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The Pakistan Navy Rises (Part 3): The Support Fleet

With a growing surface fleet and sub-surface fleet, the Pakistan Navy (PN) is poised to not only modernize its support or auxiliary fleet, but qualitatively improve it with new capabilities.

Surface Fleet Support

At present, the PN’s support fleet comprises of two 15,000+ ton tankers – i.e. the 17,000-ton PNS Moawin, a new platform procured from Turkey and the Chinese Type 905 PNS Nasr – alongside two coastal tankers and two 1,600-ton small tankers and logistics ships.

Of these, the PNS Moawin and the 1,600-ton small tankers – i.e., PNS Rasadgar and PNS Madadgar – are the PN’s newer support ships, inducted in 2018 and 2011, respectively. The PNS Nasr and the two coastal tankers – i.e., PNS Gwadar and PNS Kalmat – were inducted in 1987, 1984 and 1992, respectively.

In terms of fleet tankers and auxiliary support ships, replacement ships would be sought to supplant the PN’s older fleet. However, this is unlikely to be a factor in the 2020s. Not only are these ships still newer than the steam-powered, 1960s-era Poolster-class tanker the new PNS Moawin replaced, but the PN may need those ships to sustain its expanding fleet through the 2020s.

In other words, the goal would be supplementing, not replacing the legacy fleet.

The existing support fleet is geared towards supporting the PN’s current-sized 2,000+ ton fleet, i.e., four F-22Ps, five Type 21s, and one FFG-7. With the Type 054A and MILGEM arriving – and Type 21s retiring – the PN’s 2,000+ ton fleet will have 13 such ships to its existing 10. That’s an additional squadron.

In addition, the PN will also have two 1,900-ton offshore patrol vessels (OPV) – with a potential scope for an additional two, if not more – that, while not as heavily armed as the frigates, will still be used for long-range and long-endurance missions. In other words, these ships will also need logistics support at-sea.

Thus, there is scope for an additional large tanker. The PN Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) had even suggested as much in a recent interview, stating, “we may construct additional ships of this size indigenously to meet our future operational requirements.” An additional Moawin-class is an option.

Submarine Emergency Response

The second side to the PN’s support needs lies in the acquisition of its first submarine rescue and salvaging vessel. This requirement was originally listed in the Ministry of Defence Production’s (MoDP) 2015-2016 annual report. With Turkey’s ASFAT A.S. (Military Factories and Shipyards) submitting a bid based on the TCG Alemdar during IDEAS 2018, it appears that the bid is now active.

The acquisition of a salvage vessel would be a significant first step towards building the PN’s Submarine Emergency Response (SMER) capabilities. The purpose of a SMER asset is to find and retrieve a distressed submarine (DISSUB). For the PN – and a submarine fleet that will grow to 11 ships, if not more if the PN’s miniature submarine program comes into effect – a SMER asset is essential.

There is more a SMER ship than simply the hull. It must also include a specialized set of sensors and unique capabilities. These include the following, each arguably a big-ticket purchase in its own right:

  • towed side-scan sonar (TSS);
  • remotely operated vehicle (ROV) or unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV);
  • emergency life-saving support (ELSS);
  • submarine and rescue chambers (SRC);
  • atmospheric diving suit (ADV);
  • remotely operated rescue vehicle (RORV) or submarine rescue vehicle (SRV)

Besides dealing with the submarine, the SMER must concurrently rescue surviving crewmembers, hence the need for ELSS, SRC, and RORV/SRV. There are few vendors on the market that can provide an end-to-end SMER solution, so the PN will need to draw on multiple parties to complete its requirement.

One advantage of selecting a TCG Alemdar-based design is that the configuration is frozen, validated, and examinable (i.e., the PN can evaluate the Turkish Navy’s ship). However, the system is not a ‘weapon’ per se, so the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, and/or the UK could be potential bidders as well.

It is evident that an expansion in combat assets will see a growth in support assets, thus swelling the total size of the PN fleet. In a holistic sense, the PN is becoming a bigger force and, in some respects – such as its ambitious submarine plans – a major force in the region.

This concludes part-three. Part-four will focus on the impacts of the PN’s growing submarine fleet.

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