits, then Pakistan will likely cancel the current ATAK contract, and in turn, re-evaluate its remaining options, such as the Z-10ME.

According to a source, the Army made replacing the AH-1F/S Cobra attack helicopters an urgent priority, so it will move on the issue in short order. The source added that Pakistan is already testing the Z-10ME, and it could order them in lieu of the AH-1Z. Thus, the alternative for the ATAK may already be in play.

On the other hand, Turkey could offer more than only ATAKs with new engines.

First, Turkish Aerospace invited Pakistan to the T625 Gökbey utility helicopter program as a partner. During IDEAS 2018, an official from Turkish Aerospace told Quwa that it was open to offering Pakistan subassembly manufacturing work and a maintenance and training centre for regional customers.

Second, the TS1400-equipped ATAK could potentially be a broadly upgraded variant of the T129. Turkey had intended to develop a six-ton variant of the ATAK equipped with the same indigenous engines as well as transmission and other critical parts of the T625. Interestingly, a six-ton attack helicopter by designation of T629 is due to fly in 2020, and, potentially, this may be the indigenized, upgraded ATAK.

Thus, Pakistan could leverage the situation to secure both the T625 and T629 with transfer-of-technology (ToT) as well as a stake in the supply chain for both helicopters. In other words, it could both produce the helicopters at home for domestic use, and generate respectable subassembly and services exports.

[1] Farhan Bokhari. “Briefing: Defending the borders.” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 02 November 2016.

[2] Ibid.

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