ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's Defence Export Promotion Organization (DEPO) unveiled a new exhibition center showcasing defense products from the country's public and private sectors in the presence of Defence Production Minister Tanveer Hussain, foreign diplomats and defense officials as part of efforts to increase exports.
Tanveer told guests that Pakistani defense products were internationally competitive, citing the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder as an example. While stating the government was encouraging defense production to further widen economic development, he highlighted the necessity of using the latest technology.
Increased export efforts have been underway for some time. Already experiencing some success has been state-owned conglomerate Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF), a producer of small arms, ammunition and explosives.
During a Monday visit to POF by the Senate Standing Committee on Defence Production, it was revealed that the company that already exports to more than 30 countries had set an export target of over US$100 million this year, its highest ever.
However, committee Chairman Abdul Qayyum highlighted that there is a need to ensure regular recruitment of skilled manpower, modernization of plants and an increased funds for research and development.
The latter has proved problematic for POF, according to a defense industry official who previously spoke to Defense News. This has been exacerbated by POF being run to meet the requirements of the security services first and foremost, with spare capacity utilized for commercial production.
The official has has led to the production of an improved anti-personnel round for the ubiquitous RPG-7 now used by the army in ongoing counter terror/insurgency operations. However, no tandem warhead anti-tank round has been developed to replace the obsolete unitary round still in service, even though it would be commercially successful.
Similarly, development of the PK-8, an improved Heckler & Koch HK33K 5.56mm assault rifle, was abandoned after the army dropped its requirement for a weapon of that exact caliber. The 7.62mm G3S, a carbine/para variant of the army's current G3P4 battle rifle, was ultimately adopted.
He admitted that the lack of a 5.56mm product hampered POF's earning potential, especially in the $5 billion US civilian market, but said little could be done by POF itself as it was dependent on development funds and direction from the government.
Pakistan, however, continues to forge closer defense cooperation links with countries it already has good military relations with. On Monday, the Malaysian army chief, Gen. Tan Sri Raja Mohamed Affandi Bin Raja Mohamed Noor, visited senior defense officials here including the head of Pakistan's army, Gen. Raheel Sharif, during which closer defense cooperation was discussed.
Further improving the already very strong Pakistani-Turkish defense relationship also was discussed recently during a meeting between defense officials from both countries here on Oct. 2 ahead of the 11th High Level Military Dialogue Group scheduled for November.
Pakistan has also sought to increase cooperation with newer partners including the Czech Republic, the deputy defense minister of which, Tomas Kuchta, met Sharif at Army Headquarters Tuesday. Closer defense relations are also being pursued with Poland, but there has been no agreement with that country as of yet.
Though receiving some official promotional help, private-sector companies have hitherto largely forged their own paths.
However, Nooruddin F Daud of Daudsons Armoury, a successful private-sector small arms manufacturer that also supplies bombs and weapon mounts to the military, who attended the DEPO launch, hopes for improvement.
"I am very confident indeed. We have our toe in the door. Now we need the government's assistance," he said.
As to how the government could help the private sector, however, he replied, "The fact has to be realized that each industry and product category has its own peculiar demands and requirements. There can't be blanket rules and assistance."
Daudsons Armoury officials are hopeful their new products – an automatic 40mm grenade launcher, an under-barrel grenade launcher and remote/undercover weapon mount able to be armed with a 7.62mm MG3 machine gun for security posts – will win exports.
However, analyst, author and former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad Brian Cloughley says Pakistan has a strong defense industrial base, but this may not be enough to ensure increased export success.
"Pakistan's defense industry is well-organized and produces high-quality material, especially in the way of ammunition, but the world market is saturated with defense products and it is extremely difficult to break into what is effectively a closed shop," he said.
"So far as Pakistan is concerned the main advantage of indigenous defense production is that it saves money," Cloughley said. "In 2014, domestically produced items had a total value of some $1.5 billion, which otherwise would have had to been spent on buying foreign-made products."
When asked if awarding more government contracts to private firms or revamping tenders for defense equipment to a more US model that selects two proposals from those submitted to fund as prototypes before a final decision is made would be beneficial and possible, he said he did not think so.
"Civilian firms find it hard to access the Pakistan defense forces market, given the unstructured nature of the procurement process. A further complication is an understandable but frustrating preoccupation with information security, which slows down the process even further", he said.
"As things stand, I feel there is no possibility in the foreseeable future that civilian manufacturers will be attracted to manufacture of defense material on a large scale, and will continue to provide modest quantities of minor material," he added.