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Poland Looks to Pakistan’s Defence Market for Sales

In June 2018, the Pakistan Army’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa led a delegation to Poland with the aim of visiting the Polish Ministry of Defence and the Polish Armament Group (Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa: PGZ).[1] During the COAS’ visit, photos emerged of the COAS along with several other Pakistan Army officials test-firing a number of Polish small arms, including – among others – the Fabryka Broni Radom (FB Radom) GROT or MSBS (Modułowy System Broni Strzeleckiej).[2]

Interestingly, the Pakistan Army delegation was shown prototypes of the MSBS’ 7.62×51 mm NATO variant – i.e. a new variant of the MSBS that is still under development and not officially revealed.[3] Currently, the MSBS is available in 5.56×45 mm NATO, but as a modular assault rifle design (akin to the Beretta ARX, the Česká Zbrojovka CZ-807 BREN and others), it can be chambered into 7.62×39 mm and/or 7.62×51 mm (i.e. the MSBS-7.62S and MSBS-7.62N, respectively).[4] The MSBS-7.62N is available in barrel options – i.e. 508 mm barrel with fixed butt-stock and 406 mm barrel with folding butt-stock.[5]

PGZ had cast a wide-net in its demonstrations to Pakistan. Besides small arms, the visiting delegation had the chance to see Patria-based KTO Rosomak 8×8 armoured fighting vehicle (AFV), PT-91 Twardy main battle tanks (MBT) and Rak 120-mm self-propelled mortar-firing vehicles.[6] In January, Wojskowe Zakłady Lotnicze Nr. 1 (WZL-1) invited the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to review its facility for overhauling Mil Mi-17 helicopters, which are the mainstay transport helicopters of the Pakistan Army and the PAF.[7]

PGZ’s selections correspond to numerous active and/or backburner (i.e. inactive, but with potential to be reprioritized) Pakistan Army programs, such as off-the-shelf MBT, self-propelled mortars and 8×8 AFV.[8][9] In 2016, Pakistan had also evaluated various assault rifles as part of an apparent push to supplant the Heckler & Koch (HK) G-3 and NORINCO Type-56. In response, PGZ showcased FB Radom’s MSBS in 2017, stating, “The PGZ sees great potential in cooperation with Islamabad, not only in the field of small arms but also in other areas of Pakistan’s modernization program.”[10]

These visits follow three prior high-level visits made in November 2017. These previous visits included a POF delegation led by its previous chairman, Lt. Gen. Umar Farooq Durrani to FB Radom.[11] This was soon followed by then PAF Chief of Air Staff (CAS) ACM Sohail Aman, who visited Poland to discuss the potential of collaboration in aviation. Finally, a HIT delegation led by its head, Lt. Gen. Muhammad Naeem Ashraf, also visited PGZ to discuss “potential of cooperation in the field of land-based platforms.”

PGZ’s scope is certainly extensive in that it aims to trigger Pakistani interest in a wide-range of armaments and projects in Poland. However, the oft-spoken restraints of Pakistani procurement, especially its fiscal limitations, would make it impossible for every Polish solution to be a plausible option. For example, the Rosomak AFV and Krab self-propelled howitzer (SPH) are unlikely to be feasible for the Pakistan Army to induct in the necessary numbers. Nonetheless, certain defence industry dynamics could favourably place Poland in some areas, especially in the domains of commercial licensing and bilateral collaboration.

Alignment of Industry Interests

For Pakistan and Poland, there appears to be some alignment in their respective industry interests.

Firstly, Poland is a relatively fringe supplier to Pakistan, i.e. the PGZ is aspiring to make inroads against numerous – and better-established – competitors. This affords Pakistan a measure of leverage to pursue concessions – be it in terms of pricing, transfer-of-technology (ToT) and/or bilateral research and development (R&D) – and acquire goods that it may not have adequate access elsewhere.

Secondly, though dwarfed by India, Pakistan is still a sizable market in its own right, one capable of generating substantive work and foreign-currency gains for Warsaw amid a global arms market that is dominated by a few large suppliers (which are mostly withdrawing from the Pakistani market.

Aviation Opportunities

The PAF’s visit to WZL-1 in January 2018 appears to reflect the above. Pakistan had been seeking to build a depot level maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility for its Mi-17/171 transport helicopters since at least 2015. In 2015, Rostec told Sputnik News, “We are currently holding negotiations…about creating a technical service center, which would maintain and repair [Mi-17 and Mi-35M] helicopters.”[12]

Currently, it does not appear that this depot-level MRO site was actually built. Granted, the Pakistan Army set-up an overhaul centre at the Aviation Base Workshop in Rawalpindi, which was set-up in collaboration with the St. Petersburg Aviation Repair Company (SPARC) in 2014.[13] However, this does not appear to be a depot-level MRO site capable of fully disassembling the Mi-17/171; rather, the PAF was negotiating with Russia’s Rostec despite having the Rawalpindi MRO site (which is likely an inspection-level MRO site).

It is not clear why PAC is unable to secure a depot-level MRO site from Russia, though it is no secret that Russia is reluctant to part with after-sale support opportunities (e.g. MRO, spare parts manufacturing, etc) for its own industry rather than offloading them to foreign players.[14] In any case, the focus of the PAF’s visit to WZL-1 was to discuss “WZL-1’s capabilities in overhauling and modernizing [Mi-series] family helicopters with a particular input placed on Mi-17 and its adaption to night operations.”[15]

Thus, there could be alignment wherein Pakistan has had difficulty procuring a solution (e.g. a depot-level MRO facility for the Mi-17), and in turn, Poland is capable and willing to provide it. Of WZL-1’s capacities, the facility is capable of undertaking the “disassembly of helicopters (sic) aggregates” among other depot-level MRO tasks. Interestingly, PAC could, at least in theory, combine the expertise of WZL-1 with those of Ukraine’s Motor Sich – i.e. the supplier of Mi-17-series engines and engine parts – to build a complete depot-level MRO site (comparable to its Mirage III/5 Rebuild Factory) at Kamra.

If not for material goods, Pakistan could also request Poland’s technical assistance in Project Azm, i.e. the PAF’s initiative for a next-generation fighter and a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drone. In fact, the latter could be of interest to the PGZ seeing that a MALE drone could be marketed domestically to the Polish Armed Forces. Granted, Poland might have limited experience in critical areas, such as the a MALE drone’s flight control system, a partner with some R&D depth and funding could be of benefit to Pakistan.

Land & Infantry Solutions

In 2017, PGZ was forthright about its interest to secure an apparent Pakistan Army bid for new-generation assault rifles to supplant its HK G-3s and NORINCO Type-56s. In this respect, PGZ had stated:

“It is estimated that Pakistan needs between 500 and 800 thousand new automatic rifles, which should replace the previously used weapon. Islamabad is extremely cautious about the choice of new weapons, taking into account the pros and cons of various types of ammunition, potential theaters, and high, estimated at about 2 billion dollars, the cost of retooling so many soldiers.”[16]

The previous Chairman of POF, Lt. Gen. Umar Farooq Durrani, led a delegation to PGZ to discuss the issue, during which his delegation visited Fabryka Radom, Zakłady Mechaniczne Tarnów (ZMT) and MESKO – i.e. each of PGZ’s leading small arms designers and manufacturers. In the June 2018 visit by the COAS, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistan Army had the opportunity to test the FB MSBS 7.62N.

Currently, the status of the Pakistan Army’s new rifle bid is unclear. In November 2016, POF had signed a letter-of-understanding (LoU) with Česká Zbrojovka (CZ) to negotiate for the purchase and, gradually, the transfer of turnkey rifle manufacturing at POF. However, there have been no updates, leaving observers to speculate that the recent interest in the MSBS (which was not even tested in the original trials of 2016) to be a sign of POF pivoting to FB Radom. It is unclear if there is a pivot or if there is even an active bid.

Granted, Pakistan’s fiscal constraints limit its procurement ability, but while inducting a new-generation rifle across nearly one million personnel is very costly, the cost of switching POF’s production line to a new design is not prohibitive. The price of a new turnkey manufacturing line (be it for the CZ-807, MSBS and/or others) would be a fraction of the total transition cost. For example, if the total cost of one rifle is $2000 US (notwithstanding differences in labour and material costs) for 1,000,000 units – i.e. $2 billion US, then an overhead cost of 25% would be $500 million. This is the cost of transitioning POF to a new rifle; it is a high price, but not insurmountable, especially if spread across four annual payments.

Pakistan can sustain such costs, especially if its new rifles are also being sold to third-party clients. This is where Pakistan could be having issues with original equipment manufacturers (OEM), i.e. a possible block or reluctance on third-party sales. In May 2017, a purported leak had emerged of the Pakistan Army’s new rifle program. The bid called for 75,000 rifles as well as ToT with third-party transfer (TPT) authority. The responding OEM offered ToT, but it did not list TPT authority.[17] In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a recent example of an OEM providing such flexibility in recent years, especially to would-be competitors.

According to PGZ, the previous Chairman of POF had held talks (in 2017) for “the potential purchase and transfer of technology elated to the production of small arms and ammunition.”[18] The COAS’ recent visit need not mean much, but with PGZ showing them the MSBS 7.62N, PGZ is evidently eager to gain a sale. However, to secure a sale against established OEMs, PGZ must make a concession – a concession on TPT authority for one or several of its small arms designs could be a key differentiator.

Inducting the Rosomak or Krab is likely to be out of Pakistan’s budget, but Poland does have expertise on offer that could help Pakistan with its own programs, notably the al-Khalid. For example, the PT-16 – i.e. a significant upgrade to the PT-91 – offers an example of strong welded-turret design, an area HIT could look at for the forthcoming al-Khalid 2 MBT. Alternatively, the Pakistan Army was reportedly interested in procuring a 120 mm self-propelled mortar system.[19] The Rak’s integrated mortar turret may be of interest, though in Poland, it has been integrated to the Rosomak AFV. Pakistan will likely have to secure its an AFV first (e.g. Cavalier Group Hamza, Otokar Arma, NORINCO VN1, etc) before pursuing the Rak.

Naval Solutions

Interestingly, the Polish industry is already engaged in Pakistan’s naval market. For example, in 2013 the Polish company Techno Marine announced that it had delivered 30 Special Operations Forces (SOF) TM-1025 rigid inflatable boats (RIB) to the Pakistan Navy (PN).[20] In fact, Techno Marine’s promotional material also show photos of the RIBs in service with the Special Service Group (Navy) or SSGN.[21]

It would not be surprising if the PN renews its contact with Techo Marine for additional ships. In addition, other Polish shipbuilders, such as Remontowa Shipbuilding, could be interested in additional PN tenders, especially as the PN embarks on its widescale modernization effort. In fact, the 2015-2016 Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) listed a bid for a submarine rescue and salvage vessel (inarguably to support the PN’s burgeoning submarine fleet, which is set to reach at least 11 boats by 2028).[22] This could be of interest to Poland, especially as Warsaw has its own submarine rescue ship program in the pipeline – the lead ship (Ratownik-class) is priced at $266 million US.[23]

[1] Press Release. “General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) reached Poland on an official visit.” 20 June 2018. Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR). URL: https://www.ispr.gov.pk/press-release-detail.php?id=4793 (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

[2] Remigiusz Wilk. “MSBS-7.62N disclosed!” MilMag. 23 June 2018. URL: https://www.milmag.pl/news/view?news_id=1021 (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Matthew Moss. “Pakistan Interested in FB Radom’s 7.62×51 MSBS?.” The Firearms Blog. 26 June 2018. URL: https://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2018/06/28/pakistan-interested-in-radoms-7-62×51-msbs/ (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

[5] Remigiusz Wilk. MilMag. 23 June 2018.

[6] “Visit of the Chief of Staff of Pakistan Land Forces.” Centrum Szkolenia Wojsk Lądowych. 20 June 2018. URL: http://cswlpoznan.wp.mil.pl/pl/4_708.html (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

[7] Press Release. “Pakistan Air Force visiting WZL-1.” WZL-1. 30 January 2018. URL: http://www.wzl1.mil.pl/lodz/pakistan-air-force-visiting-wzl-1 (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

[8] Daksh Nakra. “Eastern Armour: Asian spending on armoured vehicles during the next decade is likely to reach USD166 billion.” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 12 January 2018.

[9] Press Release. “Malyshev Plant Goes to a New Cooperation Stage with Pakistan.” 03 August 2017. URL: http://www.malyshevplant.com/en/content/malyshev-plant-goes-new-cooperation-stage-pakistan (Last Accessed: 09 January 2018).

[10] Press Release. “Representatives of the Pakistani defense industry visit PGZ.” PGZ. 17 November 2017. URL: http://pgzsa.pl/a/657,przedstawiciele-pakistanskiego-przemyslu-obronnego-z-wizyta-w-pgz (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

[11] Ibid.

[12]  “Moscow, Islamabad Discuss Establishment of Helicopter Service Center”. Sputnik News. 08 November 2015. URL: https://sputniknews.com/world/201511081029779205-russia-pakistan-helicopter-servic-center/ (Last Accessed: 11 April 2018).

[13] Press Release. Inter Services Public Relations. 25 June 2014. URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20140703131126/https://www.ispr.gov.pk/front/main.asp?o=t-press_release&id=2594 (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

[14]  Vivek Raghuvanshi. “India’s Sukhoi fleet faces problems despite Russian spare parts deal.” Defense News. 22 March 2017. URL: https://www.defensenews.com/air/2017/03/22/india-s-sukhoi-fleet-faces-problems-despite-russian-spare-parts-deal/ (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

[15] Press Release. “Pakistan Air Force visiting WZL-1.” WZL-1. 30 January 2018. URL: http://www.wzl1.mil.pl/lodz/pakistan-air-force-visiting-wzl-1 (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

[16] Press Release. “Representatives of the Pakistani defense industry visit PGZ.” PGZ. 17 November 2017. URL: http://pgzsa.pl/a/657,przedstawiciele-pakistanskiego-przemyslu-obronnego-z-wizyta-w-pgz (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

[17] Nathaniel F. “LEAKED: Pakistan Army Requirements for Tender of 75,000 New 7.62x39mm Rifles.” The Firearm Blog. 16 May 2017. URL: https://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2017/05/16/leaked-pakistan-army-requirements-tender-75000-new-7-62x39mm-rifles/ (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

[18] Press Release. “Representatives of the Pakistani defense industry visit PGZ.” PGZ. 17 November 2017).

[19] Daksh Nakra. HIS Jane’s. January 2018.

[20] Remigiusz Wilk, Kielce. “MSPO 2013: Polish company confirms deliveries of RIBs to Pakistan special forces.” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 05 September 2013. URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20130909070236/http://www.janes.com/article/26748/mspo-2013-polish-company-confirms-deliveries-of-ribs-to-pakistan-special-forces (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

[21] Promotional Material. Techno Marine. URL: http://www.technomarine.pl/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/TechnoMarine-Military-Units.pdf (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

[22] Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) Yearbook 2015-2016 Part II. Government of Pakistan. p.86

[23] Remigiusz Wilk. “MCMVs as well as rescue, salvage ship ordered for Polish Navy.” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 03 January 2018. URL: http://www.janes.com/article/76776/mcmvs-as-well-as-rescue-salvage-ship-ordered-for-polish-navy (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

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