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Pakistan’s Anti-Access/Area-Denial Options (Part 2): Submarines

In Part One of this series, Quwa had argued that the Pakistan Navy’s (PN) efforts to enlarge the size of its surface combatant fleet through the purchase of four Type 054 multi-mission frigates from China will not be enough to build credible sea-control capabilities.[1] Rather, the PN’s focus is to continue reinforcing its burgeoning anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities which, at least in the case of the Type 054A, would offer a measure of anti-air warfare (AAW) coverage and long-range surface targeting capability to small attack boats, namely the Azmat-class fast attack craft (FAC). A key facet to this A2/AD strategy is the deployment of the Harba dual-anti-ship cruising missile (ASCM) and land-attack cruise missile (LACM). This is discussed in greater detail in a previous Quwa Premium article.

The Impact of Pakistan’s Harba Dual-AShM and LACM (Quwa Premium)

The Pakistan Navy’s test-firing of the Harba dual-AShM/LACM in January 2018 reflected a clear move to building a distributed lethality-based A2/AD capability, i.e. using many AShM/LACM carriers supported by off-board guidance sensors | Read More

In parallel, the PN is also working to recapitalize its conventional submarine fleet. Today, the PN operates three Agosta 90B air-independent propulsion (AIP)-powered submarines (SSP) and two Agosta 70 diesel-electric submarines (SSK). The three Agosta 90B SSPs are slated to undergo a mid-life-update spearheaded by Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik A.Ş. (STM) under a $350 million US deal signed in 2016. The PN has thus far awarded two contracts (out of the three ships), with the first due in 2019-2020.[2] The main intent of the Agosta 90B upgrade is to equip the submarines with new electronic equipment, including sensors.

However, the mainstay of the PN’s fleet development – be it in terms of submarines or from the angle of the naval fleet as a whole – are the forthcoming Hangor (II)-class SSPs from China. The eight ships are due for delivery from 2022 to 2028. The exact SSP model has not been disclosed, but existing mock-ups of the design show a variant of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) S26 SSP. The S26 is an export variant of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) Type 039A/041 Yuan-class SSP. Thailand agreed to purchase the S26T SSP for an average unit-price of $347 million US.[3]

Thus far, a major angle in which the PN’s Hangor (II) SSP purchase has been discussed is from the view of enhancing Pakistan’s nuclear-based deterrence capabilities. Specifically, the Hangor (II) SSP – when paired with the Babur submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) – will let Pakistan deploy nuclear warheads from sub-surface conditions. However, limited attention has been paid to China’s catalogue (that it is offering for export) of sub-surface ASCMs, notably the CM-708UNA and CM-708UNB, which possess ranges of 128 km and 290 km, respectively.[4] Both ASCMs were unveiled as export-ready designs in 2016.[5]

In other words, the PN has the theoretical groundwork – be it through the CM-708UNB or even an ASCM-variant of the Babur SLCM – to construct a large anti-ship warfare (AShW) element from the sub-surface domain (augmenting the growing surface, airborne and land-based capabilities). However, coupled with the potential ability to deploy long-range ASCMs, the PN is also (or at least was in 2016) pushing for a new miniature SSK design to supplant its aging 119-ton Cosmos MG110 (SX756/W) mini-SSKs.[6] [7] Succeeding in this respect could spur a significant expansion of the PN’s sub-surface capabilities.

Pakistan’s Submarine Fleet Expansion Requires Genuine Submarine Rescue Capability

With the Pakistan Navy planning to equip itself with a total of 11 air-independent propulsion (AIP)-equipped submarines, it will require strong fleet support assets, including submarine emergency response (SMER) capabilities | Read More

Granted, it is unclear if the PN intends to procure ships equipped with AShW and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities. But the mini-SSK market is offering such designs, not just in China, but in Italy, Russia and the UK as well. The strength of numbers along with an increasingly capable pool of suppliers that are willing to offer long-range ASCMs, modern sub-surface electronics such as electronic intelligence (ELINT) equipment, pulse-Doppler radars and combat management suites (CMS) provides the PN with options to build credible AShW and ASW A2/AD capabilities through mini-SSKs.

Pakistani’s Mini-SSK Options

The PN’s pursuit of new mini-SSKs stems from two publicly accessible information sources. First, the most recent (2015-2016) MoDP Annual Report, which states that Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW) is to pursue a mini-SSK design, i.e. “indigenous design and construction of 01 Midget Submarine.”[8] On the surface, this could simply refer to another MG110. However, at the 2016 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS 2016), STM had revealed that it was in talks with the PN regarding a new mini-SSK to replace the MG110. In fact, STM had proposed “designing a submarine platform from scratch” that would amount to a “different and strategic” joint-program between Turkey and Pakistan.[9]

Thus, a new program was on the table. It is not clear if the mini-SSK program is still proceeding, especially from the standpoint of a joint-venture with Turkey’s STM. However, there are alternative options.

First, the Chinese – via CSIC – are offering potential export customers two mini-SSK designs, the 200-ton MS200 and the 600-ton S600. The MS200 measures at 30 m in length. It supports a crew of six along with another eight special forces operatives. It has a stated endurance of 15 days with a submerged ferry range of 120 nm, and it is armed with two torpedo tubes for heavyweight ASW torpedoes and mines.[10] The S600 has a length of 50 tons. However, it can also be configured with AIP, which would provide it with a submerged range of 400 nm and an endurance of 20 days. In addition, the S600 can support a crew of 15.[11] The S600 is equipped with four tubes for heavyweight ASW torpedoes.[12]

Second, the PN could plausibly renew its engagement with Italy by pursuing DRASS’ designs – i.e. the 450-ton DG-450 and the 350-ton DG-350. The DG-450 has a submerged ferry range of 200 nm. In contrast to the CSIC MS200 and S600, the DG-450 has a mixed configuration in terms of torpedo tubes; these consist of three 533 mm tubes for heavyweight ASW torpedoes and four tubes for lightweight ASW torpedoes. The DG-350 has an identical submerged ferry range at 200 nm, but it is armed with three 533 mm tubes for heavyweight ASW torpedoes and three lightweight ASW torpedo tubes.[13]

Though costlier, the Italians can at least speak to real-world experience in designing and manufacturing mini-SSKs (in contrast to China and Turkey, which are just entering the field). In fact, the PN already has experience using those designs for decades through the MG110 program. Pakistan also has defence ties with Italy built upon a Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP) signed in 2013. There is a measure of sensitivity, but the inherently limited range and endurance would negate an effective nuclear deterrence role; in fact, the PN has no need for that as its Hangor (II) SSPs could handle that task.

What Value Would Mini-SSKs Bring?

The aforementioned mini-SSK designs would enable the PN to expand its sub-surface ASW capabilities. In fact, not only would mini-SSKs be able to cover Pakistan’s coastal waters and adjacent coastal connections to India, but they can leverage the busier acoustic environment of shallow waters (due to more frequent activity in those waters) to mask their presence. Thus, the Indian Navy would have to contend with both the risk of a deep-sea SSP presence (via the Hangor) and littoral mini-SSK activity. ASW operations are an arduous process that involve many assets to identify, isolate and neutralize a SSK, so a well-masked mini-SSK in littoral waters is an acute problem, especially if the PN can leverage relative quantitative strength.

To Pakistan, the A2/AD is not simply to keep littoral waters and coastal areas secure, but to in fact change key naval dynamics. The lack of sea-control ability (wherein the PN can compel merchant ships flowing to India to move away) does not mean that the PN is unable to construct a measure of attack capability that could at least force some actors to exercise caution. The latter is important in that a multi-layered A2/AD presence could at least keep the IN at bay from trying to interdict coastal trade to and from Pakistan (as the threat-perception would be unjustifiably high due to the glut of capable A2/AD assets in the PN).

The added potential advantage of mini-SSKs would be the risk of a Pakistani attack along India’s coast. In other words, the IN might be compelled to maintain most of its ASW assets closer to its shore instead of hunting the PN in the open seas due to the threat of mini-SSKs. However, realizing this threat perception would require mini-SSKs capable of carrying ASCM and/or LACM, particularly long-range missiles such as the CM-708UNB. It is unclear if such capabilities can be had on available mini-SSK designs; the DRASS DG-450 and DG-350 as well as MS200 have size constraints that could preclude the ability to store ASCMs. On the other hand, these new designs are still on-paper, thus a customer could require alterations based on their operational requirements. It would make sense for the PN to pursue this as it would result in a multi-faceted solution – i.e. coastal ASW asset and quasi-strategic deterrent (by altering the IN’s threat focus to its own shores instead of trying to interdict Pakistan’s sea-lanes and ports).

[1]  “Pakistan Signs Contract To Acquire Two Chinese Naval Warships”. Associated Press of Pakistan. 01 June 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 02 June 2018).

[2] “Defense Industry Focuses on Quality and Quantity to Step-up Turkey’s Exports.” Defence Turkey. 30 September 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 28 December 2017).

[3] Wassana Nanuam. “Navy secure funds to buy Chinese sub.” Bangkok Post. 25 January 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 17 June 2018).

[4] Richard D Fisher Jr. “DSA 2016: China details new sub-launched ASCM and old LCU.” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 21 April 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 17 June 2018).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) Yearbook 2015-2016 Part II. Government of Pakistan. p10

[7] “STM Strengthens Position in Pakistan.” MSI Turkish Defence Review. January 2017. Issue: 34

[8] MoDP. 2015-2016. Part II. Government of Pakistan. p10

[9]  “STM Strengthens Position in Pakistan.” MSI Turkish Defence Review. January 2017. Issue: 34

[10] Gordon Arthur. “D&S 2017: Chinese floats whole submarine family for export.” Shephard Media. 06 November 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 17 June 2018).

[11] Ibid.

[12] “China’s CSIC Unveils Three New Submarine Designs for Export.” Navy Recognition. 13 November 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 17 June 2018).

[13] H.I. Sutton “DRASS”. Covert Shores. 09 December 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 17 June 2018).

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