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Pakistan Navy Seeks Platform for Long-Range Anti-Sub Aircraft

On 10 January 2020, the Pakistan Navy (PN) released a tender for one twin-engine jet-powered aircraft it will use as a platform for its next-generation long-range maritime patrol aircraft (LRMPA).

In its documentation, the PN outlined that it requires the aircraft to fall within the following parameters:

  • Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW): 120,000 lbs to 140,000 lbs
  • Ferry Range: 4,000+ nautical miles
  • Total Length: 120 ft or less
  • Wingspan: 112 ft or less
  • Maximum Take-Off/Landing Distance: 7,000 ft
  • Service Ceiling: 40,000 ft to 50,000 ft

The PN wants bidders to offer aircraft in a clean configuration, i.e., ‘as-is’ if the aircraft is a passenger or a VIP/executive transport. Moreover, the aircraft “should have no design deviations from the OEM specified basic configuration and should conform to OEM’s original structural design.”

The aircraft “should be suitable for subsequent modification as LRMP” capable of the following missions:

  • Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)
  • Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW)
  • Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
  • Airborne Early Warning (AEW)

The LRMPA configuration will also be able to support secondary roles, including asymmetrical threats or challenges, search-and-rescue, training, and transport.

Finally, the PN requires that the aircraft’s ‘major components’ – i.e., engines, flight control system, flight navigation and other instrumentation, landing gears and others – be completely free of ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) restrictions. In other words, 100% clear of restricted US-origin systems.

However, the aircraft must also benefit from worldwide adoption, specifically with a minimum 100 orders as well as “worldwide commercial MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) support” for its engines, flight instruments, air conditioning, auxiliary power units (APU), and other critical components.

The PN Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, outlined the service arm’s requirement for a new LRMPA in 2018, namely as a successor to the venerable – but aging – P-3C Orion. The CNS had stated that the PN was open to acquiring a next-generation solution “from any source, including the US.”[1]

Based on the information in the tender, it appears that the PN is moving ahead with a custom solution.

In 2018, the only jet-powered LRMPA solutions available on the market were the Boeing P-8, Kawasaki P-1, and the Saab Swordfish. However, as discussed in an earlier Quwa Premium article, the most realistic or tenable option of the three was the Saab Swordfish.

To the PN, the Swordfish offered two valuable qualities. First, the design was accessible thanks to the fact that Saab integrated a mature VIP aircraft (i.e., the Bombardier Global 6000) to commercially off-the-shelf (COTS) systems the PN already had access to (and acquired for the ATR-72 Maritime Patrol Aircraft). And second, the Swordfish was more affordable to acquire and maintain the P-8. In fact, Saab claimed that the Swordfish would come at 2/3 the acquisition cost of the P-8, and cost half as much to operate.[2]

Unfortunately, in November 2018, Saab opted to pull the Swordfish from its solution catalog, and said it will concentrate on its GlobalEye airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.[3] With Saab not an option, this tender indicates that the PN is taking the surprising step of developing a bespoke solution.

By working on an original LRMPA, the PN is taking a costlier and higher-risk approach. However, it might be a situation of necessity, and the outcome may amount to more than simply a new LRMPA.

Pakistan is Basically Developing its own LRMPA

In effect, the PN is basically developing its own LRMPA. This does not mean it is developing the technology inputs, rather, it is using COTS aircraft and subsystems to create an original solution. This is not far from Saab had done with the Swordfish. Though the Swordfish did include some proprietary elements – namely its anti-ship missiles (AShM) and lightweight torpedoes (LWT) – it heavily used COTS, the latter comprising of the base aircraft platform and the Swordfish’s main radar (i.e., the Leonardo Seaspray 7500E).

However, even with the use of COTS inputs, there is a non-recurring engineering (NRE) cost involved for the study, design, development, integration and testing of an original system. Granted, the NRE cost may be less for combining COTS inputs, but it is still an added cost for the PN to absorb. Moreover, the process of creating a system is not trivial. The weapon hardpoints (for ASuW and ASW), for example, could add a range of complications in need of additional design work. So, a COTS-heavy solution could be expensive.

Thus, the PN’s willingness to take on additional cost and risk could indicate its willingness to acquire many of the next-generation LRMPAs. Certainly, replacing the seven remaining Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion will be on the horizon, but one cannot rule out a fleet expansion either. With a larger LRMPA fleet, the PN can maintain a more persistent and pervasive aerial ASW coverage against India’s submarine fleet. It can also better manage the impact of non-available aircraft due to maintenance or, in the case of the P-3Cs, losses.

Finally, another benefit of an in-house solution is that the PN retains the right to customize the LRMPA’s onboard systems and weapons. The latter is especially important as the PN has access to long-range anti-ship cruising missiles (ASCM) and land-attack cruise missiles (LACM), such as the Harbah. In addition, it is also developing a new supersonic-cruising missile, which may factor into the LRMPA as well.

It will be worth seeing which Pakistani organization takes lead in managing the LRMPA. The Navy Research and Development Institute (NRDI) could be a candidate. The PN established the NRDI along similar lines as the Pakistan Air Force (PAF)’s Directorate of Aviation Research, Indigenization & Development (AvRID), i.e., collaborate with the industry and academia to develop solutions for the PN.[4] On the other hand, the PAF already has experience managing militarized commercial platform through the AEW&C restoration program. In any case, the expertise gained from the LRMPA would give Pakistan a base to militarize commercial aircraft. In the long-term, this could lead to other original projects for future needs, such as dedicated electronic warfare (EW) aircraft, additional AEW&C, and other systems.

The PN could also contract the bulk of the work to an overseas company. Germany’s Rheinland Air Service (RAS) had took on the task of converting the PN’s ATR-72s into maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). However, it now seems that the PN is looking to build-up domestic expertise. Besides establishing the NRDI, the PN also initiated an original frigate program under the MILGEM project with Turkey.[5] In this case, the PN got Turkish contractors to help with the design work of the frigate – the LRMPA may follow a similar path.

Potential Subsystems of the Next-Gen LRMPA

The PN could re-use the subsystems it chose for the ATR-72 MPA. The subsystems are a proven commodity for the PN in that it has the training and maintenance base to support them. By maintaining commonality between the ATR-72 MPA and the LRMPA, it could be easier for crews to transition between them. Finally, the ATR-72 MPA suite is comparable to the one Saab selected for the Swordfish.

Anti-Surface Warfare

To detect, track and target ships, the ATR-72 MPA uses the Leonardo Seaspray 7300E active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. The Seaspray 7300E is an X-band radar with 360° scan coverage. It is unclear what its maximum range is as Leonardo did not disclose it, but the Seaspray 7000 offers a range of up to 200 nautical miles (370 km), while the larger Seaspray 7500 offers 320 nautical miles (593 km). The radar can track up to 200 targets simultaneously.

Onboard the LRMPA, the Seaspray 7300/7500 can identify targets for the aircraft’s own anti-ship cruising missiles (ASCM), or (through the PN’s network-enabled environment) guide ASCMs from the PN’s frigates, corvettes, and fast attack crafts (FAC) to distant targets. Basically, the LRMPA could assist ships that lack long-range radars (especially over-the-horizon radars), but are armed with the Harba dual-land-attack cruise missile (LACM) and ASCM, such as the Azmat-class FAC.

The PN could also use the LRMPA in an air-to-ground role (e.g., to support the Marines, Army or the PAF) through the Seaspray. The radar offers synthetic aperture radar (SAR) with ground moving target indicator (GMTI) capability. So, the Seaspray can help coordinate responses against moving threats on land. Thus, the PN could use the LRMPA (alongside the ATR-72 MPA) to survey the coastal areas as well as the sea.

Being a smaller platform compared to the Boeing P-8 and Kawasaki P-1, the PN’s LRMPA will not have as much of a payload or weapons carrying capacity. So, its own ASCM/LACM load will be limited. It is unlikely to be the sole attack asset, rather, it will coordinate with other aircraft and ships. The PN could look at a smaller ASCM (similar to the Marte-ER) to increase the number of missiles the LRMPA can carry, but this would come at the cost of less range and lighter warheads. It could work against small and asymmetrical targets, which is an intended role for the LRMPA, but not its primary purpose.

Airborne Early Warning

The PN had originally sought P-3Cs configured with the Hawkeye 2000 AEW suite.[6] However, it seems that it is now using the PAF’s Karakoram Eagle AEW&C in that role. That said, the LRMPAs can provide a more contained AEW element through the Seaspray 7300/7500. The radar is also capable of air-to-air target tracking and identification. The PN could use the LRMPA to offer AEW at a localized level to nearby ships and support their countermeasure – such as EW jamming or surface-to-air missiles (SAM) – deployment.

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance

The Seaspray can drive the LRMPA’s ISR capabilities as well. Leveraging the PN’s network-enabled warfare environment, the LRMPA can share its sensor information to connected assets, such as frigates, corvettes, FACs, surfaced submarines, other aircraft, and land-based assets. The FLIR Systems STAR Safire III electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) turret can monitor specific objects of interest.

The ATR-72 MPA uses an electronic support measures (ESM) suite from Elettronica. It is likely Elettronica’s ELT800V2, which also equips the Italian Air Force’s ATR-72 MPs (which are similarly configured as the PN’s aircraft). The ELT800V2 serves as an early warning/self-protection aid as well as an electronic intelligence (ELINT) asset. In turn, the LRMPA could help build Pakistan’s threat libraries and electronic databases (a role it will share with the PN’s forthcoming corvettes and upgraded submarines).

Anti-Submarine Warfare

The biggest gap between the ATR-72 MPA and the Saab Swordfish is that the PN’s solution currently lacks a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD). So, for the LRMPA to offer complete ASW capabilities, it will need a MAD. The market leader for MAD is Canada’s CAE, which also supplies the AN/ASQ-508 for use on the Boeing P-8I. So, it will be worth seeing how the PN fares in securing export permits for a CAE MAD system and, if it does, how it compares to the P-8I’s MAD. Alternatively, the PN can approach the UK’s Bartington Instruments for a MAD solution.

The Aircraft Platform is Unclear

In its tender, the PN set narrow requirements for the aircraft. The PN requires a MTOW between 120,000 lbs and 140,000 lbs, and ferry range of 4,000+ nautical miles. Finally, the aircraft must have been built in 2011 or later. If taken strictly, these requirements point to only the Embraer Lineage 1000.

A6-AJH (8830512064).jpg
Embraer Lineage 1000E. Photo Source: Mark Harkin – A6-AJH via Wikipedia

Based on the tender, it would seem that the PN is seeking a larger aircraft than what Saab selected for the Swordfish (i.e., Bombardier Global 6000). This may indicate a requirement for greater payload, which would place this LRMPA between the Swordfish and the P-8/P-1. Of course, this is assuming the PN sticks with this platform requirement. The drawback with the current tender is that it is narrow, and if the PN is unable to use the one aircraft that meets the criteria as an LRMPA, it would need to change its aircraft requirements.

If the range is relaxed to over 2,500 nautical miles, the Boeing/Embraer E190-E2/E195-E2 and Airbus A220 could fit the bill. On the other hand, if the PN relaxes the MTOW range to less than 120,000 lbs, the Bombardier Global 6000/7500/8000 and Gulfstream G650 can meet the tender’s specifications as well.

Thus, even with the relaxed requirements (assuming the PN opts for it), the set of aircraft the PN will look at is very limited. Of the aircraft mentioned above, it is worth noting that Embraer had at least looked into studying an MPA variant of the E190-E2 as part of an offer to New Zealand.[7] However, Boeing now owns 80% of Embraer’s commercial aircraft business, so even this route, indirectly, would require approval from the US. Interestingly, Embraer is retaining its business jet and defence businesses, so an LRMPA using the Lineage 1000E as the platform is plausible, but far from certain.

On the other hand, the Bombardier Global 6000 – while a smaller platform – has a proven track record of military conversion, and that too in multiple areas. It is the basis of the Saab GlobalEye AEW&C as well as Turkey’s forthcoming HAVASOJ dedicated EW aircraft. It also serves as an ISR platform with the Royal Air Force (RAF). Finally, Saab also created a template of how to configure this aircraft into an LRMPA. Thus, it is curious that the PN would exclude an obvious contender. Bombardier also has a larger variant in the form of the Global 7500, it has a MTOW of 114,850 lb and range of 7,700 nautical miles.

Image result for global 7500

In any case, it would benefit the PN to select an aircraft with a vast userbase and support network, it will help control maintenance and operating costs. It will also ensure that there is a deep enough pool for any replacement and/or fleet expansion aircraft, should the need arise. The final point is that the LRMPA will be an expensive project, but by taking ownership of the design and integration process, the PN can stagger its procurement through the long-term and within its budget.

Additional Reading: To find the full text of the Pakistan Navy’s tender, see the official website of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) for more details.

[1] Anwar Iqbal. “US suspension of aid not a ‘life or death situation’ for Pakistan, says navy chief in Washington.” Dawn News. 18 September 2018. URL:

[2] “Avalon 2017: Saab tries to hook NZ on Swordfish.” Shephard Media. 02 March 2017. URL:

[3] Valerie Insinna. “Saab puts marketing effort for Swordfish maritime plane on hiatus.” Defense News. 30 November 2018. URL:

[4] “Pakistan Navy holds operational commands and industrial seminar at Karachi.” Business Recorder. 30 December 2019. URL:

[5] İbrahim Sünnetci. “A Look at Latest Status of the PN MİLGEM Project.” Defence Turkey. Volume 14. Issue 97. 2019.

[6] Pakistan – E-2C Hawkeye 2000 Airborne Early Warning Suite for P-3s. Defense Security Cooperation Agency. 07 December 2006. Archived by Defense Aerospace. URL:

[7] Nigel Pittaway. “Embraer Responds to New Zealand RFI for Airlift, Surveillance Aircraft.” 17 November 2016. URL:

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