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Pakistan Outlines MILGEM Configuration

In July 2018, Pakistan signed a contract with Turkey’s Military Factory and Shipyard Corporation (ASFAT A.Ş.) for the purchase of four MILGEM corvettes for the Pakistan Navy (PN). This was following two years of negotiations (and change in prime contractors) when the PN expressed interest in the MILGEM in 2016.

Under the agreement, two of the ships will be built in Turkey at the Istanbul Naval Shipyard, while the last two will be constructed by Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW). The PN is to receive all four of its ships by 2024, with the first due in 2022-2023.

In addition, Pakistan was to getcomplete transfer of technology and the transfer of intellectual property rights for the design of these ships.” Finally, the fourth ship was to be “designed jointly” as Pakistan’s “first indigenously designed and constructed frigate.

During the 2018 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS), a PN official termed that frigate as “the first Jinnah-class frigate.” It now appears that at least the final ship will be a substantially re-designed version of the MILGEM, one that will include vertical launch system (VLS) cells.

In the middle of its multi-national exercise, AMAN-2019, the PN’s Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi reportedly stated that the Jinnah-class will use a 16-cell VLS to deploy the Chinese LY-80 medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM). The PN’s Type 054A/P frigates will also use the LY-80 SAM.

When it was finalizing the deal in 2016-2017, it seemed that the PN was procuring the same general design as the MILGEM Ada, i.e., a ship optimized for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) with standard-fare anti-ship warfare (AShW) and short-range anti-air warfare (AAW) capabilities.

However, it appears that (at least for one ship), the PN opted for a redesigned MILGEM variant with area-wide AAW capability through medium-range SAMs. Interestingly, in its disclosures to the Turkish media in February 2019 (during AMAN), the PN did not differentiate the fourth ship from the first three. Rather, it spoke as though all four MILGEMs will be configured on identical lines.

According to Defence Turkey, Pakistan signed a $1.5 billion US agreement with ASFAT A.Ş., a 50% increase in the original $1 billion US contract Pakistan was negotiating with Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik ve Ticaret A.Ş. (STM) in 2016. Moreover, this program would also make each Pakistani MILGEM $75 m costlier than each Turkish Navy MILGEM Ada. When Pakistan was negotiating with STM, the goal was to cut costs by acquiring each corvette for $250 m (i.e., $50 m less than what Turkey paid for its corvettes).

Thus, it appears that the PN opted to modify its requirement when it switched its prime contractor from STM to ASFAT. Besides the addition of a 16-cell VLS, the PN will fit the Jinnah-class frigate with dual-quad-cell launchers for the C-802 anti-ship missile (AShM). It will also swap the Rolling Air Missile (RAM) short-range AAW system with a cannon-based close-in-weapon-system (reportedly the 2 x 35 mm Korkut-D).

Structurally, it appears that the PN has also switched the propulsion configuration from combined diesel and gas (CODAG) to combined diesel and diesel (CODAD). This resulted in a decrease in the frigate’s top speed to 26 knots from the original’s 31 knots. However, the Jinnah-class will be able to stay at sea longer at 15 days (instead of 10 days with the original Ada).

In terms of similarities, the Jinnah-class will use the Havelsan GENESIS combat management system (CMS), Aselsan ARES-2N electronic support measures (ESM) system, and Aselsan AREAS-2 electronic attack (EA) or electronic countermeasures (ECM) suite. Havelsan will integrate the LY-80 and C-802 to the GENESIS, but the PN has not disclosed its main search and targeting radar. This will likely be Chinese (potentially of the same make and model of the Type 054A/P frigate’s main radar).

Overall, the configuration of the Jinnah-class appears to be very similar to the LF-2400, a design concept or proposal by one of STM’s partners, Delta Marine. The LF-2400 was clearly based on the MILGEM Ada, but Delta Marine slightly extended the length (by nine metres) to create space for VLS cells. Furthermore, the LF-2400 is a CODAD design with a lower top speed and higher endurance than the MILGEM Ada.

Thus, it seems that ASFAT designed the Jinnah-class along similar lines as the LF-2400, but with notable differences. First, the Jinnah-class’ VLS cells are behind the main gun at the bow. Second, the Jinnah-class’ endurance is not as high as the LF-2400 (i.e., 15 days vs. 21 days), which may suggest that the hulls of the PN’s new ships do not have as much of a length extension, if at all.

By incorporating VLS to the MILGEM, the PN is viewing the Jinnah-class as a full-fledged, multi-mission frigate. In fact, the denotation of “frigate” is more than nominal, the PN opted to give its MILGEMs the ability to provide area wide AAW coverage through the same SAM system as the Type 054A/P.

The Jinnah-class frigates can extend the AAW coverage to smaller combatants, such as the Azmat-class fast attack crafts (FAC) and forthcoming corvettes from the Dutch shipbuilder Damen Shipyards. In fact, it is possible that the Jinnah-class will interoperate with the FACs and/or Damen corvettes.

The FACs can deploy the Harba, a dual land-attack cruise missile (LACM) and AShM. The PN also basically confirmed that the Damen corvettes will deploy the Harba as well (with the CNS stating that the corvettes will use “indigenously developed SSMs.” These ships can focus on stand-off range land-strikes while the Jinnah-class frigates provide them with air defence coverage through the LY-80.

The baseline LY-80 has a maximum engagement range of 40 km. It uses a semi-active radar-homing (SARH) seeker, which means that the radar must maintain its lock on the target until the missile hits its target.

However, since it is inducting new systems, the PN has an opportunity to acquire the upgraded LY-80, which is based on the HQ-16B. This version has a maximum engagement range of 70 km, i.e., a 75% range improvement over the baseline HQ-16 (and a 4X+ range increase over the PN’s existing SAM systems).

The PN did not disclose the Jinnah-class’ ASW suite or its helicopter platform. It would not be surprising if the PN simply selects the same ASW suite as the Type 054A/P (so as to maintain commonality). As for the helicopter, it has multiple options, including the Chinese Z-9EC as well as Leonardo AW159 and NH90.

However, the inclusion of VLS cannot be underestimated. In addition to a viable AAW element, Pakistan has also given its MILGEM ships a high upgrade ceiling. As an example, by the 2040s, the PN could look at equipping the MILGEMs with long-range SAMs (provided they are available) or LACM/ASCMs through VLS.

The second key aspect is the subtle implication of the PN heavily investing in the Jinnah-class. Yes, there is the comparatively high cost of the ship, but it emphasized the point of having an “indigenously designed and constructed frigate.” This may be a sign of the PN intending to procure additional Jinnah-class frigates in the future and, potentially, build the mainstay of its fleet around this platform.

However, the long-term viability of this idea is contingent on controlling the cost. Granted, the $1.5 billion US contract for these four ships may include the costs for redesigning the MILGEM (for VLS) as well as the “transfer of technology and the transfer of intellectual property rights for the design” of these frigates.

But the bulk of the costs will come from the steel, propulsion, electronics, and weapons. To build a fleet of modern multi-mission frigates, the PN will need to find a way to cut costs across each of those domains.

Yes, Pakistan could control costs to an extent by selecting its choice of suppliers for each component. So, instead of being forced to buy from one set of vendors by the OEM, it can select lower-cost alternatives in China (owning the design gives it that right). However, this is only a partial solution.

Ideally, Pakistan would localize the expertise and industry capacity. For example, instead of importing steel, it could import the ore and then forge ship-grade steel domestically. It can distribute the overhead of acquiring this capability across many different units, including corvettes, FACs, and non-combatants.

With localization, not only would Pakistan leverage its domestic labour and production costs, but it would also save on its foreign/hard currency (e.g., USD). Therefore, the PN need only work against a fiscal budget in Rupees when procuring arms, not a USD or GBP account as well.

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