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Pakistan’s Anti-Access/Area-Denial Options (Part 1): Fast Attack Crafts

In an analysis of the Pakistan Navy’s plans to expand its surface fleet (most notably through the purchase of four Type 054A multi-mission frigates from China), Quwa concluded that the effort – though poised to relatively improve the Pakistan Navy (PN) fleet – is likely to be insufficient for building credible sea-control capabilities for blocking the sea-lines-of-communication (SLOC) that India relies on from the Arabian Sea.

Rather, the Type 054A purchase aims to strengthen the existing effort of building credible anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities by providing the PN’s anti-ship cruising missile (ASCM)-equipped fast attack crafts (FAC) (and to a lesser extent, its submarines) with another anti-air warfare (AAW) layer – i.e. a medium-altitude element to augment existing very/short-range air defence systems (V/SHORADS) and the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) combat aircraft-based coverages.

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Though the A2/AD effort betrays the reality of Pakistan’s economic – notably its fiscal – limitations, it need not be a non-factor in shaping the naval security dynamics between India or Pakistan. Indeed, the inability to muster enough assets for total sea-control does not necessarily mean losing the ability to deter naval activity along one’s own maritime constraints (i.e. the SLOCs affecting Karachi and Gwadar).

In fact, the PN’s ability to construct a credible A2/AD profile, at least in terms of having the right suppliers, has not been better. Firstly, the Chinese have succeeded in developing a spate of long-range munitions, including two supersonic-cruising ASCM designs – i.e. the CM-302 and CX-1 – that are now available for export, albeit under the Missile Technology Control Regime’s (MTCR) 300 km range restriction. Secondly, the PN can procure contemporary deployment platforms from its suppliers, be it China or Turkey.

In terms of deployment platforms, the forthcoming FAC project – i.e. FAC-55 – under Turkey’s Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik ve Ticaret AŞ (STM) stewardship is notably interesting. Unveiled during the 2016 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) in Karachi, Pakistan, the FAC-55 is a 535-ton design capable of reaching a top speed of 55 knots.[1] In comparison, the PN’s Azmat-class FAC has a top speed of 30 knots.[2] Besides a faster top speed, the FAC-55 evidently exhibits better concealment and reduction of its radar cross-section (RCS), thus making it a stealthier FAC design than the Azmat-class FAC.

The PN could have the option of combining the two – i.e. FAC-55 FAC and CM-302 ASCM – to significantly bolster its A2/AD capabilities such that it can credibly deter unwanted surface vessel activity in Pakistan’s excusive economic zone (EEZ) and SLOCs. Granted, the option would not be a low-cost route in absolute terms, but the relative gains could greatly outweigh the costs, thus making the deal a plausible outcome.

The Case for New Fast Attack Crafts

During IDEAS 2016, a PN official had told local media that the PN was seeking “a squadron” of new FACs, and that a squadron “may have four to six warships.”[3] The official had reportedly added that talks were underway with China and Turkey for the new FACs. There has not been an update to the matter since, but if the PN’s acquisitions to-date are of any indication, the service arm tends to pursue a stated requirement to its fruition. In its course, there is certainly opaqueness and, due to Pakistan’s fiscal constraints, the need to temper expectations and compromise in some respects.

It would be surprising to see the PN abandon a follow-on FAC program. Granted, the STM FAC-55 certainly represents the upper-end of the PN’s spectrum of options, while the current Azmat-class FAC would be a baseline option in case all other avenues are untenable. However, there is a spectrum of options available in the middle from a technology standpoint, notably a design that is faster and stealthier than the Azmat-class FAC. That can be achieved if the new design focuses on concealing munitions, incorporating a heavy use of composite materials in the superstructure and utilizing higher-output engines.

It should be noted that the Azmat-class FAC was sought in-lieu of the PN’s first attempt to acquire MILGEM Ada-class corvettes from Turkey. In fact, Karachi Shipyards & Engineering Works (KSEW) describes the FAC as a “multi-mission corvette”, indicating the ship’s broader mission-profile than simply a missile platform.[4] Although focusing the follow-on FAC for A2/AD only could potentially yield upfront cost-savings (against a larger, patrol-capable miniature corvette), the PN could be concerned about sunk-costs.

In other words, the follow-on FAC – though a critically valuable A2/AD asset – must have a peacetime role as well. Currently, it is unclear if the PN’s call for follow-on FACs would involve peacetime missions, though the intention was to protect Gwadar.[5] This could be construed for either a wartime-centric (A2/AD) role or a dual-war and peacetime capability. However, at this stage, it would be imprudent for the PN to seek a dual-war and peacetime ship, especially when it has already invested in peacetime maritime capabilities.

In 2017, the PN ordered two 1,900-ton offshore patrol vessels (OPV) from the Dutch shipbuilder Damen Shipyards.[6] These OPVs were designed to handle peacetime maritime security operations, such as curbing human or narcotics trafficking. In fact, the OPVs would enable the PN to consolidate its peacetime security functions to those ships, freeing costlier assets to focus on wartime operations. Malaysia ordered similar OPVs from Damen Shipyards at $55.7 million US per ship.[7] Thus, the vessels are (in absolute terms) clearly affordable, especially given the ferry range and capability (e.g. helicopter deck and hangar and main gun.

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Damen began construction of the first OPV in April 2018.[8] However, in addition to these OPVs, the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) is currently inducting new OPV-like designs from China. These include four 600-ton ‘Maritime Patrol Vessels’ (MPV) and two 1,500-ton MPVs, all new-build ships. Thus, the PN (and PMSA) are going to be well-equipped in terms of peacetime maritime security operations. In effect, the PN has no need to force a dual-role mission profile for assets sought for A2/AD (and wartime missions in general). The real constraint to an A2/AD-centric FAC is cost.

The Optimal A2/AD FAC Design

The FAC-55 would be at the upper-end of the cost-spectrum. It is a relatively large ship (500+ tons) and is equipped with two quad-cells for ASCM, a main gun, Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) point-defence missile system (PDMS) and a Thales SMART-S Mk2-type air and surface surveillance radar. For the PN, this would be an excessive load-out. Rather, the PN should leverage its ongoing investments in network-enabled and interoperable warfare to minimize the need for costly long-range sensors in small attack ships. Moreover, the entry of OPVs, MPVs (and potentially other maritime security vessels) should negate the need for FACs to have extensive range, endurance or internal capacity other than for munitions.

Be it by collaborating with China or Turkey (or another supplier), the emphasis should be on reduced RCS, acoustic and infrared signatures (i.e. composite superstructure), speed (i.e. 40+ knots) and the ability to deploy a credible supersonic-cruising ASCM load. The ideal scenario would be to partner with one of these countries (especially China) with a commitment to mutually scale, thus reducing the development sunk-costs on each ship produced. Furthermore, China has a comparatively mature shipbuilding industry, one that has already built a low-RCS (at least from a design intent standpoint) FAC in the Type 022.

One constraint could be the load-out itself. By pushing for a small design (e.g. 250~300 tons), the FAC may not be able to carry many supersonic-cruising ASCM. Photos of an apparent CX-1 ASCM purchase by the Algerian Navy shows the land-based launcher possessing only two cells instead of the triple-cell or quad-cell layouts of the Harba ASCM and C-802 ASCM, respectively.[9] Thus, an A2/AD FAC might only be limited to carrying two or four supersonic-cruising ASCM. In other words, for the PN to build a credible capability, it would need to invest in quantitative strength, which will add to the overall acquisition cost of the FAC.

However, a FAC program of this nature could be pursued as a long-term endeavour. Instead of cutting the project at four or six ships, Pakistan could examine acquiring turnkey manufacturing for the design’s hull and (ideally) superstructure. It could gradually build a large fleet over an extended time-period, one where a decade-plus of production could yield a sizable fleet within the PN’s fiscal constraints.

Why Supersonic-Cruising ASCM?

Given the munitions constraint of a supersonic ASCM (i.e. limiting FACs to carry at most four ASCMs), one might question the utility of such an approach. Ultimately, countering a supersonic ASCM is not a trivial matter; the high cruising velocity coupled with the ability to potentially sea-skim makes these a difficult threat to intercept, especially under saturated attacks. This is the threat the PN faces from India through the latter’s BrahMos line. In the absence of a robust naval AAW environment (one that the Type 054A will not be able to provide alone), the only recourse is to build analogous capability.

Read More: Countering the BrahMos Threat

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[1] Press Release. “We attended the 9th International Defense Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) in Pakistan.” Turkey’s Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik ve Ticaret AŞ (STM). November 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 14 June 2018).

[2] Fast Attack Craft (Missile). Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works. URL: (Last Accessed: 17 June 2018).

[3] Salman Siddiqui. “Pakistan Navy considering buying warships from China, Turkey.” The Express Tribune. 25 November 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 14 June 2018).

[4] Fast Attack Craft (Missile). Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works. URL: (Last Accessed: 17 June 2018).

[5] Siddiqui. The Express Tribune. November 2016.

[6] “Pakistan to construct multipurpose OPV indigenously.” Associated Press of Pakistan. 12 June 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 27 December 2017).

[7] Ridzwan Rahmat. “LIMA 2017: MMEA unveils design of new helicopter-capable OPV platform.” Jane’s Navy International. 22 March 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 28 December 2017).

[8] “Steel Cutting of Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV-I) For Pakistan Navy.” Navy News. Pakistan Navy. Government of Pakistan. April 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 17 June 2018).

[9] Henri Kenhmann. “The Algerian Navy acquires the Chinese supersonic missile CX-1?.” East Pendulum. 30 April 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 18 June 2018).

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