ISLAMABAD — Beset with monetary woes and a tenuous relationship with the US, Pakistan’s naval modernization plans appear to be faltering with the hoped for acquisition of further surplus US equipment now unlikely.
Former Australian defense attaché to Pakistan, Brian Cloughley, says Pakistan’s crippled economy means “the Navy will not receive as much as it needs for capital equipment,” increasing the importance of obtaining surplus equipment.
Pakistan has long hoped for up to six Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates to replace its six ex-British Type-21 frigates acquired in the 1990s.
In 2005, the Perry frigates Elrod and Kaufmann were speculated to be destined for transfer to Pakistan.
However, only McInerney was transferred in 2010, and she currently lacks ASW helicopters and missile armament, though a new Turkish combat management system indicates she is at least to be retained.
Six US Navy Perry frigates are due for decommissioning in fiscal 2013. However, Mexico, Taiwan and Thailand are known to have been offered the frigates, with Taiwan reportedly to take at least four to replace its eight Knox-class frigates.
As far as can be ascertained, Pakistan has not been mentioned in any official documentation regarding further transfer of Perry frigates.
Sources in the defense section at the US Embassy here were unable to give any further information, or say if any P-3C Orion patrol aircraft would be made available to replace two destroyed in a 2011 terrorist attack.
The Pakistan Navy did not reply to a request for information.
Cloughley said obtaining further Perry frigates is now unlikely, and that both the US and the UK (which has four surplus Type-42 destroyers up for disposal) are “reluctant” to provide combat vessels that would meet strong Indian objections.
Based on past announcements, Pakistan would like its future surface combatant strength to include six Perry frigates, four Chinese Batch 1 and two to four Batch 2 F-22P/Zulfiquar frigates.
The Navy did not respond to a request to clarify if speculation for a heavier class of Chinese frigate was a reality.
Regarding further F-22P frigates, Cloughley said, China “is happy about this, but of course wants at least some money on the table.”
In the face of Western reluctance, Cloughley said, “the only alternative is China, with which the Navy appears comfortable.”
Christian Le Mière, senior fellow for naval forces and maritime security, at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, agrees the Chinese Type-054A Jiangkai II (or a variant thereof), “would be a good fit for the Pakistani Navy.
“Given the political considerations, namely the close relationship with China, and [Pakistan’s] current development of the Chinese-origin [F-22P]/Zulfiquar-class, the Type-054A would seem a logical buy,” he said
Comparable in size to Perry frigates, but not what Le Mière would describe as a stealth frigate, he says the Type-054A has “a number of stealthy features that the [Perrys] lack, given advances in naval stealth technologies.”
Carrying a variety of weapons, “[the Type-054A] is therefore able to fulfill a range of roles that Pakistan might require, from ASW to ASuW and air defense,” he said.
He concedes there may “be concern within Islamabad about over-reliance on a particular supplier or the costs of having new builds,” but added, “from a military requirement perspective, the Type 054A makes sense.”
The submarine flotilla is in similar straits, with Cloughley considering the three Agosta-90B subs to be “good”, but the two aging Agosta-70s to be “decrepit”.
“Again, however, the solution may be China,” he said.
Pakistan was first reported to have signed a deal for six Chinese AIP-equipped submarines in 2011, but that also seems to have stalled due to a lack of finances.
China has two modern submarine designs, the 4,000-ton (submerged) Type-041 Yuan class, and its smaller derivative the 2,300-ton (submerged) S-20, which can be fitted with an AIP module.
Analyst Usman Shabbir of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank said, “The Pakistan Navy is more or less committed to Chinese submarines due to cost reasons plus it will give the Navy plenty of freedom to alter the design or request improvements in future.”
Adding, “The Navy urgently needs these subs as submarines are its primary and most effective offensive weapon.”
Finances also seem to be hampering any effort to offset the loss of the two P-3C Orions through additional purchase of ATR-72 ASW aircraft.
“Right now, the Navy has only bought a single ATR-72 for training purposes. No ASW suite is fitted yet. The idea was to buy more units, but due to budget constraints they have only gone for one and use it for training and then hope to buy more units once the budget crisis eases, ” he said.
Ultimately, Cloughley sees a somewhat mixed future for Pakistan’s Navy, which “will continue to be small, even if it is highly professional, and it values its association with Western navies, but these ties are becoming fewer.”