Pakistan Air Show | Seamless Transition

Türkiye and China biggest exhibitors at the 11th edition of Pakistan’s IDEAS

Prasun K. Sengupta

The 11th International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS), organised by Pakistan’s Defence Export Promotion Organization (DEPO), was held at the Karachi Expo Centre on November 15-18. Alongside local military and private-sector original equipment manufacturers (OEM), companies from Türkiye, China, Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia showcased their products at the expo. From Europe, three countries–Austria, Romania and Hungary–participated in the expo for the first time.

Clockwise from Right FFG PNS Taimur; CETC ground-based EW jammers; Al Khalid-1 MBT

Although OEMs from both the US and Russia participated, by far the largest foreign presence at IDEAS 2022 came from Türkiye and China, two of Pakistan’s biggest suppliers of military hardware. Some 28 leading defence manufacturers from Türkiye, ranging from aviation and naval sectors to firms specialising in military electronics, AI and firearms participated in the expo. Strangely, the expo was inaugurated by Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and not by defence minister Khwaja Asif.


Army Developments

On March 22, 2020, when the Sindh provincial government imposed a Covid induced 14-day lockdown throughout the province, the Pakistan Army’s (PA) Rawalpindi-based General Headquarters (GHQ) was unperturbed, since it was expecting the lockdown to end by April 2.

But matters came to a head on April 8, 2020, when Sindh chief minister Syed Murad Ali Shah decided to tighten the lockdown regime and extend its duration till the first week of May in the province to prevent local transmission of the Covid-19 virus. A pensive PA now, through its ‘selected’ federal government in Islamabad, began tightening the screws so that by the end of the first week of May, a ‘relaxed’ lockdown could prevail in and around Karachi Port Trust. And why so? Because the first tranche of 24 VT-4/MBT-3000 ‘Haider’ main battle tanks (MBT) was due to arrive at Karachi by sea by May 10 from Guangzhou, southern China, and required unloading.

Developed by the state-owned China North Industries Group Corp (NORINCO) and 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 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.

In January 2018, the Royal Thai Army (RTA) conducted in-country mobility-cum-firepower evaluations of the VT-4 at its Cavalry Centre at Adisorn military camp, in Saraburi. Following this, the RTA procured an initial 28 VT-4s in 2016, with an option to order an additional 10 units. The RTA plans to purchase a total of 49 VT-4s in three tranches. The order for the first tranche of 28 VT-4s were delivered in October 2017 and 26 of them were accepted for service in January 2018 with the RTA’s 3rd Cavalry Division in Khon Kaen Province, while the remaining two are operational with the RTA’s Cavalry Centre at Adisorn Military camp in Saraburi, and the Army Armoury Hall. The purchase of a second batch of 10 VT-4s costing USD58 million was authorised in April 2017.

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 Tilla Jogian 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 (licence-built Type-90II/MBT-2000 developed by NORINCO) 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 1990s) broke down whenever the MBT was engaged in fording water obstacles; and second, the Pakistan state-owned Heavy Industries Taxila (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 armoured recovery vehicles have been procured off-the-shelf from NORINCO. In addition to Pakistan, NORINCO also exported 44 MBT-2000s (known also as the VT-1A) and three VS-21 ARRVs to the Bangladesh Army in 2011–2013, totally valued at US$162 million.

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 Chhamb-Jaurian axis). Like the Indian 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 warfighting’, or NCWF) as a conventional response to the Indian Army’s Cold Start conventional warfighting doctrine.

Meanwhile, the PA continues to receive upgraded 110 Al Khalid-1 MBTs (under Phase-1) from HIT (with NORINCO’s assistance) at a rate of 22 units per year. The first deliveries took place on July 28, 2020. However, no progress has been made on the planned upgrade of 90 Type 85-IIAP MBTs. Other deliveries of military hardware from China since 2018 have included three FM-90 short-range air-defence regiments, 1,391 QW-18 shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and related 100 SAM launchers from China, nine batteries of the LY-80E LOMADS SAM system along with two batteries of the FD-2000 HIMAD SAM system, 1,265 FN-16 (including two missiles for live firing trials) manportable SAMs along with related 14 launchers, and 236 SH-15 155mm/52-cal mounted gun systems.


Naval Developments

The Pakistan Navy (PN) continues to take delivery of new-build guided-missile corvettes and guided-missile frigates (FFG) from Türkiye and China. It may be recalled that a steel-cutting ceremony for the fourth Jinnah-class (MILGEM type) corvette for PN was held on June 15, 2021 at the Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW). The PN had contracted the Military Factory and Shipyard Management Corporation (ASFAT) for the construction of the four corvettes, of which two are being constructed at Istanbul Naval Shipyard, while the remaining two at KSEW.

In July 2018, a contract was signed between ASFAT and the Pakistani Defence Ministry Ammunition Production entity and KSEW for the construction of these four vessels. The contract also had provisions for transfer of design rights and construction know-how from Turkey to Pakistan. The keel laying for the first corvette (PNS Babur) took place on June 4, 2020 at the Istanbul Naval Shipyard and will be delivered to the PN in 2023. KSEW held a keel-laying ceremony for the second corvette (PNS Badr) on 25 October 2020.

The third, PNS Khyber, was launched on November 27 this year, while the fourth would be delivered in February 2025. All Jinnah-class corvettes will be fitted with the new Albatros NG SAM system supplied by MBDA. Other weapons on-board include Leonardo/Oto Melara 76mm super rapid main gun, Harbah anti-ship cruise missiles, and Aselsan-built Gökdeniz close-in weapon system. The propulsion system comprises one General Electric LM-2500 gas turbine in a combined diesel-and-gas turbine configuration with two diesel engines. Each corvette displaces 2,985 tonnes, has a length of 108.2 metres, beamwidth of 14.8 metres, draught of 4.05 metres, maximum speed of 31 Knots, range of 3,500 nautical miles, endurance of 15 days at sea, and a crew complement of 93 sailors and 40 officers.

Deliveries of four Type 054A/P FFGs was temporarily disrupted during to the pandemic-related lockdowns in China. The first Type 054 A/P FFG (PNS Tughril) started sea trials in late May 2021 and was commissioned into service on January 24 this year, with the second FFG, PNS Taimur, being commissioned on June 23. Pakistan had signed an initial contract for the delivery two Type 054 A/P FFGs in 2017. An additional contract for two more ships was announced in June 2018. The first-in-class FFG was launched in August 2020 and the second in January 2021. As for the third one, the keel laying took place on 1 May 2021. All four units are built in China. The Type 054A/P FFG has a length of 134 metres, beamwidth of 16 metres, and displacement of 4,000 tonnes. The armaments suite comprises a H/PJ-26 76mm main gun, eight C-803 anti-ship cruise missiles, 32 VLS cells for LY-80N medium-range SAMs, two Type 730 30mm CIWS and two triple torpedo tube launchers. The principal sensor on the main mast is the SR2410C long-range metric-wave radar.

In other developments, the Pakistan Air Force is still negotiating with China’s CATIC for the purchase of 40 CM-400AKG air-launched supersonic anti-ship missiles, along with the co-development of a subsonic anti-ship cruise missile known as the ‘Taimoor’. China’s CETC-PRIVIS, on the other hand, is helping Pakistan’s armed forces in building all-round capability in the domain of cyber warfare by the setting up of Information Security Lab (ISL) under the National Electronics Complex of Pakistan (NECOP). In addition, the China Satellite Navigation Office (CSNO) has agreed to establish a BeiDou-enabled Continuously Operating Radar Station (CORS) network in Pakistan for precise geo-spatial applications, particularly in the fields of surveying and mapping, infrastructure construction and scientific studies. CSNO is also establishing a monitoring station for Pakistan’s SUPARCO agency for monitoring and assessing the Beidou Global Navigation Satellite System.


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