Helicopters would be one critical need if Pakistan increases its defense budget. (Agence France-Presse)
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan is examining a possible defense budget increase in light of a changing security and financial situation, but though new equipment is needed rising operational costs could soak up any increase, say analysts.
The Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported Finance Minister Ishaq Dar discussed the possibility of assisting the military’s development program with Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif during a meeting over the weekend.
Just how much more money the armed forces can expect is uncertain despite some improvements in the economy. Sakib Sherani, an economic commentator and CEO of Islamabad-based economic consultancy firm, Macro Economic Insights, says the increase would not be much.
The “‘green shoots’ of a recovery in economic growth do appear to be sprouting, but it is fragile. Without fundamental, credible structural reform, the economy will not be able to post a durable, lasting turnaround,” he said.
Analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank says finances have been tight for the military, even for operational needs, but external financing has given it some respite.
“All three branches have been working with respected procurement appropriations for their role in fighting terrorists. In general, Pak armed forces have been relying on Coalition Support Fund finances to fuel their war machinery in this regard,” he said.
Former Australian defense attache to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, said helicopters would be a critical piece of equipment if the budget rises, but a move against the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) could see the money diverted.
“Helicopters, almost certainly, but much is needed for operating costs, which keep increasing. If they go into [North Waziristan], even more troops are going to be needed” he said.
The government has been signaling a potential ground operation for this month against the TTP in North Waziristan since late January.
A possible deal for Chinese-built helicopters is speculated due to comments made by the president during a press conference last week.
Analysts are divided over whether the deal would involve an armed variant of the Mi-17 Hip to help alleviate the transport helicopter shortage, or the WZ-10 helicopter gunship to fulfill Pakistan’s longstanding requirement to replace its AH-1F Cobra gunships.
The military’s needs are many and each service has a long list of equipment requirements.
The Air Force’s modernization plans seem to be in reasonably good shape, and despite a lack of finances has progressed incrementally. They have been adapted, however, and its future inventory now appears to be moving toward a two-tier force of mid-tech JF-17s and high-tech F-16s.
Former pilot and analyst Kaiser Tufail says the reported recent acquisition of surplus F-16s, with more expected, most likely means the end of plans to acquire the Chengdu J-10B/FC-20.
“The FC-20 seems doomed as far as the PAF is concerned. You might hear of some more F-16s in the near future,” he said.
Douglas Barrie, senior fellow for Military Aerospace at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, says the J-10B “would be considerably more expensive than the JF-17, and any procurement would be considerably smaller. Adding a third fighter into the inventory alongside the F-16 and JF-17 would also complicate logistics.”
In contrast to the Air Force, the Navy has a list of big ticket items from new frigates to submarines.
A deal with China for six submarines has been ongoing since 2011.
A senior Pakistani defense official recently confirmed to Defense News that the submarine deal was still set to be signed by the end of the year, but no other details have yet been made public.
With the feasible service lives of the six ex-British Type-21 frigates drawing to an end, the Navy has been looking for replacements. Late last year it was revealed three more Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates would be acquired by 2016.
However, Pakistan also agreed to a deal for improved F-22P-class frigates with China in 2012, but little more has been heard since then and no deal has been signed.
There is a requirement for up to six Perry-class frigates however, as well as perhaps a larger frigate than the F-22P, such as the Chinese Type-054 class. Recently revealed plans to accelerate the retirement of the US Navy’s frigates could possibly alleviate Pakistan’s surface ship numbers crunch without straining its fragile economy if more can be transferred, but regional politics could get in the way.
“The F-22s will almost certainly stay on the wish list, but if the US would gift some OHPs it would certainly be appreciated and would help the PN to maintain its seamanship standards,” says Cloughley.
Though this would boost the Pak-US relationship, the US also has to consider the reaction in New Delhi.
“There would also be a revival of trust by Pakistan in the US, but Washington has also to think of India. There is the chance that the ultra-nationalist Modi will be the next [Indian] prime minister, and he is very pro-business. The US has to bear this in mind, from the overseas investment point of view,” he said. ■