By Atul Kumar
A strong navy packed with aircraft carriers, surface combatants and underwater submarines is indispensable for safeguarding the vital strategic, economic and maritime interests of a country.
A strengthened maritime force, moreover, enables a significant advantage to negotiate regional disputes. After Independence, India invested substantially in its maritime build-up to become an influential naval power in the neighbourhood. Eventually, today, the Indian Navy is the most dominant sea-force in the region.
Nonetheless, now, what should be a cause of concern to South Block is the planned modernisation of Pakistan Navy, the biggest opponent in the region. From the start, Indian Navy maintained superiority over the Pakistan Navy.
However, this maritime supremacy could now be challenged in the coming years, as the Beijing‘s closest ally is now on the threshold of upgrading and expanding its surface and underwater combatants’ fleet.
In fact, even as Islamabad thrusts forward its long-pending vital maritime overhaul, its two closest allies, Beijing and Ankara, offer substantial backing to its naval build-up.
Moreover, with its only operational shipbuilding facility, Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works (KSEW), Pakistan is also getting its sea legs in critical military shipbuilding.
At present, the seven-decades old Pakistan Navy operates a modest fleet of surface combatants involving four F-22P Zulfiquar-class guided-missile frigates, four outdated Tariq-class destroyers, three Azmat-class light corvettes, three Munsif-class mine hunters, two Jurrat-class and two Jalalat-class missile boats and two new Turkish-built MRTP-33 fast attack boats.
Besides, two Agosta-70A (Hashmat-class), three AIP-equipped Agosta-90B (Khalid-class) and three small-sized ageing MG110 Cosmos midget submarines constitute the submarine arm of Pakistan Navy.
Chinese-made Z-9EC anti-submarine warfare and Westland SeaKings helicopters, ATR 72, Fokker F27 and Lockheed Martin P-3C maritime aircraft are the major elements of Pakistan Naval Air Arm.
Accountable for safeguarding Islamabad’s maritime interests, the Pakistan Navy, in the last few years, has sealed a set of big-ticket pacts with its allies and other foreign countries to acquire advanced new generation navalised platforms to overhaul and expand its current under-powered naval fleet.
Impending Expansion of Navy of Pakistan
Among the new capabilities are two new navalised and upgraded RAS-72 Sea Eagle maritime patrol aircraft fitted with an AESA and advanced electro-optical sight, the modernised maritime patrol aircraft based on Pakistan’s ATR-72 transport aircraft, will supplement the current fleet of P-3C in Pakistan Navy.
In addition to this, the navy has also acquired the latest German-built LUNA-NG UAVs and two British SeaKing helicopters to boost its ISR activities and troop transfer capabilities in the region.
In a major boost to its surface fleet, Pakistan Navy, by 2025, will also add more than a dozen surface combatants including missile boats, light and medium-sized corvettes, offshore patrol vessels and frigates to its warships fleet and has been acquiring these maritime systems from the United States, Turkey, China and the Netherlands.
Damen’s Romania shipbuilding facility is currently building these 1900-tonne boats. As stated by Pakistan Navy, the upcoming OPVs will enhance the navy’s capabilities in anti-surface and anti-air operations, combat search and rescue, surveillance and reconnaissance domain.
In the same year, Quwa that reports on Pakistan defence revealed, Pakistan Navy has also placed an order for two ‘Swift corvettes’ from US-based Swift ship firm that with Lockheed Martin offers warships of different categories to international maritime forces.
The 75-metre corvette will come fitted with 76mm main gun, two 30mm secondary guns, surface-to-surface missile (possibly Harpoon, Exocet or indigenous Surface-to-Surface Missiles), short-range Surface-to-Air Missiles, hull-mounted sonar, navigation and communication equipment, Air surveillance radar, long-range Infrared and electro-optical sights and Electronic Warfare and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle launched capabilities.
Together, these two 1500-tonne vessels together with two impending Damen’s OPVs will provide active protection to Pakistan’s strategic assets including critical Gwadar port against seaborne multidimensional asymmetric threats.
A year later, again in 2018, Islamabad defence officials had inked over $1 billion defence pact with Ankara, under which Pakistan Navy would purchase four MILGEM Ada-class stealth corvettes from Turkish state-owned shipbuilding firm Savunma Teknolojileri Muhendislik (SMT). The 2000-tonne MILGEM corvettes are the most technically advanced and strong surface combatants ever designed and developed by Turkish naval engineers. It shares a few similarities with Lockheed Martin’s Littoral Combat Ship.
Under the pact, first two of four corvettes are being manufactured in Turkey, while remaining two ships will be built at KSEW through technology transfer from Turkish SMT.
These MILGEM corvettes would be named ‘Jinnah-class’ light frigates in Pakistan Navy and according to QUWA defence blog, these Jinnah-class light frigates will be fitted with 16 VLS cells that will wield Chinese-made 40-km range HQ-16 anti-aircraft missiles.
Besides, the blog also confirmed the indigenous 450-km (possibly) subsonic ‘Harba‘ anti-ship cruise missile on the new ships. All four warships will be inducted into Islamabad’s naval fleet before 2024-25.
With multi-mission capabilities, Jinnah-class would empower the navy’s Anti-Submarine Warfare, Anti-Air Warfare and Anti-Ship Warfare capabilities in a big way. Besides, Pakistan Navy has already inducted a 17,000-tonne Turkish-designed and locally built fleet tanker, PNS Moawin.
Also, as per Chinese media, between 2015 and 2018, Islamabad had concluded vital agreements with Beijing to procure four latest generation Type-054A/P multi-role guided-missile frigates for its navy.
All four warships that are currently being constructed at Shanghai-based Hudong-Zhonghua shipyard (a subdivision of China State Shipbuilding Corporation), would be delivered to Pakistan Navy by 2021-22.
The stealthier Type-054A/P is the most advanced class frigates of China’s PLA-Navy and boasts a robust package of advanced sensors and ASW weapons along with 32 VLS cells capable of firing Chinese-made HQ-16 medium-range air-defence missile as well as ASW rockets.
This types currently are the backbone of PLA-N fleet. Moreover, according to some media reports, Pakistan’s variants despite subsonic C-802 could be fitted with the latest CM-302 supersonic ASCM, an export version of PLA-Navy YJ-12B, offered by China’s CASIC.
In Beijing and Islamabad, CM-302 is believed to be the world’s most advanced, precise and quick anti-ship cruise missile capable of flying over thrice the speed of sound and even better than Indo-Russian BrahMos. In the alliance with over-the-horizon (OTH) radar system equipped on the new Pakistan’s frigate, the supersonic CM-302 can hit sea targets at ranges up to 280 km.
With full of the latest Chinese technology, the impending 4000-tonnes frigates would be the most powerful surface combatants of Pakistan Navy and eventually will supplement the current fleet of Zulfiquar-class frigates.
The Pakistan type will also carry a Z-9EC ASW helicopter. Above all, the flotilla of new-generation frigates will bolster the anti-ship warfare and critical shipborne air-defence capabilities of the Pakistan Navy.
In a move to contrive an active fleet for underwater warfare, Pakistan had decided to equip its navy with eight Chinese-developed modified S-20 diesel-electric (Hangor-class in Pakistan Navy) boats based on PLA-Navy’s latest variant of Type-039A Yuan-class SSKs.
In 2015, Pakistan Navy had sealed a $5 billion pact with China’s CSIC (China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation) to supply these new generation boats fitted with Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) system and advanced noise reduction systems for stealth.
Under the contract, first four 3,000-tonne modified Yuan-class SSK boats will be delivered by CSIC, while the next four submarines will be produced at Pakistan’s KSEW with collaboration with CSIC that will transfer the know-how and know-why to Pakistan’s lone shipbuilding firm. The delivery of all eight boats, according to Pakistan media reports, would be concluded between 2023 and 2028.
Further, these new ‘Hangor-class’ submarines would be fitted Chinese-built 533mm heavyweight torpedoes, anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles (possibly CASIC’s Y-8 or indigenous subsonic 450-700 km Babur-III SLCM).
By 2028, this induction will boost the present Pakistan Navy submarine fleet numbers to 11 modern AIP-powered SSKs including existing three ‘Khalid-class’ boats, and two of three Khalid-class (PNS Khalid and PNS Hamza) currently being modernised with new sensors and weapons package by Turkish shipbuilding firm SMT.
As per Daily Sabah, these two Khalid-class boats that will be carrying Pakistan’s nuclear-capable ‘Babur’ anti-ship cruise missiles will have modern Turkish-developed systems including ASELSAN’s Zargana anti-torpedo defence system and HAVELSAN’s SEDA (sonar integrated submarine command control system) acoustic sensor suit.
Pakistan has also started work on its shore-based anti-ship weapons to form a robust coastal defence system to counter Indian military flotilla in the Arabian Sea. Pakistan Navy has already deployed 280-km C-602 ASCM, an export variant of China’s YJ-62, under the coastal defence umbrella.
While a locally developed land-based anti-ship cruise missile called ‘Zarb’ is also in the advanced stages of development. To counter India’s Carrier Battle Group in the northern Indian Ocean, Pakistan Navy, also, may add CASIC’s newly uncovered anti-carrier ‘CM-401 close-range anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM)’ to its coastal defence system. Besides its naval build-up, Islamabad continuously engages in naval drills with China’s PLA-Navy to boost the ‘interoperability’ between the two comrade navies.
Besides all these enhancements, Pakistan Navy has been throwing its weight behind the shore-based fighter jet squadron having locally assembled JF-17 thunder as a prime element. This move will again significantly strengthen airborne air-defence and anti-ship capabilities of Pakistan in its waters.
Pakistan, primarily a land-based military power, still operating at a naval disadvantage vis-a-vis India, will, in the next few years, field competent maritime assets in substantial numbers against Indian Navy, and collectively with China, could challenge Indian maritime might in the subcontinent.