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Pakistan Defence Review: Updates

Pakistan and Russia Reportedly in Talks to Upgrade Pakistan’s T-80UDs

Pakistan is reportedly planning to sign a contract with Russia that would see Russia upgrade the Pakistan Army’s T-80UD main battle tanks (MBT).[1]

Speaking to Russian News Agency RIA Novosti on the sidelines of the 2018 International Military-Technical Forum (Army 2018), a Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) official, Brigadier Nauman Anwar, stated:

“We have purchased T-80 tanks from Ukraine that would like to modernize to the modern state … in a few months negotiations will end and we will be able to exchange specialists, who will come to Pakistan and help us modernize armored vehicles.”[2]

The Pakistan Army operates 320 T-80UD MBTs, which it had ordered from Ukraine in 1996 for $650 million US. However in 2016-2017, it had appeared that Ukraine would upgrade Pakistan’s T-80UDs, especially as Pakistan had signed a contract with Ukraine in March 2017 to supply 88 tank sights and undertake a pilot program for upgrading five of the T-80UDs.[3] In November 2016, Pakistan had also signed a memorandum-of-understanding (MoU) worth $600 million US which had planned for upgrades (and 200 new engines).[4]

However, with HIT speaking to Russia it would appear that the pilot did not proceed as hoped. It is unclear how (e.g. in terms of subsystems or remanufacturing) Russia will upgrade the T-80UDs. In fact, Brig. Anwar told RIA Novosti that neither the cost or number of tanks (slotted for modernization) have been defined, outlining that the matter is still tentative. HIT’s Brig. Anwar expects negotiations to conclude in “months.”

The news also follows the inaugural session of the Russia-Pakistan Joint Military Consultative Committee (JMCC), which concluded in August 2018 and is considered the “highest forum of defence collaboration” between Russia and Pakistan.[5] If inked, the T-80UD upgrade project would amount to the second marquee defence program between Pakistan and Russia and, of particular note, the first that largely aims to boost Pakistan’s conventional capabilities (as opposed to counterinsurgency or counterterrorism).

In terms of the T-80, it should be noted that the MBT’s developmental path split alongside the dissolution of the Soviet Union – i.e. the Russian and Ukrainian T-80-lines are different, with the former still using an engine based on a gas turbine platform. It is unlikely that any Pakistani upgrade would involve the engine; rather, the focus is likely to center on electronics, armour and munitions, especially since Pakistan intends to undertake the upgrade domestically at HIT (instead of shipping the tanks to Ukraine or a third-party).

Pakistan Bolsters its Artillery with Surplus Howitzers

On 17 August 2018, the Pakistan Army received a shipment of 25 M109L tracked self-propelled howitzers (SPH) from Italy’s Leonardo. This is the fifth M109L shipment to Pakistan since May 2017.

Thus far, export-import (EXIM) registries indicate that 99 M109Ls have been delivered, though Pakistan has been receiving spare parts and other accessories for the M109Ls since April 2016. The spare parts and accessories were bought from Leonardo and the Italian Ministry of Defence.

The M109L is essentially the M109 155 mm tracked SPH, but with an Italian gun barrel manufactured by OTO Melara, which is now a subsidiary of Leonardo. Italy had ordered 229 M109Ls from the US, though it expanded its force to as many as 280 M109s.[6] Since 1986, OTO Melara was tasked to upgrade Italy’s M109Ls with 39-caliber gun barrels – the program was completed in 1992.[7]

Aside from the M109L, the Pakistan Army currently operates 115 M109A5 and 208 M109A2.[8] The addition of 99 M109Ls has essentially increased Pakistan’s tracked 155 mm SPH force to 422 vehicles. Not only has the Army bolstered its M109 SPH force by nearly 25%, but is able to leverage its existing maintenance and logistics channel. In fact, HIT also maintains a rebuild factory for the M109A2, enabling Pakistan to restore the SPHs and keep them in service through the long-term.[9]

Pakistan was reported to have been in “advanced negotiations” for Italy’s surplus armoured vehicles since March 2015.[10] It is not known if Pakistan will procure all of Italy’s stored M109Ls, though it would be quite plausible if they can continue to be had for a low acquisition cost. However, it is unclear if Pakistan would place the M109Ls – or its legacy M109A2s – through additional upgrades, especially in terms of digital fire control systems (FCS) and other subsystems that facilitate network-enabled warfare.

It should be noted that Pakistan had been seeking a new wheeled SPH and, reportedly, a new tracked SPH (both in 155 mm) – with Turkey’s T-155 Firtina tagged as an option for the latter.[11] Interestingly, Turkey’s Makina ve Kimya Endüstrisi Kurumu (MKEK) stated that Pakistan also expressed interest in the Yavuz SPH, a wheeled 155 mm/52-caliber SPH that shares the same barrel and cradle as the Firtina.[12] Thus, it would not be surprising if (for the long-term) the Pakistan Army is looking to standardize its future wheeled and tracked SPH needs through the same core gun platform.

Steel-Cutting Ceremony Held for Second Damen OPV

On 14 August 2018, the Pakistan Navy (PN) and Damen Shipyards signed-off of the construction of the second of two Damen 1900 offshore patrol vessels (OPV) slotted for the PN. The ceremony was held at Damen Shipyard’s site in Galati, Romania. Originally, the PN stated that one of the two OPVs would be built by Karachi Shipyards & Engineering Works; but both ships are being built abroad by Damen.

Pakistan inked its order for the Damen 1900 in June 2017 for the purpose of boosting its capacity for “anti surface [and] anti air operations, maritime security operations, day [and] night helicopter operations, combat search and rescue, and surveillance and intelligence gathering.”[13]

The PN will not deploy the Damen OPVs as its core wartime platforms. Those roles will be held by the PN’s F-22P as well as forthcoming Type 054A frigates and MILGEM corvettes along with its submarine fleet. Rather, the OPVs will spearhead the PN’s maritime patrol and peacetime interdiction capabilities.

In fact, the PN itself stated that the OPVs will “further augment” its work “for independently conducting Regional Maritime Security Patrol” operations to stem “maritime terrorism, piracy, narcotics, arms smuggling and human trafficking.”[14] The goal is to free the PN’s wartime assets from the aforementioned missions through the use of a lower-cost (and with fewer sensitive or costly equipment).

Interestingly, the PN departed from Coalition Task Forces (CTF) 150 and 151 and, in lieu of CTF-150/151, opted to execute these regional security patrols as an independent effort. It would be worth observing if an effort is made to expand this initiative through the procurement of additional OPVs and other assets.

PRSS-O1 and PakTES-1A are Now Fully Operational

On 14 August, the state-owned Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported that the PRSS-O1 (i.e. Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite) and PakTES-1A (i.e. Pakistan Technology Evaluation Satellite) had become fully operational.[15] The PRSS-O1 is Pakistan’s first nationally-owned electro-optical (EO) satellite, enabling it to capture multi-spectral imaging for a range of national development purposes. The PakTES-1A is intended to support Pakistan’s domestic satellite production efforts, notably the Pakistan Space Centre.

Pakistani Companies Reportedly Slated to Buy Kazan Ansat Helicopters

According to Russian Helicopters’ CEO, Andrey Boginsky, a number of “Pakistani customers” (apparently private sector actors) are in the process of procuring Kazan’s Ansat lightweight utility helicopters.[16]

Speaking to RIA Novosti, Russian Helicopters stated:

“The holding has a number of projects to supply the Ansat helicopter to Pakistan, which is a matter of large companies engaged in corporate passenger transportation”, adding “Pakistani customers seriously consider this a machine for purchases in the near future.”[17]

Russian Helicopters had trialed the Ansat in Pakistan in November 2017 with the aim of showcasing the helicopter’s operational capabilities in high-altitude and hot-temperature (i.e. hot-and-high) conditions.[18]

It is not known how many Ansat helicopters are on the table, though it is interesting to note how Pakistan and India are each adopting a lightweight helicopter from one of Russian Helicopters’ divisions (i.e. Kazan Ansat and Kamov Ka-226T). Granted, the Pakistani order is, at least currently, being driven by the private sector. It would also be worth observing to see how much, if at all, of these orders will be financed through Rubles instead of USD. Firstly, the Russian government is eager to pursue bilateral trade with at least some countries (i.e. Turkey, China and Iran) in national currencies.[19] Secondly, Pakistan has exceptionally limited capacity to sustain big-ticket imports, at least in high-value currencies (buying which could further erode the value of the PKR). Thus, it would be interesting to see if the Ansat purchases are being pursued through Rubles and/or countertrade and offsets as a means to not strain Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves.

[1] “Russia can modernize for Pakistan Ukrainian tanks T-80.” RIA Novosti. 24 August 2018. URL: https://ria.ru/defense_safety/20180824/1527186218.html (Last Accessed: 25 August 2018).

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Ukraine, Pakistan sign first contracts to upgrade Pakistani T-80UD tanks.” Ukraine News Agency Interfax. 04 March 2017. URL: https://en.interfax.com.ua/news/economic/407144.html (Last Accessed: 25 August 2018).

[4] Press Release. “Ukrainian defence industry companies to receive US$ 600 million order.” Ministry of Defence Ukraine. 23 November 2016. URL: http://www.mil.gov.ua/en/news/2016/11/23/ukrainian-defence-industry-companies-to-receive-us$-600-million-order/ (Last Accessed: 25 August 2018).

[5] Press Release. “The visit of the Deputy Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation Colonel-General Alexander Fomin to Pakistan ended.” Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation. 07 August 2018. URL: https://function.mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12189966@egNews (Last Accessed: 08 August 2018).

[6] M109 155 mm Self-Propelled Howitzer. Military Vehicles Forecast. Forecast International. URL: https://www.forecastinternational.com/archive/disp_old_pdf.cfm?ARC_ID=1148 (Last Accessed: 25 August 2018).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha. “Pakistan-US Arms Transfers.” Pakistan’s Arms Procurement and Military Buildup, 1979-1999. PALGRAVE McMillan. 2001. p96-97.

[9] Promotional Material. “Self-Propelled (SP) Gun: M-109A2.” Heavy Industries Taxila. URL: http://hit.gov.pk/defence-tab.php (Last Accessed: 25 August 2018).

[10] Gianluca Di Feo. “Italy has three thousand tanks in a wood. Here is the never seen deployment of Lenta.” L’Espresso. 19 March 2015. URL: http://espresso.repubblica.it/attualita/2015/03/19/news/a-vercelli-la-base-militare-con-tremila-carri-armati-1.204774 (Last Accessed: 25 August 2018).

[11] Daksh Nakra. “Eastern Armour: Asian spending on armoured vehicles during the next decade is likely to reach USD166 billion.” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 12 January 2018.

[12] “MKEK: Determined to Become a Platform Manufacturer.” MSI Turkish Defence Review. November 2017. Issue 46. p.44.

[13] “Pakistan to construct multipurpose OPV indigenously.” Associated Press of Pakistan. 12 June 2017. URL: https://www.app.com.pk/pakistan-to-construct-multipurpose-opv-indigenously/ (Last Accessed: 27 December 2017).

[14] “Steel Cutting Ceremony of Offshore Patrol Vessel-II for Pakistan Navy Held at Romania.” The News International. 15 August 2018. URL: https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/355526-steel-cutting-ceremony-of-offshore-patrol-vessel-for-pakistan-navy-held-in-romania (Last Accessed: 26 August 2018).

[15] “Pakistan’s satellites PRSS- 1, PakTES-1A become fully operational on August 14.” Associated Press of Pakistan. 14 August 2018. URL: https://www.app.com.pk/pakistans-satellites-prss-1-paktes-1a-become-fully-operational-on-august-14/ (Last Accessed: 26 August 2018).

[16] “Pakistan plans in the near future to buy Russian helicopters “Ansat”.” RIA Novosti. 24 August 2018. URL: https://ria.ru/economy/20180824/1527149464.html?inj=1 (Last Accessed: 26 August 2018).

[17] Ibid.

[18] Press Release. “Russian Helicopters test Ansat in Pakistan.” Russian Helicopters. 01 November 2017. URL: http://www.russianhelicopters.aero/en/press/news/helicopters_ansat_test/ (Last Accessed: 26 August 2018).

[19] “Russia says dollar’s days numbered as global trade currency.” Reuters. 14 August 2018. URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/turkey-currency-russia-lavrov/russia-says-dollars-days-numbered-as-global-trade-currency-idUSR4N1V0034 (Last Accessed: 26 August 2018).

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