ISLAMABAD — Despite a pledge from Pakistan’s minister of defense production that the Navy’s modernization projects will move forward, analysts are skeptical that the cash-strapped government will actually fund the programs.
The Associated Press of Pakistan stated Tanveer Hussain “ensured all necessary resources will be provided for timely completion of the projects to enhance the professional capabilities of Pakistan Navy,” during a visit Tuesday to Naval Headquarters in Islamabad, during which he met with naval chief Adm. Mohammad Asif Sandila.
Hussain is also said to have “acknowledged the future indigenous developmental plans of [the] Pakistan Navy to strengthen the defense of motherland.”
According to a 2011 Ministry of Defence Production report, those major programs are: construction of the next-generation submarine, corvettes, a follow-on order for Azmat-class fast-attack craft, fleet oil tanker and one hovercraft.
The fleet oil tanker project is the only one known to be active. Turkish design and systems integrator STM signed a deal in January for Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works to build the tanker.
Analyst Usman Shabbir of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank dismisses Hussain’s visit as nothing beyond a “routine courtesy call by a politician” during which the need was felt to say something.
“I don’t think anything will come out of it,” he said.
Still, former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad Brian Cloughley said the Navy has urgent needs.
Despite Hussain’s visit and claims being of little real consequence, this “doesn’t alter the fact that Pakistan badly needs submarines and frigates; another three of each at least.”
However, “There is no money: Pakistan is broke, and any commitment to spend billions [which is what any program will cost] is at the present time unthinkable,” he said.
“The government has got many and much more important priorities, not least of which is the power sector,” he added.
The lack of funds has not, however, completely stymied acquisition efforts.
Further surplus Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates are unlikely to be transferred from the US to join the sole example in service, and Pakistan’s six ex-British Type 21 frigates have reached the end of their feasible lives.
Pakistan therefore hopes to acquire four surplus Type 42 destroyers from the UK.
Details on negotiations from official sources have not been forthcoming. The Ministry of Defence in Pakistan, the UK High Commission in Islamabad, and the UK Ministry of Defence all either refused or could not give any details on the negotiations.
Pakistan reportedly wants the destroyers to be transferred as aid, though initially the UK was willing only to sell, not transfer, a single warship. It now appears all four are for sale.
Cloughley describes this as “most welcome news” considering the strength of opposition in the UK to any attempt to allow Pakistan to acquire the destroyers.
“It always made sense for the British to do it,” he said, “but the pro-India, anti-Pakistan lobby in Westminster and Whitehall is very strong. Naturally, they will do what they can to complicate matters, in which they are assisted by Pakistan asking that the transfer be on an aid basis.”
However, Cloughley said the UK has to decide between the scrap value of the destroyers, and what could be obtained from a sale to Pakistan.
“When you consider that the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal was sold in May for a scrap value of 2.9 million pounds (US $4.4 million), the Type 42s wouldn’t get much more; and there are no other buyers for them in sea-going condition. So denying them as aid [to Pakistan] would be an act of pettiness,” he said.
However, even now it is uncertain if Pakistan can afford the purchase since the ships will need extensive upgrades. The Sea Dart missile system, [the ships’ only missile armament] has been removed from the destroyers and has been retired.
Cloughley believes this is not necessarily a problem as “there are better systems than Sea Dart, and I think the Chinese would be happy to assist.”
However, Shabbir said there may be opposition to a Type 42 deal from within the ranks of the Pakistan Navy itself.
He cites the post-1998 nuclear-related sanctions on Pakistan, in which the UK stopped the spares and support program for British-origin weapon systems. This adversely affected the Pakistan Navy’s three-strong Westland Lynx helicopter fleet in particular as even safety-related components and systems were embargoed.
“This is one of the main reasons for resentment in PN officer ranks towards the UK,” and why he believes many naval officers are determined to “never touch a UK-made system again, not even if it is given for free.”
“This is the reason I doubt the PN will ever go for any retired UK ships,” he said. “Besides, the Chinese are coming up with solutions that match or in many cases exceed what the UK has to offer at cheaper credit with no chance of sanctions.”
Despite the immediate need, with Pakistan’s economy in the doldrums, the Navy’s acquisition efforts may remain stymied.