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Pakistan Reportedly Launch Customer of Naval CAMM-ER

The Pakistan Navy (PN) is reportedly the launch customer of MBDA’s Albatros NG Naval Based Air Defence (NBAD) system.[1] In a press release in March 2021, MBDA announced that it won a contract to supply the Albatros NG to an “undisclosed international customer.”[2] The end-user will deploy the system in 2024.

The Albatros NG utilizes the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile Extended Range (CAMM-ER) surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. The CAMM-ER is an Italian-funded variant of the CAMM, which was developed for the United Kingdom since 2012. The CAMM-ER offers a stated range of 45 km; however, this may be the system’s minimum range. The CAMM-ER uses an active radar-homing (ARH) seeker and can operate under a network-enabled environment comprising of multiple sensors.

The PN will reportedly deploy the Albatros NG onboard its forthcoming MILGEM corvettes. Currently, the PN has four of these corvettes on order from Turkey’s Military Fabrika ve Tersane İşletme A.Ş. (ASFAT). Of the four corvettes, Pakistan’s Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW) will build two ships. The PN is expected to receive the first ship in 2023, and all four ships by 2024.

Based on the Ada corvette, the PN MILGEM is a heavily customized variant with a larger displacement of 2,988 tons. Its most noticeable feature is a 16-cell vertical launch system (VLS) behind the main gun, and a two-by-three launch cannister set-up for an anti-ship cruising missile (ASCM), potentially the indigenous Harbah, which the PN can use as both an ASCM and a land-attack cruise missile (LACM).

If the PN ordered the Albatros NG, it could potentially deploy up to 64 of these SAMs by using the CAMM-ER’s quad-packing configuration (i.e., house four missiles within one VLS cell). To achieve this capability, the PN would need to acquire a VLS that can support the CAMM-ER in quad-packing configuration. The likeliest option for the PN would be the SYLVER series, but Turkey is also developing its own VLS.

For comparison, the PN’s forthcoming Type 054A/P will deploy a 32-cell VLS system, but each of those cells will house one LY-80N. The LY-80N relies on a semi-active radar-homing (SARH) seeker, so it requires a specific illumination radar to maintain a lock on the target until the missile is in close enough proximity. In contrast, the CAMM-ER does not require illumination radars as it has an independent radar seeker of its own. However, while this configuration gives the CAMM-ER more independent operability, there is still the risk that it could suffer from enemy electronic countermeasures (ECM) jamming.

Though the report about the PN’s supposed purchase comes from one source, the information is certainly plausible. In fact, in October 2019, the CEO of MBDA Italy personally visited Naval Headquarters (NHQ) in Islamabad, Pakistan. It is unlikely that a high-profile visit of that nature would not concern a major defence acquisition program. Moreover, Italian media outlets reported that Pakistan was interested in the CAMM-ER in 2019.[3] Finally, the Italian government stated it approved $762 million US in arms sales to Pakistan in 2018. Overall, there are indications that MBDA Italy could have signed a CAMM-ER contract with the PN.

If this report is accurate, the PN MILGEM would certainly emerge as a highly capable warship. It will have a more robust AAW element than the Type 054A/P through a higher quantity of SAMs and, potentially, a more versatile AAW system. For example, MBDA states that the CAMM-ER can use third-party targeting information, thus implying that the SAM could deeply draw on a network-enabled environment. The PN is deploying such an environment (i.e., NIXS), so the MILGEMs may not entirely rely on their own radars (likely the Turkish variant of the Thales SMART-S Mk2) for air and surface tracking. Alongside the Albatros NG, the PN MILGEM will use the Aselsan Gökdeniz 35 mm gun system for point defence coverage.

In addition to a robust AAW element, the PN MILGEM would also be capable of long-range anti-ship and land-attack operations through the Harbah. If the Harbah is similar to the Babur, the range coverage could fall between 450 km and 700 km. In terms of anti-ship operations, this range coverage exceeds the range of the SMART-S Mk2, thus further indicating that a longer ranged radar is on the PN’s roadmap.

Finally, the PN MILGEM will also deploy a comprehensive electronic support measures (ESM) suite based on the Aselsan ARES-2NC. It will comprise of electronic intelligence (ELINT) and ECM capabilities. The ECM will also include a digital radio frequency memory (DRFM)-based jammer, which could help the MILGEM mitigate radar-guided missile threats and/or enemy radar systems.

With a potential supplier relationship with MBDA Italy in place, it will be interesting to see how the PN fits its forthcoming Jinnah-class frigate. The Jinnah-class frigate is a follow-on program to the PN MILGEM. In partnership with ASFAT, the PN is designing an original frigate. The PN will reportedly unveil a scale model of the frigate at the 15th International Defence Industry Fair (IDEF 2021), which will take place in Istanbul, Turkey in August.[4] Given that Turkish firms would be involved in integrating the CAMM-ER to the MILGEM, one could expect the PN to potentially acquire the Jinnah-class frigate’s AAW suite from MBDA Italy.

With a strong medium-range AAW layer in place through the CAMM-ER and LY-80N, the PN would likely seek a long-range SAM Moreover, the Jinnah-class frigate could also host a more powerful radar, which, in turn, would provide other PN ships with greater situational awareness and targeting capability (within the network-enabled environment). There could be a scenario where the Jinnah-class frigate introduces that capability to the PN fleet. In this scenario, could the Aster-30 be an option? Or, potentially, could Pakistan seek to join Turkey’s SIPER long-range SAM program? In terms of the latter, Bloomberg reported that there had been talks between Ankara and Islamabad in this regard.[5]

Thus far, the PN’s recent programs have shown that the service arm is willing to propel itself in acquiring new capabilities and, if necessary, adding systems through novel ways, such as original design programs like the Jinnah-class frigate, and Lineage 1000E-based long-range maritime patrol aircraft (LRMPA). Hence, the notion that the PN could acquire a long-range SAM is not a question of “if,” but “when” and “how.”

The other aspect of this potential contract concerns Turkey. Through the PN MILGEM, the Turkish industry is showing a strong level of competence in aligning with end-user requirements. Not only did it carry out a significant modification of its tried-and-tested Ada corvette, but it is also showing that it can collaborate with various third-party subsystem and weapon suppliers. Overall, Turkey is making the case that it could supply modern warships comparable to those offered by France and Italy (which are among the leaders in the naval shipbuilding industry, especially as exporters to Asia and the Middle East).

Finally, it will be interesting to see if the CAMM-ER gains additional traction within Pakistan, i.e., beyond the requirements of the PN. The Pakistan Army chose the LY-80 for its medium-range SAM requirements, but the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) operates the Spada 2000. MBDA Italy has been marketing the CAMM-ER as a complementary and, ultimately, successor solution to the Spada 2000. By 2030, the PAF’s Spada 2000-Plus system will have served for nearly 20 years. Funds permitting, the PAF could potentially start looking for a more capable system to complement the Spada 2000-Plus. The PAF ordered the Spada 2000-Plus in 2007 under a $475 million U.S contract for 10 batteries, 750 Aspide 2000 missiles, and RAC-3D radars.

[1] Ibrahim Sunnetci. “PN MİLGEM Corvettes are Equipped with Albatros NG NBAD System.” Defence Turkey. 12 June 2021. URL: https://www.defenceturkey.com/tr/icerik/pn-milgem-milgem-j-korvetleri-albatros-ng-nbad-sistemi-ile-donatiliyor-4601?fbclid=IwAR02a9_IODuMVgk3OPBAappoTpx_dDpWhBk0aNQGfJNcYVeZ4aZ19tm16qY

[2] Press Release. “MBDA Awarded First Contract for its New Albatros NG System.” MBDA. 03 March 2021. URL: https://www.mbda-systems.com/press-releases/mbda-awarded-first-contract-for-its-new-albatros-ng-system/

[3] “Italy Restores Funding for CAMM-ER Air Defense Missiles.” Defense-Aerospace.com. 21 June 2019. URL: https://www.defense-aerospace.com/article-view/release/203698/italy-restores-funding-for-camm-er-air_defense-missile.html

[4] Ibrahim Sunnetci. “PN MİLGEM Corvettes are Equipped with Albatros NG NBAD System.” Defence Turkey. 12 June 2021.

[5] Selcan Hacaoglu. “Turkey Widens War Tech Hunt by Tapping Pakistan’s China Ties.” Bloomberg. 02 March 2021. URL: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-02/turkey-expands-war-tech-search-by-tapping-pakistan-s-china-ties

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