China and Pakistan ramp up strategic military-industrial cooperation between the two nations
Prasun K. Sengupta
Following the second annual China-Pakistan foreign ministers’ strategic dialogue at China’s Hainan Island on August 20-21, military cooperation-cum-coordination between the armed forces of both countries has been ramped up to an unprecedented level, principally in terms of force-mix accretions for Pakistan’s armed forces.
For the Pakistan Army (PA), whose main battle tank (MBT) inventory comprises 550 NORINCO-developed Type 90II/MBT-2000 Al Khalids; 320 Type 85IIAPs; 500 Type 59s upgraded to Al Zarrar standard; 380 Type 59s; 450 69IIAPs; and 320 T-80UDs, making for a total of 2,520 MBTs, will be beefed up through the service-induction of 360 NORINCO-developed VT-4/Type-2000 MBTs. An additional 110 Al Khalid-1 MBTs are now under licenced-assembly at the state-owned Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) with NORINCO’s assistance at a rate of 22 MBTs per year. Also, the Type 85IIAPs will be upgraded at a rate of 90 every year. The PA operates two Mechanised Divisions—the 25 and 26—and two Armoured Divisions—the 1 and 6. Of these, the two Divisions tasked with staging limited tactical offensives are the 26 that is stationed at Bahawalpur in Southern Punjab, and the 6, located in Gujranwala.
Series-produced by the Inner Mongolia First Machinery Group Co Ltd, a subsidiary of NORINCO, the VT-4/MBT-3000 was unveiled at the Eurosatory International Defence Exhibition in June 2012. In August 2012, NORINCO hosted diplomats, military officials and military-industrial contractors from 44 countries at its proving grounds in Baotau for a mobility-cum-firepower demonstration of the VT-4/MBT-3000. Two years later, at the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition 2014 in Zhuhai, NORINCO showed for the first time a full-scale prototype. The PA conducted in-country mobility-cum-firepower trials of the VT-4 between June and December 2018 at its field firing ranges located at the Tilla Jogian Field Firing Range in Jhelum, northern Punjab, and at the Khudai Rang Field Firing Range in Muzaffargarh, central Punjab, following which in July 2019 a contract was inked with NORINCO for the procurement of up to 550 VT-4s and 50 W-753 ARRVs on a fast-track basis.
The main reasons for procuring the VT-4s and not the 48-tonne Al Khalid MBTs were, first, the Al Khalid’s 1,200hp Ukraine-origin KMDB 6TD-2 air-cooled diesel engines (similar to the 1,000hp 6TD diesel engines powering the PA’s 320 46-tonne T-80UD MBTs acquired in the latter half of the Nineties) that broke down whenever the MBT was engaged in fording water obstacles; and second, HIT has been unsuccessful in procuring high-quality steel from the bankrupt Pakistan Steel Mills. Consequently, the PA has, between 2004 and 2017, been able to procure only 415 licence-built Al-Khalid MBTs, while the VS-21 ARRVs have been procured off-the-shelf from NORINCO. The VT-4/MBT-3000 is claimed by NORINCO to be powered by a 1,300hp water-cooled diesel, whose full-scale mock-up was first displayed in November 2018. However, this engine has not yet entered series-production and consequently, all VT-4/MBT-3000 units meant for export continue to be powered by 900hp NORINCO-made water-cooled diesel engines. In mid-April 2020, the Inner Mongolia First Machinery Group Co Ltd rolled out the first 24 VT-4s for the PA, following which they were transported by rail to Guangzhou for shipment by sea.
The PA will deploy its VT-4s with the Gujranwala-based 6 Armoured Division, whose principal area of operations include the Ravi-Chenab corridor of the plains of western Punjab (inclusive of the Shakargarh Bulge, the Chicken’s Neck area and the Chammb-Jaurian axis). And like the India Army, the PA too has created Integrated Armoured Battle groups (IABG), comprising the Kharian-based 8 IABG under I Corps, Gujranwala-based 19 IABG under XXX Corps, Chunian-based 3 IABG under IV Corps, Bahawalpur-based 10 IABG under XXXI Corps, Multan-based 14 IABG under II Corps, Hyderabad-based 2 IABG under V Corps, and the 12 and 42 IABGs. These formations were formalised and operationalised between 2013 and 2018 (under the so-called ‘new concept of war-fighting’, or NCWF) as a conventional response to the Indian Army’s Cold Start conventional war-fighting doctrine. This by itself negates all earlier assertions of the Pakistani National Command Authority’s Strategic Plans Division (SPD) that had stated that ‘the Pakistanis see no role for nuclear weapons than to deter India from waging a conventional war’, meaning full-scale high-intensity limited conventional war under a nuclear overhang is well and truly possible across both the Working Boundary and the Line of Control (LC), if not across the International Border.
To bolster the fire-support capabilities of such IABGs, the PA will procure 72 SH-15 motorised mounted gun systems (MGS) from NORINCO, while on the other hand will be re-lifting its 36 A-100E 300mm long-range multi-barrel rocket launchers in two successive tranches this December and in March 2022 with the help of China’s state-owned Aerospace Long March International Corp Ltd (ALIT). For boosting the capabilities of its integral ground-based air-defence artillery, the PA has to date procured three FM-90 SHORADS Regiments since 2016 from state-owned China National Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp (CPMIEC), plus 1,391 QW-18 shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and 100 launchers that were recently delivered. In addition, nine Flights (two Regiments) of the LY-80E LOMADS medium-range SAM along with eight IBIS-150 low-level air-defence radars were procured by 2019 from China’s state-owned ALIT, as was an offer for the purchase of 1,265 FN-16 shoulder-launched SAMs and 14 launchers valued at USD28,998,390. However, the PA, due to financial constraints, has been unable to procure the FD-2000 HIMAD long-range SAM system from ALIT.
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