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RIBAT-2018 (Part 2): Effecting Peacetime Maritime Security

From 24 February to 06 March, the Pakistan Navy (PN) and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) conducted a joint-naval exercise – i.e. RIBAT-2018 – to validate “war fighting concepts under evolving multi-faceted threats” and continue fine-tuning interoperability between the PN and PAF. The inter-services cooperation aspect is discussed in detail in Part One of this Quwa Premium series, “Improving PAF-PN Interoperability”.[1]

This interoperability is essential to Pakistan’s maritime anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) strategy, which will rely upon networking disparate assets to air and surface-based radars for long-range situational awareness and enabling the firing of stand-off range weapons from the sea, air and land. This is outlined in detail in an earlier Quwa Premium article, “The Impact of Pakistan’s Harba dual-AShM and LACM”.[2]

The second major aspect of RIBAT-2018, according to Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), was to validate the PN’s capabilities in addressing “sub conventional warfare”.[3] Like its long-term A2/AD plans, the PN’s efforts to build capacity to effect peacetime maritime security is also under development, particularly in terms of the procurement of new assets such as offshore patrol vessels (OPV), among others.

Interestingly, although the PN’s duties in this area are less pronounced than its A2/AD efforts – with the relevant assets being less complex and less costly than the A2/AD core (which will include new submarines and long-range cruising missiles) – maritime security is important, especially as Pakistan aims to increase international confidence in its sea-lanes and ports as part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

In fact, in the absence of a conventional conflict, effecting peacetime maritime security will likely spur the majority of the PN’s naval action in the long-term, be it through securing its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and sea-lines-of-communication (SLOC) from asymmetrical threats or committing to its duties under the Combined Task Force (CTF) coalition. Combined, these efforts are meant to support Pakistan’s economic and foreign relations interests, with the latter (i.e. CTF) in relation to the US and Western Europe.

Maritime Security Responsibilities

In the maritime space, asymmetrical threats can emanate from piracy, trafficking and seaborne terrorist activity. It is important not to reduce the expanse of the sea and the advantage that can confer (by virtue of the difficulty countries can have monitoring activities) to such actors. Furthermore, unlike the response of a conventional warfare scenario, where detecting a threat can trigger the firing of anti-ship missiles, an anti-piracy or trafficking operation necessitates hardware and personnel to reach the target, which could involve freeing trafficking victims, hostages and/or commercial property. Tangibly, Pakistan is vested in preventing these threats from affecting its trade and coastal economic assets, such as the new shipyard being built in Gwadar. However, with Pakistan in the position of having to struggle for confidence in the international arena, the risk of an event that could further scathe Pakistan’s image is too severe to ignore.

Participation in Combined Task Force (CTF) 150 and CTF-151 have provided the PN opportunities for both its own capacity building as well as avenues to forge and maintain bilateral relations with key powers, not least the United States. CTF-150’s function “is to promote maritime security in order to counter-terrorist acts and related illegal activities, which terrorists use to fund or conceal their movements”.[4] In operation since 2001, CTF-150 operates in the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman.[5] CTF-151 has a specific focus on piracy at sea, drawing upon the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2316 as its legal mandate to conduct maritime security operations.[6] At various points, the PN had commanded both.

Under CTF-150/151, the PN provides support through contributing its ships – including its multi-mission frigates – for force presence and skilled personnel, the latter including special operations forces (SOF) for VBSS (i.e. visit, board, search and seizure). To continue building its human resources in this area, the PN began construction of a Maritime Counter Terrorism Centre (MCTC) in August 2017. According to the PN (via the Associated Press of Pakistan), the MCTC will train “[Pakistani] special operation forces and special wings and other law enforcement agencies (LEAs).”[7] Through numerous acquisitions – by itself and for the Maritime Security Agency (MSA) – the human resources will be paired with hardware.

Maritime Security Hardware

To maintain a thorough maritime security presence, the PN would require specific assets that can properly cope with the reality and threats posed in asymmetrical operations. The hardware selection depends on the specific area-of-operation/area-of-responsibility (AOR) and the specific task. For an AOR that involves patrolling the SLOC or outer-areas of the EEZ, the PN would require offshore patrol vessels (OPV) designed for range, endurance and capability, with the latter including capacity for VBSS operations, surveillance and potentially humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief (HADR). However, an AOR that is within 100 nautical miles (185 km) of the coast does not require range and endurance, but instead, may emphasize speed to reach an incoming issue (e.g. criminal activity near the coast) quickly.

In terms of OPVs, the PN currently has two Damen OPVs on order since June 2017. Its OPV platform will have a displacement of 1,900 tons and length of 90 m, with a top speed of 22 knots.[8] These specifications point to a variant of the Damen OPV 1800, which Malaysia ordered for $55.7 million US per ship.[9] In 2017, the PN also signed a letter-of-intent with the American shipbuilder Swiftships for two 70 m Swift Corvettes with an option for two more.[10] The Damen OPV 1800 and Swift Corvette are directly comparable ships, both leveraging all-welded steel superstructures. The roles in which the PN plans to use the Damen OPV and Swift Corvette are identical, i.e. “anti-surface and anti-air operations, maritime security, day-and-night helicopter activities, combat search and rescue, and surveillance and intelligence gathering.”[11][12]

These OPVs are low-cost by design. First, these OPVs do not possess the integrated suites in high-end anti-ship warfare (AShW) anti-submarine warfare (ASW) platforms. This includes the omission of medium-to-long air-and-surface surveillance radars, electronic warfare (EW) and electronic countermeasures (ESM) and AShW/ASW weapons.  Second, with the value of a low radar cross-section (RCS) being inconsequential when addressing pirates and traffickers, these OPVs also eschew low-detectability measures, such as the use of composite materials in their superstructures (instead, opting for all-steel).

Thus, the result are platforms with lower procurement costs ($60 m per ship against $250-300 m for an entry-level high-end corvette/frigate), which in turn enable for quantitative build-up, a potential necessity for building an adequate force presence at sea to thwart criminal activity. In addition, deploying these OPVs for maritime security will preserve prized AShW/ASW assets for wartime, freeing them from risk of hazards that can occur from interdicting sea-based criminal activity. In fact, the Swift Corvettes were slotted to join in CTF-150 and CTF-151, indicating that the PN wishes to pull its main AShW/ASW assets from multilateral activity, a sensible route for ships with ELINT threat-library value.

However, while undertaking peacetime security duties, these OPVs can be utilized – albeit part-time – for conventional interests. For example, the PN could opt to fit these OPVs with electronic support measures (ESM) equipment for electronic intelligence (ELINT), through which these OPVs can listen for surrounding frequencies from possible radar and EW activity, contributing to the PN’s electronic threat-library. In fact, the “intelligence gathering” aspect of these OPVs could point to this area – the PN is already adding ESM to its Agosta 90B submarines and ATR-72 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA).[13][14]

In terms of procurement, it will be interesting to see how the precariousness of US-Pakistani defence ties – specifically in terms of accessing US equipment – will impact the Swift Corvette issue. If that project fails, the PN could push for an alternative from Damen Shipyards (Netherlands). This could occur by adding to the Damen OPV 1800 order with additional ships. In any case, it appears that the PN has currently settled on a fleet of four to six OPVs, which will also have flight decks and hangars for helicopters.

It will be worth seeing how the aviation element is addressed, especially with aging Alouette IIIs on-hand. It is unclear how much – if at all – an expansion of the helicopter fleet is on the PN’s roadmap, but the decision is contingent on several factors. First, the intended role. If confined to transport, logistics and search-and-rescue (SAR), the helicopter order could be had at a comparatively low-cost. However, an AShW/ASW-capable helicopter will be costlier. Second, if non-AShW/ASW helicopters are being sought to relieve the Harbin Z-9EC from the utility/SAR role and/or expand the scope of PN Aviation operations by increasing aviation assets available to the PN Marines and Special Service Group Navy (SSG-N).

If the latter – i.e. non-AShW/ASW-capable and oriented for logistics, transport and SAR – is sought, then the Leonardo AW139 could be an option. The Army and Air Force are already procuring it, while Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) will have a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility for the Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6 turboshaft engine powering it. The AW139 cost Pakistan $20 million US per aircraft.[15] Alternatively, the PN could scale its infrastructure overhead for the Harbin Z-9EC by ordering additional Z-9s – potentially a skimmed-down non-ASW variant – from China.

In terms of inshore maritime security, it appears that this is being undertaken by the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA). The PMSA has two 1,500-ton and four 600-ton ‘Maritime Patrol Vessels’ (MPV) on order, with two of the latter already delivered and one undergoing sea-trials since December 2017. Its MPVs will join nine 14-ton Fast Response Boats (FRB). For the PMSA, the emphasis appears to be on having the capacity to interdict threats or reach situations in a short time-period. The FRBs can reach a maximum speed of 35-40 knots, while the 600-ton MPV can travel at a top speed of 27 knots.[16][17] The cost of high-speed sea-travel is the consumption of fuel and, in turn, reduction of range, which is less of an issue when operating inshore (i.e. closer to the coast).

In 2014, Pakistan sought eight 43-m Global Response Cutters (GRC) from the US for $350 million US.[18] The GRC43M is an inshore patrol vessel (IPV) which Pakistan wanted to “enforce the rule of law over its coastal areas to safeguard seaborne energy corridors, deter the outbreak of piracy along the north Arabian Sea, and curtail the trafficking of narcotics and other illicit goods”.[19] It appears that the 600-ton MPVs were procured in lieu of the GRC43M, but the GRC43M is a lighter class of IPV at 237 tons. In effect, having such an IPV would mean a platform between the 14-ton FRB and 600-ton MPV, but with a greater emphasis on high-speed (the GRC43M can reach 32 knots).[20] Similar cutter designs are available in the Netherlands and South Africa through Damen Shipyards and Paramount Group, respectively, should the PMSA desire it.

Industry Outlook:

For the industry, supporting Pakistan’s maritime security operations efforts should be easier than pushing for access to conventional defence programs. First, cost is much less of a factor due to the generally lower prices of the necessary hardware, with the Damen OPV 1800 touching $60 m US per ship (with IPVs and FRBs costing even less). Thus, there would be fewer concerns regarding Pakistan’s ability to pay in cash or for the selling party to release credit (comparatively less for OPVs and IPVs than frigates and submarines). Interestingly, through the Damen OPV sale the Dutch government is already engaged with Pakistan, and the prospect of bilateral growth in this area is plausible. Second, the comparatively lesser complexity and sensitivity of the technology involved should ease the regulatory burden of securing export permits. The electronics market can be interesting for those supplying Pakistan with maritime radars, electro-optical equipment, ESM and combat/mission management suites (i.e. Leonardo, Elettronica, Thales Nederland, FLIR Systems, Aselsan and Havelsan).

[1] “RIBAT-2018 (Part 1): Improving PAF-PN Interoperability”. Quwa Premium. 06 March 2018. URL:

[2] “The Impact of Pakistan’s Harba dual-AShM and LACM”. Quwa Premium. 09 January 2018. URL:

[3] Press Release. “Pakistan Navy’s Operational Exercise RIBAT-2018 commences”. 24 February 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 04 March 2018).

[4] “CTF 150: Maritime Security”. Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). URL: (Last Accessed: 05 March 2018).

[5] Ibid.

[6] “CTF 151: Counter-piracy”. Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). URL: (Last Accessed: 05 March 2018).

[7] “Naval Chief Inaugurates Ground-Breaking Of MCTC, 2nd Force Protection Battalion”. Associated Press of Pakistan (APP). 15 August 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 05 March 2018).

[8] “Pakistan to construct multipurpose OPV indigenously.” Associated Press of Pakistan. 12 June 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 27 December 2017).

[9] Ridzwan Rahmat. “LIMA 2017: MMEA unveils design of new helicopter-capable OPV platform.” Jane’s Navy International. 22 March 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 28 December 2017).

[10] Susan Buchanan. “Boatbuilding: Alive and Well on the Gulf Coast.” Marine News. August 2017.

[11] Susan Buchanan. “Boatbuilding: Alive and Well on the Gulf Coast.” Marine News. August 2017.

[12] “Pakistan to construct multipurpose OPV indigenously.” Associated Press of Pakistan. 12 June 2017.

[13] “Submarine ESM Success.” Jane’s 360. 04 November 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 08 February 2018)

[14] Alan Warnes. “Pakistan Navy ATR72MPA to fly in October.” Warney’s World. 28 June 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 08 February 2018).

[15] Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) Yearbook 2015-2016. Government of Pakistan. p.15

[16] “Assets”. Pakistan Maritime Security Agency. URL: (Last Accessed: 05 March 2018).

[17] “Maritime Patrol Vessels”. Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW). URL: (Last Accessed: 05 March 2018).

[18] News Release. “Pakistan – GRC43M Cutters”. Defense Security Cooperation Agency. 30 October 2014. URL: (Last Accessed: 05 March 2018).

[19] Ibid.

[20] Promotional Material. “GRC43M”. Global Response Cutter. URL: (Last Accessed: 05 March 2018).

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