Should India Be Alarmed By China & Turkey Helping Modernize Pakistan Navy?

In what could a big concern for India, China and Turkey are helping their common ‘all-weather ally’ Pakistan to modernize its navy. Although India, with its 140 warships, has a significant edge over Pakistan, it could face a serious challenge in the near future.

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The Pakistan Navy currently has only nine frigates, five submarines, 10 mission boats, and three minesweepers. But as part of its modernization drive, Pakistan is aiming to build a 50-ship fleet including 20 “major surface vessels” and FACs (fast attack craft) among other assets.

In 2021-2022, it will receive four new stealth frigates from China. Last week, China had launched a second advanced warship, Type 054 Class frigate, for Pakistan in Shanghai. The first of the four Type-054 Class frigates was launched in August 2020.

The Pakistan Navy said the technologically-advanced platform fitted with the latest surface, subsurface, anti-air weapons; combat management system, and sensors will strengthen its combat capabilities.

The navy will also receive eight Type-039A submarines, which are among the quietest diesel boats in the world. While four will be delivered to Pakistan in 2022-2023, the other four will be built in Karachi.

Pakistan will be receiving other naval platforms and weapons from China as part of the deals worth over $7 billion, making China’s share in Pakistan’s arms import to 70%. China may be utilizing Pakistan for its ambitions in the Indian Ocean by setting up a military base in Karachi and a deep-water Gwadar port in Balochistan, defense experts have pointed out.

While China may have its vested interests in helping Pakistan to build its fledgling navy but Turkey – its only other all-weather ally – is going all out to consolidate Pakistan’s defense arsenal even as the country’s external debt continues to accumulate.

In January, Turkey held a welding ceremony of the third ship of MILGEM-class corvettes for the Pakistan Navy at the Istanbul Naval Shipyard (INSY). Turkish President  Recep Tayyip Erdogan had underscored the defense collaboration for the construction of MILGEM class warships as a major milestone in Pakistan-Turkey defense ties.

The Pakistan Navy has said that the surface platforms equipped with the modern surface, subsurface, and anti-air weapons and sensors integrated through a network-centric Combat Management System will augment its “kinetic punch” and contribute to maintaining peace, stability, and “balance of power” in the Indian Ocean Region.

Pakistan-Turkey had signed a $1.5 billion deal with Turkey for four MILGEM class corvettes in 2018 along with transfer of technology (ToT) with ASFAT Inc, a Turkish state-owned defense contractor.

Under the ToT, two corvettes will be built at Istanbul Naval Shipyard and another two at Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works (KS&EW). They will be ready in the 2023-2025 time-frames. Turkey will also upgrade five of Pakistan’s French-origin Agosta-90B submarines for $350 million.

Pakistan’s Naval Diplomacy

With an aim to build a positive image in the global community as a peace-loving and responsible state, Pakistan will be hosting a multinational naval drill, Aman-21, this month. The biennial drill will see the participation of 45 states in a five-day joint multinational exercise in the North Arabian Sea.

Initiated in 2007, the exercises provide a forum for the understanding of each other’s maritime concepts and operational cultures and come up with ways and means to combat common threats at sea. This time, the most significant aspect of the drills is the participation of the Russian Navy.

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