KARACHI – Pakistan aims to deepen existing partnerships, attract new partners and build equipment at home, despite economic instability and insecurity.
That drive was on display last week at Pakistan's biennial defense show, the International Defence Exhibition And Seminar (IDEAS2014).
IDEAS2014 seemed somewhat reduced, since no missile systems or mobility programs were on display. Furthermore, some large contractors, from Western Europe in particular, were absent.
Yet Zaheer Ahmad, vice president of Kestral, representing a range of primarily North American contractors such as L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin, and Sikorsky, said IDEAS2014 was comparable to any other large exhibition in terms of the variety of attendees and exhibitors.
A number of key smaller exhibitors were present for the first time.
ByField Optics, a developer of surveillance and security products and manufacturer of leading edge ultraviolet/kinetic eye protection and optics, came from Australia. Czech manufacturer Inflatech showcased its inflatable decoys that reflect radar energy and can simulate infrared signatures. Lithuania's Helisota promoted its helicopter maintenance, overhaul and upgrade expertise. Yugoimport, Serbia's arms export agency, was also a major presence.
With local industry the largest presence, the bulk of the remainder came from China, Turkey and the US.
The Sino-Pakistani Karakorum K-8 trainer was notable for being displayed armed for the first time with two AIM-9P Sidewinders, practice bombs and a 23mm gun pod in recognition that it now serves in the advanced jet trainer role.
Most eyes were on the JF-17, Pakistan's flagship defense project, and Nigeria is reported to be in the final stages of negotiations to equip up to two squadrons.
"So far, there are 11 countries talking to us; so far we have not actually signed any deal," said Air Commodore Khalid Mahmood, director of sales and marketing for the JF-17.
He outlined a wide range of improvements and weapons integrated with the aircraft. Weaponry now includes the CM-102 air-launched supersonic anti-radiation missile and GB-6 air-launched standoff submunition dispenser, which were unveiled at China's Zhuhai Airshow last month.
Mahmood said Pakistan is "open to all suppliers" for advanced short-range air-to-air missiles, and dispelled rumors the active/passive SD-10A long-range missile was not fully operational.
He stressed the program continues to evolve and potential customers are being offered a partnership, not just an aircraft.
The expected deals for Chinese submarines and Russian Mi-35M helicopter gunships were not signed.
Russian Helicopters representatives said only that the deal is "for more than five." Pakistan's Minister for Defence Production Rana Tanvir Hussain also declined to directly address the issue, but did say Pakistan is also considering the Mi-28NE Havoc.
Similarly, Chinese and Pakistan Navy officials would not discuss the submarine contract, but Cmdr. Hasnain Ali of Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW) said they would likely mostly be built in Pakistan.
Other deals have been quietly signed, including those for the third and fourth stealth missile boats being built at KSEW. The remaining pair have yet to be contracted.
Three batteries of the China Aerospace Long-March International LY-80 surface-to-air missile system have been purchased for nearly US $226 million, with eight units of the IBIS-150 air defense surveillance radar for $40 million.
A model of an LY-80 battery was displayed, but little further information was forthcoming.
Analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank, who attended IDEAS2014, said the LY-80 was a "good system that looks like it will be very effective," but does not yet know if it will be produced locally as speculated.
NORINCO displayed its SH-1 155mm wheeled artillery system, but Khan said its worn appearance proved it had at least been trialed by Pakistan's Army, though officials would not comment on this.
State-owned armored fighting vehicle manufacturer Heavy Industries Taxilia (HIT) has been busy. Spokesman Lt. Col. Amer Ahmed Khan said it will partner with Belgian engineering firm and licensee Duma Engineering to produce General Dynamics' Dragoon four-wheel-drive armored fighting vehicle (AFV).
Of the initial 15, the Airport Security Force will take 10, with HIT retaining five. It is being promoted to the civilian and paramilitary security services, and for export to Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
Khan confirmed HIT's plans to produce the Chinese VN1 eight-wheel-drive AFV are "under process," but development of HIT's Burraq MRAP vehicle had been abandoned after the US supplied the MaxxPro.
Though the latest variant of the Al Khalid main battle tank was absent, the most modern Mohafiz internal security vehicle was present. It can resist the armor-piercing rounds that penetrated earlier versions.
Also evident was considerable work done in replacing foreign content of the Al Khalid and T-80UD tanks with indigenous equipment to make the systems more affordable and supportable. Similarly, more radical approaches such as a common turret for the main tank types had been discussed, but no action has been taken.
The increasing number of simulators was also aimed at reducing operational costs.
Soft Innovative Systems (SIS) is Pakistan's largest supplier and has partnered with the Military Vehicle and Research Development Establishment to produce shooting simulators and the surface-to-air weapon simulator to train personnel to operate man-portable air-defense systems.
Speaking for SIS, Muzaffar Hassan said that knowing it could match quality but undercut the Western vendors, SIS is keen to secure business with developing nations, especially those in Africa.
However, a real leap appears to have been made with the Air Force Simulation Environment.
Squadron Leader Abid Ali Khan said it started out as an air defense simulator evolving to simultaneously train pilots, air traffic controllers and radar operators.
"All are linked, so use of the aircraft sim will allow the training of multiple personnel without a single aircraft being flown," he said. "It is very cost effective and we have also sold one to Jordan."
Similarly, indigenous UAV firms continue to improve and export widely. Although the Global Industrial and Defence Solutions conglomerate showcased its UAV range, the most notable was perhaps Pak Business Aviation's Enduro.
Design head Usman Habib said it was the second such all-electric UAV on the market. Fully autonomous, the man-portable Enduro has a range of 20 kilometers and an endurance of up to three hours.
Though HIT makes an armored Toyota Corolla sedan, there has been a considerable increase in private firms offering the same services due to Pakistan's security situation.
First time exhibitor Streit Group displayed a wide range of military, law enforcement, and civilian/discreet vehicles, and has opened a small factory near Karachi that has modified many civilian vehicles for international clients based in Pakistan.
Also chasing the same clientele were Pak Armouring and UAE-based International Armored Group, with the latter along with Thai firm Chaiseri also offering tactical security vehicles.
Not to be displaced by their Chinese counterparts, Turkish defense firms are working hard to deepen their partnership with Pakistan. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) continues to heavily promote its T-129 attack helicopter. A memorandum of understanding was recently signed between TAI and the Pakistani government, but details are unavailable.
In the future, TAI also hopes to promote its Hurkus turboprop trainer, but along with software and electronics firms Aselsan and Havelsan, hopes to upgrade the Pakistan Navy's ATR-72 patrol aircraft.
Long time collaborator Yonca-Onuk is also hoping to deepen its relationship with the Navy by offering its MRTP-34 and perhaps MRTP-45 vessels, and hopes to build its MRTP-64 at KSEW under a wide-ranging transfer of technology deal. ■