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Pakistan’s KSEW Launches Third MILGEM Corvette

On 20 May, Karachi Shipyards and Engineering Works (KSEW) launched the Pakistan Navy’s (PN) third Babur-class (MILGEM) multi-mission corvette. The PN designated the ship as the PNS Badr.

This is the first of two corvettes that KSEW is building under the original contract for four ships. Turkey’s Istanbul Naval Shipyard (INSY) is building the remaining two ships. INSY launched the lead corvette – i.e., PNS Babur – for sea trials in August 2021. The PN is slated to receive the PNS Babur by 2023.

Under a contract signed in 2018, the PN has four MILGEM corvettes on order. Though based on Turkey’s Ada-class design, the Babur-class carries several key modifications. The most noticeable of these changes was the addition of a 12-cell vertical launch system (VLS) and 2×3 anti-ship cruising missile (ASCM) suite.

The PN reportedly opted to equip the Babur-class’s anti-air warfare (AAW) suite with the MBDA Albatros-NG or Common Anti-Air Modular Extended-Range (CAMM-ER) surface-to-air missile (SAM) system.

As for the ASCM armament, it seems that the PN will equip the corvette with either the locally built Harbah or, potentially, an upcoming supersonic-cruising missile. Currently, the PN is using the Harbah ASCM from its Azmat-class fast-attack craft (missile) platforms.

In addition, the PN swapped out the RIM-116B (Block-1A) Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) point-defence missile system (PDMS) with the Aselsan Gökdeniz close-in-weapon-system (CIWS). Otherwise, the Babur-class is similarly equipped as its Turkish counterpart in that it uses a 76 mm main gun and dual triple-cell anti-submarine warfare (ASW) lightweight torpedo launchers.

In terms of electronics, the PN opted to configure the Babur-class corvette with the Aselsan-built SMART-S Mk2 radar, Havelsan ADVENT combat management system (CMS), Aselsan ARES-2NC electronic support measures (ESM) system, Meteksan Yakamos hull-mounted sonar system, Aselsan MİTOSTM WECDIS – i.e., an electronic chart display suite – and other Turkish subsystems.

The PN’s modifications resulted in several changes to the MILGEM’s specifications. In contrast to Turkey’s Ada-class ASW corvette, the Babur-class had a heavier displacement at 2,985 tons and it was also longer by a little over eight metres. From a size and capability standpoint, the Babur-class was similar to the LF-2400, a Turkish concept for a light frigate based on the MILGEM design.

Currently, two of the four MILGEM ships are now undergoing sea trials. INSY laid the keel for the second PN MILGEM ship in May 2021, while KSEW set the keel for the fourth vessel in November 2021.

Besides the four corvettes, the PN MILGEM contract also included a provision to design an original, follow-on frigate for the PN. This project developed into the forthcoming Jinnah-class frigate, of which the PN is reportedly planning to acquire up to six ships. Under the JCF program, the PN will retain ownership of the JCF design and produce its ships in Pakistan.

The Babur-class corvette sits between the 2,300-ton Yarmouk-class offshore patrol vessel (OPV) and the forthcoming, 3,300-ton Jinnah-class frigate. However, from a size and capability perspective, the Babur-class is much closer to the Jinnah-class than it is to the Yarmouk.

Although the Yarmouk-class OPV will eventually get a 2×4 ASCM suite and a CIWS for point-defence AAW coverage, it will not serve as a primary conventional warfare asset. Rather, the PN itself said that it would use OPVs for supporting roles, such as search-and-rescue or maritime security operations (e.g., policing).

In contrast, the Babur-class is equipped to operated in more contested environments that involve surface, sub-surface, and aerial threats. Not only that, but the only noticeable armament difference between the Babur-class and the Jinnah-class is that the latter has four more VLS cells.

Thus, the PN likely thinks of the Babur-class and Jinnah-class as similar assets with interchangeability. Up to this point, the two ships are largely similar except in terms of displacement and length. However, those latter design elements have not led to major additions in terms of armament or capability.

While the PN is calling one a ‘corvette’ and the other a ‘frigate,’ the two ships could potentially carry out the same role in a surface task force or flotilla. In effect, the Jinnah-class is a sequential continuation of the Babur-class, not a parallel program with markedly different specifications or requirements.

In other words, the PN could potentially acquire more of the Jinnah-class – or a further evolution – should it require more multi-mission ships in the 2,900-ton to 3,300-ton range.

However, the previous PN Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral Zafar Mahmoud Abbasi, implied that the PN is seeking additional OPVs. If the assessment is accurate, the PN would either go for additional OPVs from Damen Shipyards Group, from whom it ordered the Yarmouk-class, or another type.

The MILGEM could readily form the basis of an OPV. It would be wise for the PN to re-use the knowledge that KSEW is gaining from the Babur-class and Jinnah-class by designing a MILGEM-based OPV. This would basically be the MILGEM program that sits parallel to the Babur-class and Jinnah-class.

The PN can leverage commercial standards to create a lower-cost design. It can also add enough space for conventional warfare capabilities on a contingency basis. Basically, the ‘standard’ MILGEM OPV could be configured for peacetime policing, search-and-rescue, and other supporting roles. But in wartime, the MILGEM OPV could take on special modules for anti-ship warfare (AShW), ASW, or even AAW.

ASFAT A.S. – i.e., the same contractor leading the PN MILGEM program – developed an OPV based on the MILGEM. It is called the Hisar-class OPV. Interestingly, the Hisar-class OPV is similar in both displacement and length to the Babur-class at 2,985 tons and 108.2 m, respectively. In terms of armaments, ASFAT A.S. configured a mix of conventional warfare (e.g., AShW and AAW) and low-intensity warfare capabilities. In terms of the latter, it armed the Hisar-class OPV with UMTAS laser-guided anti-tank missiles.

Thus, ASFAT A.S. already has a template for re-using the MILGEM – and potentially the Babur-class itself – for an OPV. If the PN is indeed seeking six additional OPVs, it would be interesting to see if it continues using the Babur-class corvette (or Hisar-class OPV) as the template.

That said, the PN MILGEM program marks the start of Pakistan’s goal to design and build its own ships. It is unclear if it will extend that to OPVs, but Pakistan will likely continue adding to this program in one form or another. For example, it could potentially work on another frigate design following the Jinnah-class. It is a long-term endeavour to own more of the ship procurement process. While Pakistan cannot yet source its own critical inputs (like engines), it can still build strong design competency. The PN MILGEM is meant to help Pakistan achieve that capability and, in turn, make it easier for the PN to acquire ships that meet its capabilities, but within its fiscal limitations.

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