ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has hired an Italian defense company to convert three Embraer Lineage 1000 regional jetliners into long-range maritime patrol aircraft for its Navy.
The contract with Leonardo involves the acquisition of two aircraft to join the single Lineage 1000 already in Pakistan, followed by the design, modification, installation and integration of an anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol package. The three planes will then be introduced into service as Sea Sultan patrol aircraft.
Follow-on contracts are expected to bring the total number of Sea Sultans to 10, replacing the country’s long-serving P-3C Orion fleet. Defense News learned in October that the Navy selected the Lineage 1000 to replace the fleet.
Under an additional contract, South Africa’s Paramount Group will handle the pre-conversion maintenance, repair and overhaul of the aircraft.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence Production, which handles acquisitions, did not reply to Defense News for comment.
A spokesperson with Leonardo declined to comment for this story. Similarly, Paramount Group declined to comment, citing “strict confidentiality agreements.”
However, Defense News obtained additional details from a source with knowledge of Pakistan’s ongoing defense programs. A closed tender was launched in November 2020 involving Leonardo, Germany’s Rheinland Air Services and Turkish Aerospace Industries on the basis of their proven maritime patrol aircraft conversion experience.
Rheinland previously won an order for the Sea Eagle maritime patrol aircraft conversion of ATR 72 propliners for the Pakistan Navy, beating out a rival offer from TAI, which offered a package based on that developed for the Turkish Navy’s ATR 72s.
Only Leonardo was shortlisted on a technical basis for the Lineage 1000 conversion. This was mainly on the basis of the Leonardo SeaSpray radar installed on the RAS 72 Sea Eagle aircraft and Sea King helicopters, and the trusted Italian-origin torpedo-release systems already installed on the Pakistan Navy’s anti-submarine warfare aircraft, and which would certainly be fitted to the Sea Sultan.
Leonardo also has a good relationship with Pakistan’s other military branches, supplying Grifo radars for Mirage III and F-7PG Fishcan fighters, delivering AW139 helicopters, and helping procure refurbished M109 self-propelled howitzers.
After three months of detailed technical discussions, and the securing of internal funds from Pakistan’s Armed Forces Development Plan, a $190 million contract was signed between the Ministry of Defence Production and Leonardo in the penultimate week of June.
Brazil, where Embraer is based, is also developing a maritime patrol aircraft program based on conversion of the Lineage 1000 to replace it P-3B Orion fleet, but there appears to be no cooperation between the two programs.
Pakistan’s 2010 acquisition of Mectron-made PAA-1 Piranha within-visual-range missiles (now SIATT after the parent company spun off the Mectron unit) and MAR-1 anti-radiation missiles did not lead to previously promised defense industry cooperation.
Aerospace expert Justin Bronk at the Royal United Services Institute said expectations of international cooperation on the Lineage 1000 conversion programs wasn’t realistic.
“MPA mission systems are actually some of the most sensitive programs in the defense aviation world, and so there may be security reasons why Pakistan and/or Brazil would chose not to cooperate on a Lineage 1000 conversion,” he said.
Tom Kington in Rome contributed to this report.
Usman Ansari is the Pakistan correspondent for Defense News.