Perrys for Pakistan - the Rapid Modernisation of the Pak Navy

Author : Abhijit Singh

The Pakistan Navy?s (PN) latest possession, the frigate PNS Alamgir made its maiden entry into Karachi Port on May 13, 2011. The Alamgir, ex-USS McInerney, is an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate that Pakistan acquired from the U.S. under the Department of Defence Excess Articles program after the U.S. Navy slated it for decommissioning it on completion of 31 years of service.

Commissioned on August 21, 2010 as part a deal for transfer of eight such ships from the US, the Alamgir had nearly seven months of refurbishment and training at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, USA before setting sail on March 21, 2010 back to Pakistan. On its maiden voyage, the ship made six stopovers at the friendly shores of Bermuda (UK), Azores (Portugal), Cadiz (Spain), Golcuk (Turkey), Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) and Salalah (Oman), before reaching Karachi.

The new acquisition illustrates the resolve the PN has lately been exhibiting in redressing its perceived capability imbalance with the Indian Navy. With a displacement of 4,100 tons; an aviation complement of two SH-60 helicopters (equipped with the Penguin anti-ship missiles), and armament that comprises a 76mm gun and six Mk 46 Mod 5 anti-submarine torpedo tubes, the Alamgir represents an infusion of substantive capability for the PN - worthy of critical analysis by the Indian Navy. Pakistan?s official reason for procuring the Perry Class ships is to use them in the anti-piracy patrol off Somalia. But this is scant cover for the real target of its enhanced anti-submarine capabilities: Indian Naval ships and submarines in the Arabian Sea.

For now, the ship will be deployed on a task that is singularly unexceptionable: Counter-piracy and drug control. It is slated to join the PN?s Maritime Patrol mission – an important constituent of the Coalition Maritime Forces counter-narcotics and counter-terror operations (CTF-150) as well as counter-piracy efforts around the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea (CTF-151). A Plethora of Defence Deals

The transfer of the Perry class frigate is not the only major Pakistani acquisition in recent times. In the past two years it has been the recipient of some premium Naval platforms (“Cherries”) from the US and China. In January 2011, only a few months after the transfer of the first Perry from the US, the PN received the last of its F-22-P Frigates from China. The first and second F-22P ships named as PNS Zulfiquar and PNS Shamsheer have already been commissioned in Pakistan Navy. The new warship, christened PNS Saif, has been built by the Hudong Zhonghua Shipyard Shanghai. As per the stated schedule of production, the Pakistan Navy has already decided to go ahead with its plans to get the fourth ship constructed at the Karachi Shipyard.

The Future Spearhead of Pakistan’s Maritime Strategy

The most significant news however concerns Pakistan?s decision to acquire six Yuan (Song) Class Submarines from China. These submarines will reportedly be equipped with crucial air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems, and could well be the lynchpin of Pakistan?s future strategic plans in the maritime domain. The PNS Hamza, one of the three French Agosta-90B submarines inducted by the Pakistan Navy over the last decade, already boasts this cutting edge capability. Work reportedly is also underway to retrofit the French "Mesma" AIP in hulls of the other two submarines, PNS Khalid and PNS Saad.

These new submarines from China will have a „Stirling-cycle? AIP (supposedly more cost effective than the Mesma AIP) that would add greater punch to Pakistan’s underwater warfare capabilities. In a move that confirms the „broad-spectrum? nature of cooperation between Pakistan and China, the latter is said to be providing major assistance in a project for the construction of two missile craft boats in the Chinese port city of Tianjin.

Figure 1: Armament onboard major Pakistan Navy

ships / planned acquisitions.

Consolidating Aviation Assets

Pakistan has also been displaying considerable interest in building up its Aviation capability. In 2006, Lockheed Martin was contracted to deliver 07 upgraded P3C Orion aircraft - both the Maritime Patrol Version (MPA) and the Air Early Warning Variant (AEW) with the ‘Hawkeye’ System. The first of the upgraded Orions was delivered in 2007 and two more aircraft were received in April 2010. The modification will see obsolete avionics systems currently installed being replaced with modern equipment that provides increased capabilities, reliability and greater sustainability in future operations. It is expected to provide Pakistan with the capability to conduct maritime patrols in both littoral and deep-water environments, thus greatly enhancing the Pakistan Navy’s capabilities. It is also reported that in a $1.3 billion deal signed in August 2010, China will be supplying J-10 fighters to Pakistan. A contract has also been finalised for supply of 250 Chinese JF-17s in the next over the next five to ten years. A Thriving Strategic Partnership with China

Notwithstanding the extensive efforts at overhauling its current fleet, Pakistan’s acquisition of ships, submarines and aircraft appears to fall into a pattern. The new assets are being acquired under the broader justification of being able to effectively face terrorism and piracy challenges posed in the high seas. But perhaps even the PN will be first to acknowledge that it is just politically-correct jargon to justify the shoring up of its capability for use against its neighbour and traditional rival – India.

What is also striking about the PN’s expansion plans is that in recent times more hardware and platforms have been acquired from China that is tipped to overtake the US as Pakistan’s principal defence partner. The Pakistan Navy has in recent times shown indications that it feels more comfortable with its strategic partnership with China. Apart from all the deals for ships, aircraft and submarines discussed earlier, China also helped Pakistan develop a nuclear missile for its short range surface-to-surface Hatf-2 class rocket that was test-fired in March 2011. In November 2010, Islamabad announced that China would be supplying SD-10 homing missiles and radar systems to equip the JF-17 jets - ironically on the same day that the U.S. delivered some 18 F-16 fighter jets.

‘Equivalence’ with the Indian Navy

Pakistan’s enterprising efforts in attempting to bolster its naval forces fit into a broad pattern. Every purchase or acquisition is outwardly intended to assist in international maritime efforts towards countering terror, piracy and drug running, but are implicitly aimed at attaining parity and at times superiority over the Indian Navy (IN). All Pakistan Navy’s acquisitions are sought to be explained away by pointing to the rising profile of the Indian Navy - currently employing aircraft carriers, submarines and modern surface combatants. The announcement of PN’s planned acquisitions in the future also point to the fact that there might be a subtle shift in the operating philosophy of the PN from ‘sea denial’ (its professed guiding strategic principle) to building up a ‘stand-alone’ capability aimed at ‘sea control’ and ‘aggressive intrusion’. Acutely aware of the fact that there is only an elementary indigenous naval shipbuilding capacity, the PN is now looking to draft in Chinese support to address the naval capability gap, by acquiring and jointly building submarines and surface platforms.

Meanwhile PN’s has declared its recent joint-Naval exercise ‘Aman-11’ held in early-March 2011 as an unqualified success. There is a sense that the PN believes the success of the exercises may accrued a benefit for it of the same nature (and scale) as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium ensued for India after the first meeting in Mumbai in 2008. Naval ships from 11 countries including Australia, China, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, UK and the USA took part in ‘Aman-11’ that saw the participants evolve common procedures for countering piracy, drug-running and human-trafficking. The exercises are said to have been aimed at improvising maritime tactics and strategy, improving inter-operability, tactical proficiency and developing common tactics against asymmetric air, surface, and mine threats. The fact that navies of 39 countries participated in the joint interaction is a pointer to the ‘respect’ and ‘influence’ the PN is beginning to command around the world.

The implications or PN’s latest acquisitions will not be lost on other regional players and they will be keenly watching how many of Pakistan’s recently announced defence deals and projects finally come to fruition. Many of them will conceivably base future acquisitions for own naval forces on accretions in the Pakistan’s naval force strength. The fact that Pakistan’s all-weather friend, China, has been a key contributor to PN’s inventory will also interest the stake-holders of stability in the Indian Ocean.

(This article first appeared in the Force magazine on June –July 2011edition)

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