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Pakistan’s GIDS Makes Drone Marketing Push

Global Industrial and Defence Solutions (GIDS), the sales and marketing conglomerate representing various Pakistani state-owned defence contractors, demonstrated its Shahpar-II Block-II unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to military delegates from 11 countries, including, reportedly, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya, among others.

The showing was GIDS’ strongest push to promote the Shahpar-II UAV to date. Besides showcasing the Shahpar-II’s flight capabilities, GIDS also demonstrated the drone’s capacity to deploy precision-guided munitions (PGM) at high altitude (14,000 ft), notably the indigenously produced Burq air-to-ground missile (AGM), which weighs 45 kg and offers a stated range of 8 km.

The Block-II is an improved variant of the Shahpar-II, which was revealed in 2021 and developed by the National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM).

According to GIDS, the armed configuration of the Block-II offers an endurance of 12 hours, service ceiling of 21,000 ft, top speed of 220 km/h, line-of-sight (LoS) datalink range of 300 km, and weapons payload of 180 kg across four Burq AGMs. In the surveillance configuration, the Block-II has an endurance of 20 hours and a service ceiling of 23,000 ft.

There are reports of GIDS officials stating that the Shahpar-II Block-II offers comparable capabilities as the AVIC CH-4 and Baykar Group Bayraktar TB2, but at a lower cost.

NESCOM is currently developing a much-improved evolution of the drone called the Shahpar-III. This will be a Group 4 design with a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 1,650 kg, endurance of 40 hours, service ceiling of 41,000 ft, and payload of 530 kg across six hardpoints.[1]

Pakistan’s Push to Enter the Drone Market

This recent demonstration is an example of GIDS’ push to enter the global drone market and capture market-share. However, GIDS represents Pakistan’s state-owned entities (SOE) engaging in defence development and production. Thus, this push is a reflection on the SOEs’ efforts to generate revenue through exports other than strictly relying upon orders from the Pakistani military.

In addition to the Shahpar-series, GIDS also recently began marketing the Ranger hybrid vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) drone. Currently, it seems that GIDS is pitching the Ranger as an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) system capable of providing target acquisition and scouting support to artillery units. Like the Shahpar-series, the Ranger could undergo multiple iterations where it can gain range, endurance, and payload, thus giving it a greater portfolio of capabilities.

Though Pakistan is making its push later than it would have desired (especially as the likes of Turkiye and China cemented their positions in the market), its entrance will be a welcome sight to potential buyers. Basically, it gives countries an additional option, one they can leverage to drive lower prices and higher flexibility in terms of technology transfers, customization, and operational use from other suppliers, especially established ones like Turkiye and China.

It is also worth noting that GIDS is not the only Pakistani entity entering the global drone market. For example, the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) National Aerospace Science and Technology Park (NASTP) is also making a move, notably through loitering munitions. In fact, Ukraine is apparently using the YX-series of loitering munitions, which NASTP developed in collaboration with Baykar Group of Turkiye.

In addition, NASTP is also developing a larger loitering munition called the ‘Python’, adding to its new portfolio of smart munitions. One could potentially see GIDS (via NESCOM or another entity) respond with their own loitering munitions offering, especially given their experience in cruise missiles, target drones, and other complex unmanned aerial systems (UAS). They have significant lines of technology and expertise they can leverage to design novel smart munition solutions.

Thus, Pakistan could be on the cusp of its own opportunity to emerge as a notable supplier of tactical drones and smart munitions. Granted, it may not be able to generate as many orders as Turkiye and China, but among the smaller competitors, Pakistan has an opportunity to be the biggest player.

That said, Pakistan can take some steps to potentially bring itself in the league of the bigger vendors, namely, expanding its industrial element. For example, if GIDS succeeds in generating export sales, it can confer more of the production work to the private sector. Doing so could encourage Pakistani investors to not only set up manufacturing facilities, but potentially, invest in developing inputs, such as composite materials and propulsion systems, among others.

Not only would the private sector grow in its capacity, but it could potentially drive development and innovation in parallel to NESCOM et.al. In turn, NESCOM et. al could accelerate the development of more capable designs as they can leverage more advanced inputs locally without having to directly invest in their development. The SOEs would have more resources at their disposal to focus on some areas, while the private sector can support other lines of work (such as R&D for airframe materials).

[1] Usman Ansari. “Pakistani defense conglomerate unveils new drone, missiles at IDEF.” Defense News. 03 August 2023. URL: https://www.defensenews.com/industry/techwatch/2023/08/03/pakistani-defense-conglomerate-unveils-new-drone-missiles-at-idef/

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