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Pakistan’s First MILGEM Corvette Launched – PNS Babur

On 15 August 2021, Istanbul Naval Shipyard (INSY) launched the Pakistan Navy’s (PN) first of four MILGEM corvettes. According to the PN’s Director General of Public Relations, the PN has named the lead ship of the class PNS Babur. PNS Babur is currently slated for delivery in 2023.

Pakistan ordered the four MILGEM corvettes under a reported $1.5 billion U.S. contract in 2018. Turkey’s INSY and Pakistan’s Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW) are each building two ships. The PN is slated to receive all four MILGEM Babur-class corvettes by 2025.

The Babur-class is a customized variant of the MILGEM Ada corvette in service with the Turkish Navy.

The PN wanted a multi-mission platform equipped for anti-ship warfare (AShW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and anti-air warfare (AAW) from its forthcoming ships. Given that the capability of the PN MILGEM will surpass that of the F-22P frigate, the PN will likely view these ships as “major surface vessels.” This is an important point because the PN intends to build a fleet of at least 20 “major surface vessels.”

The Babur-class’s AShW capability will rely on two triple-cell launchers for a yet-to-be-disclosed anti-ship cruising missile (ASCM). This could be the Harbah, a long-range ASCM that can also double as a land-attack cruise missile (LACM). If derived from the Babur-series, the Harbah could have a range of 450 km to 750 km. However, Pakistan is also pursuing a supersonic ASCM.

In terms of the AAW, the Babur-class will use the MBDA Albatros-NG/Common Anti-Air Modular Missile-Extended Range (CAMM-ER) surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. The CAMM-ER has a range of 40 km. The latest illustrations of the PN MILGEM indicate that the ships will use a 12-cell GWS vertical-launch system (VLS) to deploy the Albatros-NG/CAMM-ER. The Babur-class will also use an Aselsan Gökdeniz dual 35 mm close-in-weapon-system (CIWS) for short-range AAW and point-defense coverage.

The ASW features of the Babur-class are not yet known, but the ship will likely deploy 324 mm lightweight torpedoes in a 2×3 configuration. The torpedoes will likely come from Turkey or Western Europe. The PN will also acquire an ASW helicopter to use in conjunction with the Babur-class corvette.

Overall, the changes resulted in a larger design. The PN MILGEM has a heavier displacement of 2,988 tons (while the Ada has a displacement of 2,400 tons). In addition, the Babur-class corvette is longer at 108.8 m (versus the Ada at 99.56 m). Interestingly, the specifications of the Babur-class are close to the Turkish Navy’s upcoming I-Class frigate, except the latter has a greater capacity for AShW.

However, the PN MILGEM will share many of the same sensors and electronic subsystems as the Turkish Navy’s corvettes and frigates. The Babur-class corvette will use Aselsan’s SMART-S Mk2 as its main search radar; the S-band radar has a range of up to 250 km. The combat management system (CMS) will consist of Havelsan’s next-generation ADVENT, which was designed to support network-enabled warfare. Finally, the Babur-class will also be equipped with the Aselsan ARES-2NC electronic support measures (ESM) suite, which includes a passive system to monitor and record radar emissions and an electronic attack capability with digital radio frequency memory (DRFM)-based radar jamming.

Overall, the Babur-class corvette is a versatile system. Based on the information available about the PN’s other surface warship programs, the Babur-class may be the most capable system in the fleet when one takes its AShW, ASW, AAW, and ESM into account. The PN evidently sought a configuration that may allow it to operate these ships in contested environments. For example, the PN could potentially use these ships for ASW operations away from littoral waters and in Pakistan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Once the Babur-class corvette program concludes, the PN will focus on the Jinnah-class frigate. There are no details about the latter except a local report claiming the PN has two ships on order. However, seeing how the Babur-class is a near-3,000-ton design, the Jinnah-class could be a larger ship. There is a chance that the PN could seek a design similar to the FREMM or Mogami-class frigates, i.e., a 3,500+ ton platform with robust AShW, ASW, and AAW capabilities. The fact that the PN is pursuing the Jinnah-class as an in-house design could indicate an intent to build a relatively large number of ships (e.g., at least eight).

The Jinnah-class frigate will not be a factor until after 2025, but one of the priorities of the current Chief-of-Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral Muhammad Amjad Khan Niazi, is the new swallow-water attack submarine (SWAT) program. The PN has not disclosed any information about the SWAT program, but Quwa was told by local sources that the PN wants a 700-900-ton design equipped with air-independent propulsion (AIP).

Interestingly, Turkey’s Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik ve Ticaret A.Ş. (STM) revealed its own SWAT design, the STM500. In 2016-2017, STM submitted a design to the PN for its SWAT requirement. It is not known if the PN decided to go with STM’s proposal or look at a design from an alternative source. But the STM500 could offer a glimpse into the specific capabilities the PN may be seeking with its SWAT program.

STM500-miniature-submarine
STM500 Shallow-Water Attack Submarine

The STM500 offers a displacement of 540 tons (submerged), a maximum speed of over 18 knots, and a range of up to 4,000 nautical miles or 30 days with an optional AIP. The design could operate at depths of 250 m or more. The STM500 runs on a crew of 18 personnel but can also include another six special forces operators. Though not mentioned, the STM500 can likely deploy swimmer deliver vehicles (SDV).

STM500-Specifications

In terms of weapon systems, the STM500 is equipped with four torpedo tubes which can carry heavyweight torpedoes. However, two of those tubes are also capable of carrying ASCMs for stand-off range anti-ship and land-attack. Finally, the STM500 also includes its own ESM suite alongside standard optronic systems, sonars, CMS, and navigation radar.

Based on these specifications and capabilities, the STM500 is a versatile design capable of both ASW and AShW. The STM500 would basically be a full-fledged submarine, but in a more compact design tailored to operate in shallow water environments. For the PN, a SWAT would need to excel in both shallow waters and stealth (e.g., non-magnetic steel and other measures to control acoustic and infrared signatures). The optimal SWAT design could be a relatively expensive system. However, the PN likely needs a small number of SWAT submarines, potentially around three or four boats, to support its special operations forces (SOF) missions. Otherwise, the bulk of the anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) work will likely be carried by the full-sized submarines, namely the Agosta

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