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Pakistan Starts Building Original Patrol Boat

On October 06, Karachi Shipyards & Engineering Works (KSEW) cut the steel of the first of potentially 20 new 38.8 metre patrol boats for the Pakistan Navy (PN).

According to the PN, the patrol boat is an indigenous design. In fact, one of the lead entities participating in the program is the PN’s in-house design bureau, the Naval Research and Development Institute (NRDI).

Interestingly, Swiftships, a shipbuilding and marine engineering company based out of Louisiana, United States, is also one of the lead contractors of the PN patrol boat program. In fact, according to Swiftships’ tweets, it is “providing value-added engineering services, kits supply and supervisory assistance” to KSEW.

Swiftships says that the PN is aiming to commission the first boat in 2023.

Though the PN requires a total of 20 patrol boats, it is unclear if all of them will be of this specific design. It is possible that the PN could divide this program into multiple tranches where future boats have certain design changes or capability-additions.

Possible Specifications

Neither Swiftships nor the PN have revealed the full specifications of the patrol boat. However, with a length of 38.8 m, the boat could have a displacement of around 200 to 250 tons.

In terms of armament, the patrol boat seems to be equipped with a 25 mm Aselsan STOP remote-operated weapons station (RWS) at the bow, and an Aselsan STAMP RWS towards the stern.

The sensor load out consists of a main search radar and, potentially, electronic support measures (ESM).

Though Swiftships is a participating contractor, it seems that the patrol boat itself is an original design of the NRDI. Thus, drawing parallels between this design and any of Swiftships’ designs would not provide a correct assessment of size, specifications, or capabilities.

That said, boats of this size generally leverage a wide range of capabilities. In fact, the configuration that the PN has opted for with its design is conservative in scope. For example, Swiftships offers a 35 m design that can carry a 30 mm gun and lightweight precision-guided Griffin missiles.

Thus, the PN is approaching this program with a specific focus – general maritime security.

Bigger Investment in Patrol and Sea-Policing

In addition to this patrol boat program, the PN is also acquiring offshore patrol vessels (OPV) from Damen Group in the Netherlands. Currently, the PN has two Damen OPV 1900s in service (i.e., PNS Yarmook and PNS Tabuk), and two larger OPV 2600s on order.

Together, it seems that the OPV 1900/2600 and patrol boat programs point towards a greater investment towards dedicated sea-policing and patrolling capabilities.

It seems the PN designed these new patrol boats with a strong focus on low-intensity roles, such as anti-trafficking, anti-narcotics, anti-piracy, counter-insurgency (COIN), and counter-terrorism (CT). In contrast, previously inducted designs, such as the Azmat-class fast attack craft (FAC), operated as both patrol/sea-policing assets and conventional warfare (e.g., anti-ship/land-attack) assets.

By investing in dedicated OPVs and, potentially, fast patrol boats (FPB), the PN seems to be delineating or clearly separating roles between its surface vessel assets. Basically, some will focus mostly on sea-policing and, in parallel, others will focus on anti-ship warfare (AShW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and anti-air warfare (AAW). This approach could open the PN up to more focused conventional warfare designs.

Up to this point, the PN has largely stayed away from small, high-speed FACs. It currently has two MRTP-33s, but it never took that program to its complete course. For example, the PN has yet to configure the MRTP-33s with an anti-ship cruising missile (ASCM).

It is possible that the design limitations of MRTP-33-type vessels did not match with the PN’s requirements when the PN had required its ships to serve in many roles. For example, some FAC designs may not offer enough range or endurance or may be suboptimal in certain sea states, especially offshore.

However, if the PN is investing in dedicated patrol ships, then it could revisit the idea of more focused or specialized naval designs. In other words, it could reexplore the idea of acquiring small, high-speed FACs armed with ASCMs, even at the cost of range, endurance, etc. It does not need those attributes to sustain an anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) element closer to Pakistan’s shores.

Overall, should the PN pursue a missile-equipped FAC, it could task the NRDI with the design work and, in turn, treat it as an original project like the patrol boat.

Original Design Work is Catching On

Interestingly, this patrol boat program is mirroring several of Quwa’s observations about the Jinnah-class frigate program. Basically, the PN is taking control of the design process (via the NRDI) so as to get an ideal configuration as well as exert more control over cost and complexity.

Prior to the NRDI, the PN would select off-the-shelf vessels from original equipment manufacturers (OEM). However, the OEMs generally selected the sub-contractors for each of the inputs. As a result, the PN did not have much influence on the cost, weapons integration, and other design aspects.

The benefit of the Jinnah-class frigate program was that Pakistan started learning how to manage the ship design and engineering process. While this step would not solve the problem of lacking the industrial and technology know-how to build a ship on a turnkey basis, it still opened up critical gains.

Now, in theory at least, the NRDI could create a design and, in turn, set up a competitive bidding process for sourcing each of the inputs, such as steel, engines, electronics, and weapons. Not only does this allow the PN to potentially get better pricing, but it can also distribute its eggs across multiple baskets. In other words, the PN need not rely on only one country to drive a naval program. It can have redundancies in place if, for example, the original engine supplier falls through.

Basically, Swiftships might have entered the patrol boat program through this avenue. In the long-run, it will be interesting to see if the PN and NRDI can forge relationships directly with input suppliers, such as Germany’s MTU, or Aselsan in Turkey, and dozens of others across both the East and West. Hopefully, the NRDI would develop its design and engineering competencies to a degree where, potentially, its partners could invite it to participate in their own programs.

The NRDI could get additional original design work come its way. In the long-run, the PN will need new-generation mine countermeasures vessels (MCMV), unmanned surface vessels (USV), and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), among other solutions. Thus, the NRDI might have the chance to build a fairly robust design catalogue of its own and, as importantly, a network of local and foreign input suppliers.

 

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