ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has commenced construction of a new type of missile boat as part of efforts to modernize its navy to ensure security for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a trade route linking western China to the Arabian Sea via Pakistan's deep water port of Gwadar.
Pakistan hopes the CPEC will revive its economy, whereas China's trade and energy resources will be bypassing the Malacca Strait.
First steel for the boat was cut Dec. 29. Images from the ceremony revealed it to be a development of the Azmat-class missile boat designed for Pakistan by China. Three Azmat boats have been built, one in China and two in Pakistan by state-owned Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW).
A statement by the military's Inter Service Public Relations media arm revealed that the boat, which is considered the first indigenously designed missile boat, was developed by Maritime Technologies Complex and would have the "latest weapons and sensors."
Though released images from the ceremony leave some questions unanswered about the new vessels' exact features, notable differences from the base model include new missiles, a redesigned forward superstructure and a possible replacement of the twin 25mm cannon.
The navy declined to provide further details regarding the changes.
Defense News first learned of the new missile boat during IDEAS 2016, Pakistan's biennial defense exhibition held in November, when spokesmen for the shipyard KSEW and the sea service separately revealed the existence of the program.
Though unwilling to go into detail, they said the new design would feature new weaponry, sensors and materials. Future plans include an indigenous combat management system, anti-ship missiles and possibly air-defense missiles, the lack of which is presently a notable weakness.
The Azmat missile boats are armed with eight C-802A/CSS-N-8 Saccade anti-ship missiles, but the new design is clearly armed with six larger missiles. Speculation is that the weapons are the C-602, an export development of China's YJ-62, which is in Pakistani service as a coastal defense missile named "Zarb."
The subsonic C-602 has a reported range of 280 kilometers and carries a 300-kilogram warhead. It packs a bigger punch and has longer reach than the C-802A.
However, last year, a Ministry of Defence Production report revealed a ship-board launcher for a land-attack cruise missile was under development.
Pakistan's only surface-launched, land-attack missile is the indigenous Babur. Thus far there have been no reports of an anti-ship variant, but fitting the C-602 seeker to the missile would certainly expedite development.
News of the new missile boat comes amid Chinese reluctance to establish a permanent presence in the area, forcing Pakistan to forge ahead with efforts to improve its maritime security, albeit with Chinese help.
Usman Ansari is the Pakistan correspondent for Defense News.