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Pakistan Defence Review: Procurement Updates

This weekly analysis article will encompass four different topics, each of which is an update to an ongoing procurement program of the Pakistani armed forces. The purpose of this format is to keep Quwa Premium readers abreast of recent factors affecting Pakistani programs, such as deliveries and contractual changes. In addition, the procurement updates will be linked to Pakistan’s overarching modernization objectives.

Aselsan ASELPOD Targeting Pod

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has been taking delivery of Aselsan ASELPOD advanced targeting pods from Turkey. Pakistan made a $24.9 million U.S. order for eight pods in June 2016. The first shipment was made on 26 November 2016, with the second and third occurring on 16 September 2017 and 02 February 2018, respectively.[1] The following chart measures the shipment in weight, i.e. kg (disregard the ‘tons’ measure).

With each ASELPOD weighing 240 kg, it appears that Pakistan has received five ASELPODs (i.e. two in 2016, one in 2017 and two in 2018). The PAF procured the ASELPOD to equip its mainstay fighter – the JF-17 – with precision-strike capabilities, such as guiding laser-guided bombs (LGB) through the ASELPOD’s laser-designator/targeting system. The ASELPOD can also be used for electro-optical-based reconnaissance.

Aselsan ASELPOD Deliveries to Pakistan

The decision to equip the JF-17 with the ASELPOD came following the PAF’s failure to buy eight Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block-52+ from the U.S. The PAF had tied the acquisition as part of its counterinsurgency (COIN) efforts, hence requesting Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to partly subsidize the purchase.[2] In lieu of the F-16s, the Deputy Chief of Air Staff (Administration) of the PAF, Air Marshal Muhammad Ashfaque Arain, told Reuters that the PAF will rely on the JF-17 for COIN operations.[3] Currently, only eight ASELPODs are on order, though the PAF may procure more once the JF-17 integration process is complete. In fact, Aselsan confirmed in November 2016 that talks for additional targeting pods were underway.[4]

Air Marshal Arain had identified the Thales Damocles as the leading option. It is not known if there was an actual competition for targeting pods, but Aselsan getting the contract represents a major element of Pakistan’s procurement in 2016 – i.e. Turkey becoming a source for defence hardware, including systems that it has trouble procuring from the U.S. or Europe (such as targeting pods for the JF-17). Aselsan is also expanding its footprint with the Pakistan Navy, having secured a subsystem contract for electronic support measures (ESM) systems for the Agosta 90B mid-life-upgrade program.[5]

In-Flight Refueling (IFR)-capable JF-17s

Through 2017, the PAF fielded IFR-equipped JF-17 Block-IIs with its frontline squadrons. Production of the IFR-capable JF-17 began with the 24th or 26th Block-II aircraft.[6] It appears that the PAF has allocated these aircraft across several squadrons, with the No. 14 and the No. 16. According to Scramble, both squadrons are based at PAF Minhas in Kamra.[7] Combined with the ASELPOD, the PAF can undertake long-endurance ground-attack operations using the JF-17. It is apparent that the PAF is maintaining JF-17 squadrons with mixed capabilities. For example, the No. 16 was the launch squadron of the JF-17 Block-I and now it is also equipped with Block-IIs (at least the IFR-capable Block-IIs, if not others).

First Pakistan Navy ATR-72 MPA

The first of two Pakistan Navy ATR-72 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) is approaching its expected delivery date of “early 2018.”[8] In fact, on 05 February 2018 a German photographer took photos of the first ATR-72.[9] The conversion process (of second-hand aircraft) began in 2016, when the German aviation services and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) company Rheinland Air Service (RAS) announced that it won the contract to convert two ATR-72 into anti-submarine warfare (ASW)-capable MPA for Pakistan.[10] The program is reportedly worth $294 million U.S.[11] This would be relatively costly for converting two aircraft, leaving the possibility that the value is the projected cost of four aircraft and/or includes ASW torpedoes.

Pakistan’s ATR-72 MPAs are being equipped with a comprehensive onboard electronics suite, including: a Leonardo Seaspray 7300E X-band active electronically-scanned array (AESA) maritime surveillance radar; a Star SAFIRE III electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) turret; Elettronica ESM with electronic intelligence (ELINT); and self-protection suite for radar, laser and infrared-guided threats.[12] The Seaspray 7300E AESA radar and ESM are being bought from Italian original equipment manufacturers (OEM).

Interestingly, the subsystems involved in the Pakistani program are the same offered by Leonardo as part of its ATR-72MP conversion suite.[13] The Leonardo package includes the Seaspray 7300E, Star SAFIRE III and Elettronica ELT/800 ESM/ELINT. Seeing that Pakistan’s ATR-72 MPAs will use the same sensors as the Leonardo ATR-72MP, it is plausible that Pakistan’s aircraft will also include the Leonardo Airborne Tactical Observation and Surveillance (ATOS) mission system. The ATOS is used to manage the aircraft’s various sensor feeds, enabling for operations such as ASW, search-and-rescue (SAR) and patrol, among others.[14]

It appears that the primary role of the ATR-72 MPA is an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform, albeit ASW capable. However, it is unclear if ASW is the primary function considering that Pakistan maintains a sizable P-3C Orion fleet. Furthermore, there is also no mention of the ATR-72 MPA having a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD), an important subsystem for ASW operations. This would not be surprising considering that the ATR-72s were sought to supplant the Navy’s F-27 Fokker ISR aircraft.

In its capacity as an ISR platform, the ATR-72 will bring several capabilities to Pakistan’s maritime theatre.

First, it will provide an airborne ESM/ELINT element, enabling for passive detection of surrounding electro-magnetic activity – such as radar usage – and contribute to Pakistan’s electronic warfare (EW)/electronic countermeasures (ECM) threat-library. This will augment the surface-based ESM/ELINT of the Agosta 90B submarine (via the Aselsan ESM system) and, potentially, the forthcoming Damen offshore patrol vessels (OPV), which are to undertake “surveillance and intelligence gathering” operations.[15]

Second, the Star SAFIRE III EO/IR turret provides video, thermal imagery and laser target-designation. Its use can involve following specific objects of interests, such as particular ships, or surveying an area for a distressed person or party as part of SAR operations. It should be noted that the Star SAFIRE is a system-of-choice in Pakistan, with the PAF fielding the EO/IR turret with its C-130B “FLIR Herk” combat ISR platform and AW139 utility helicopters. Three shipments were received from FLIR Systems, the OEM.

Third, the Seaspray 7300 AESA radar provides stand-off range situational awareness, providing 370 km in range.[16] It can execute target identification, classification and tracking for off-board stand-off range anti-ship cruising missiles (ASCM) loaded onto Pakistan’s frigates and fast-attack crafts (FAC). The Harba ASCM was tested from the Azmat-class FAC PNS Himmat, which is evidently not equipped with a long-range radar, thus necessitating an off-board sensor such as that of the ATR-72 MPA. This is discussed in greater detail in the Quwa Premium article, “The Impact of Pakistan’s Harba dual-ASCM and LACM.”[17]

It is unclear if Pakistan’s ATR-72s can carry ASCMs of their own, though the ATR-72 is reportedly capable of carrying two Exocet ASCM via external hardpoints.[18] In fact, it is also unknown if Pakistan will acquire a new set of lightweight ASW torpedoes (and ASCM) for use by the ATR-72 MPA, or simply utilize them as primarily ISR aircraft with the option of arming them on a needs-basis later. In terms of compatibility, the least complex – technically speaking – avenue would be to procure munitions from MBDA Italy, which has close industry ties with Leonardo and Elettronica. MBDA Italy has also sold the PAF the Spada-2000 Plus surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, which should cement Pakistan as a meaningful client to these OEMs. However, with the absence of a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) in the subsystems slated for Pakistan’s ATR-72 MPAs, it is unlikely that ASW operations are a near-term priority.

Pakistan has two ATR-72 MPAs on order. However, the Pakistan Navy took delivery of its third ATR-72 (i.e. a non-converted unit) in August 2016, and it could potentially order a fourth. With the P-3C fleet in-place for ASW, the ATR-72 MPAs will be a component of the Navy’s network-enabled warfare environment. At sea, it will join the PAF’s ZDK03 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft, the radar coverages provided by the Navy’s Sea King helicopters, and – in the future – the on-board radars and ESM suites of the Navy’s submarines and surface warships. Besides stand-off range targeting, the accumulation of these sensors will also enable the Navy to build a complete situational picture.

The Pakistan Navy contracted the Turkish firm MilSOFT Yazılım Teknolojileri A.Ş to develop and install the Naval Information Exchange System (NIXS). The NIXS facilitates real-time data-distribution over wide-area data-networks, thus generating a ‘Common Tactical Image.’[19] The ASW notwithstanding, the ATR-72 MPA will contribute to the Navy’s situational awareness and stand-off targeting, which are essential elements to the emerging deployment of long-range ASCM for anti-access and area-denial objectives.

MilSOFT NIXS

T-85IIAP Overhaul at Heavy Industries Taxila

Photos have emerged of Pakistan Army T-85IIAP main battle tanks (MBT) in new camouflage, potentially put following an overhaul and major upgrade at Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT). The T-85IIAP precedes the al-Khalid MBT – it was procured off-the-shelf from China in the 1980s. The 2015-2016 yearbook of the Pakistan Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) records overhauls for 40 T-85IIAP.[20] Additional tanks are likely to be listed in the forthcoming 2016-2017 MoDP yearbook. However, the MoDP does not specify what upgrades – if any – were implemented onto the T-85IIAP.

This overhauled T-85IIAP does appear to be equipped with an optronic-system. However, it is unclear if this is the same as the one – i.e. Catherine-FC – used onboard the al-Khalid.

Thales Optronique Deliveries to Pakistan

 

That said, Thales Optronique has been making regular deliveries to the Pakistan Army’s Central Ordnance Depot in Rawalpindi through 2017 and the start of 2018. These shipments could include the Catherine-FC thermal imaging system, which is used onboard the al-Khalid MBT. Some will have to have been imported for use on the 18 (on average) al-Khalid I MBTs rolling-out from HIT.[21]

[1] Pakistan Import Export Trade Database. URL: https://pak.eximtradeinfo.com/items/aselpod (Last Accessed: 08 February 2018).

[2]  Amir Zia. Interview with Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Sohail Aman. Bol Narratives. 01 April 2017. URL: http://www.bolnarratives.com/two-fronts-one-mission/ (Last Accessed: 08 February 2018).

[3] John Irish. “Pakistan wants air force upgrade for prolonged militant fight.” Reuters. 07 April 2016. URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-pakistan-airforce-militants/pakistan-wants-air-force-upgrade-for-prolonged-militant-fight-idUSKCN0X417E (Last Accessed: 08 February 2018).

[4] “Aselsan Sets Eyes on Air Defence and Tank Modernization.” MSI Turkish Defence Review. January 2017. Issue: 34

[5] “Submarine ESM Success.” Jane’s 360. 04 November 2016. URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20170129040649/http://www.janes.com/article/65263/submarine-esm-success-indodef16-d3 (Last Accessed: 08 February 2018)

[6] Interview with Air Commodore Khalid Mahmood. Defense Industry Bulletin. June 2015.

[7] Order of Battle. Pakistan Air Force. Scramble. URL: http://www.scramble.nl/orbats/pakistan/airforce (Last Accessed: 08 February 2018).

[8] Alan Warnes. “Pakistan Navy ATR72MPA to fly in October.” Warney’s World. 28 June 2017. URL: http://warnesysworld.com/pakistan-navy-atr72mpa-fly-october/ (Last Accessed: 08 February 2018).

[9] Jürgen Coenen. Photo of Pakistan Navy ATR-72 MPA. 05 January 2018. URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mril76/39221300985/ (Last Accessed: 08 February 2018).

[10] Ralf Jüngermann. “Airport: major order from Pakistan.” RP Online. 21 May 2016. URL: http://www.rp-online.de/nrw/staedte/moenchengladbach/flughafen-grossauftrag-aus-pakistan-aid-1.5990367 (Last Accessed: 08 February 2018).

[11] Usman Ansari. “Pakistan To Buy 8 Submarines From China.” Defense News. 03 April 2015. URL: https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2015/04/03/pakistan-to-buy-8-submarines-from-china/ (Last Accessed: 08 February 2018).

[12] Alan Warnes. Warney’s World. June 2017.

[13] Promotional Material. “ATR-72MP.” Leonardo. URL: http://www.leonardocompany.com/en/-/atr-72mp

[14] Ibid.

[15] Press Information Department. Government of Pakistan. 12 June 2017. URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20170612190552/http://www.pid.gov.pk/?p=41509 (Last Accessed: 08 February 2018).

[16] Promotional Material. Seaspray 7000E. Leonardo. URL: http://www.leonardocompany.com/documents/63265270/65499306/mm07776_Seaspray_7000E_LQ_.pdf

[17] Bilal Khan. “The Impact of Pakistan’s Harba dual-ASCM and LACM.” Quwa Premium. 09 January 2018. URL: https://quwa.org/2018/01/09/the-impact-of-pakistans-harba-dual-ashm-and-lacm/

[18] “ATR-42 MP/-72 ASW.” Forecast International. July 2009. URL: https://www.forecastinternational.com/archive/disp_pdf.cfm?DACH_RECNO=47 (Last Accessed: 08 February 2018).

[19] Promotional Material: MilSOFT recording Pakistan as a NIXS customer (URL: http://www.milsoft.com.tr/en/references/) and NIXS description (URL: http://www.milsoft.com.tr/portfolio/nixs/)

[20] Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) Yearbook 2015-2016 Part II. Government of Pakistan. p.53

[21] Pakistan Import Export Trade Database. URL: https://pak.eximtradeinfo.com/items/thales%20optronique (Last Accessed: 08 February 2018).

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