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Pakistan's-First-Type-054A-Frigate-Launched-in-China-August-2020

Pakistan Navy Programs Continue Moving Forward

The last week of January 2021 saw the progress of two key Pakistan Navy (PN) programs, i.e., the MILGEM corvette project, and the Type 054A/P multi-mission frigate.

On 24 January 2021, ASFAT A.Ş. (Military Factory and Shipyard Corporation) cut the steel for the PN’s third MILGEM corvette.[1] This is the second ship under construction in Turkey, with the first entering production in September 2019 at Istanbul Shipyard. Pakistan’s Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works (KSEW) began work on its first of two MILGEM corvettes in June 2020. The PN will receive its first two MILGEM corvettes by 2023, and its last two ships by 2024 to 2025.[2] The PN will also own the design rights of the ships.[3]

On 30 January 2021, China Shipbuilding Trading Co., Ltd. (CSTC) launched Pakistan’s second Type 054A/P multi-mission frigate at Hudong Zhonghua.[4] CSTC launched the first Type 054A/P in August 2020. The PN currently has four Type 054A/Ps on order through contracts it signed in 2017 and 2018. According to the Navy’s Director General of Public Relations (DGPR), CSTC will deliver the ships “as per planned schedule.”

The PN is aiming to build a 50-ship fleet that would comprise of 20 “major surface vessels” plus fast attack crafts (FAC) and other surface assets. The Type 054A/P and MILGEM are critical elements of the PN’s plans to both modernize and expand its fleet of ‘major surface vessels,’ which seem to refer to 2,500+ ton ships with anti-ship warfare (AShW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and anti-air warfare (AAW) capabilities.

To achieve its goals, the PN is relying on both off-the-shelf acquisitions (e.g., Type 054A/P from China) and original design and development work. It is looking to achieve the latter through the MILGEM. In addition to delivering a customized version of the Ada corvette, ASFAT A.Ş. is also assisting the PN in designing its own frigate. [5] The PN is referring to this follow-on effort as the Jinnah-class frigate program.

Citing a PN spokesperson, local Pakistani media reported that the Navy has begun the design work for the Jinnah-class frigate. Reportedly, the first batch will involve two ships.[6] If the report is accurate, Pakistan’s MILGEM program now involves a total of six ships, i.e., four corvettes and two frigates. The frigate orders could increase through the long-term to help the PN reach its 20-strong fleet goal for major vessels.

Currently, it seems that the Type 054A/P and the MILGEMs will deploy domestic anti-ship missiles (AShM). However, while the PN will equip both ships with vertical launch system (VLS) cells, the PN did not disclose the AAW solution(s) it intends to acquire for either platform. For the Type 054A/P, the Chinese LY-80 can be a likely candidate, but not verifiable until observers spot the system’s illumination radars onboard the PN’s forthcoming ships. The AAW situation of the MILGEM is less clear.

The PN’s other major project is the Hangor submarine program. Pakistan ordered eight submarines under a multi-billion-dollar contract from China in 2015. China is scheduled to deliver the first four boats to the PN from 2022 to 2023, while KSEW will complete the final four boats by 2028. According to the previous PN Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral Zafar Mahmoud Abbasi, the Hangor program involves transfer-of-technology (ToT) to turn Pakistan into a “submarine-building navy.

Interestingly, neither the PN nor China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) have provided updates on the Hangor program. Although China is secretive about its domestic submarine programs, it does publicize the milestones of export programs. For example, in September 2018, CSIC announced that it started building the first S26T submarine for the Royal Thai Navy.[7] However, there were no such announcements for the Hangor submarine program, which may indicate that it is not a standard export order for the Chinese.

In 2018, KSEW showcased the specifications of the Hangor-class submarine. If the specifications still apply to the actual program, it is different in some respects to the S26 the Chinese are marketing to customers. The most notable difference between the Hangor and S26 is that the former has a larger displacement at 2,800 tons (compared to the S26’s 2,550 tons). However, it seems the PN also withheld certain metrics of the Hangor, such as its top speed when submerged and its technical features such as payload capacity or the type of air-independent propulsion (AIP) system it will use.

In any case, if the original schedule is still in play, the PN’s submarine fleet will see a surge increase in both numbers and capability by 2023. In terms of AIP-equipped submarines, the addition of the Hangor-class would basically triple the PN’s fleet by 2028. Furthermore, the PN will receive one Type 039A submarine from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) for training purposes.

However, there are also hints that the PN is thinking about its submarine plans for the very long-term (i.e., after 2030 and closer to 2040) as well. For example, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said the PN is interested in collaborating with Turkey on submarines.[8] Turkey’s main submarine programs include the Type 214-based Reis-class and the next-generation MILDEN project.

Like the Jinnah-class frigate, the PN could be working towards designing its own submarine, but with help from Turkey and/or China. Interestingly, Turkey’s STM (Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik ve Ticaret A.Ş) had invited the PN to work on a miniature submarine and, potentially, a 1,700-ton original design known as the TS1700. It is not known if the PN is interested in a specific design from Turkey (e.g., the TS1700 or the MILDEN), but developing a next-generation submarine to eventually replace the Agosta-series by the 2040s would make sense. Turkey could potentially assist the PN with an original submarine program.

Finally, in December 2020, the PN took delivery of an Embraer Lineage 1000E. This was the aircraft the PN ordered to pilot its next-generation long-range maritime patrol aircraft (LRMPA) program. Besides stating that the next-generation LRMPA will use the same electronics suite as the RAS-72, the PN did not reveal how it will configure the aircraft’s weapons, or who it will contract to carry out the conversion work.

Embraer will likely be involved at some level to help with modification and integration work on the aircraft. It is worth noting that Embraer had offered to configure its E190-E2 (the base design of the Lineage 1000) as an MPA platform to New Zealand. Thus, it will have familiarity with the concept. The PN will choose a third-party contractor to lead the conversion process; in turn, this company may work with Embraer.

That said, Pakistan’s fiscal limitations could impact the PN LRMPA project. Extensive modification work – such as creating an internal bay for torpedoes – would involve more non-recurring engineering work and, in turn, a larger budget. The PN could theoretically stick to a simpler configuration (e.g., restrict payloads to external hardpoints), which would help it control acquisition costs.

One apparent gap in the PN’s modernization programs could be new multi-mission helicopters. In 2019, the PN had intended to acquire these aircraft to support its fleet expansion. However, to-date, the PN has not disclosed any contracts or follow-up statements about helicopters. In addition to supporting its new ships, the PN may need new helicopters to start supplanting its older aircraft.

[1] ASFAT A.Ş. Twitter. 24 January 2021. URL: https://twitter.com/MSB_ASFAT/status/1353257599098101760

[2] “Signatures signed for the sale of 4 MILGEM Corvettes to Pakistan.” Military Factory and Shipyard Corporation (ASFAT A.Ş.). URL: https://www.asfat.com.tr/pakistana-4-milgem-korvetinin-satisinda-imzalar-atildi/

[3] Press Release. “Pakistan Navy Signed Contract for Acquisition of 4x MILGEM class warships with Turkey.” Press Information Department. Ministry of Information. Government of Pakistan. 05 July 2018. URL: http://pid.gov.pk/site/press_detail/8782

[4] Pakistan Navy. Twitter. 30 January 2021. URL: https://twitter.com/dgprPaknavy/status/1355413292311830529

[5] Press Release. “Pakistan Navy Signed Contract for Acquisition of 4x MILGEM class warships with Turkey.” Press Information Department. Ministry of Information. Government of Pakistan. 05 July 2018. URL: http://pid.gov.pk/site/press_detail/8782

[6] “Taking Friendship With Pakistan to New Levels – Turkish President.” 92 News. Facebook. 24 January 2021. URL: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2824862584452430

[7] “Chinese shipbuilder starts work on US$411 million submarine for Thai navy.” South China Morning Post. 06 September 2018. URL: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/2162944/chinese-shipbuilder-starts-work-us411-million-submarine-thai

[8] “Çavuşoğlu: Pakistan asked for cooperation for submarine.” CNN Turk. 15 January 2021. URL: https://www.cnnturk.com/video/turkiye/cavusoglu-pakistan-denizalti-icin-isbirligi-istedi-video

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