PN needs re-configuration to be real power—I


Salahuddin Haider

I have always felt that Pakistan Navy, being an essential guarantor of its seaward defence and prosperity ought to have much greater attention, and has to rise from the rotten slogan of being a “silent service’. It must be understood that the country’s economy relies overwhelmingly on the sea as some 90 percent by volume and 70 percent by value of its trade is seaborne. This will only increase in importance when the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) becomes fully operational. However, though balanced and capable, the navy is presently understrength, and cannot meet this requirement without expansion and considerable modernization.
I was moved by an article from Usman in ISPR magazine Hilal, and thought it fit to reproduce here. Making navy powerful enough may appear daunting as out of the three services the navy is the most expensive in terms of unit/running costs of its platforms, and expansion/modernization. will require tens of billions of dollars. Achieving this critical requirement need not be a quandary though. A base-line multi-role platform (reconfigurable from Offshore Patrol Vessel to fully armed warship) to be operated by Pakistan Navy and Maritime Security Agency (MSA), to replace a range of vessels operating in territorial waters and Extended Economic Zone (EEZ), will deliver long term lower operational costs and guarantee a credible conventional deterrent against aggression.
The workhorses of the Pakistani fleet are the destroyers and frigates that operate on the outer periphery of the EEZ and beyond. However, Pakistan Navy and MSA also operate a larger number of smaller vessels that can be replaced with a single multi-role design to lower long-term operational costs and increase Pakistan’s defencive capabilities. When the need arose to maintain operational requirements within restricted budgets, some countries examined more affordable multi-role platforms (generally corvettes/OPVs or light frigates) to sustain numbers/presence in less threatening environments. Unfortunately, a true multi-role capability is expensive, leading to acquisition of lightly armed patrol vessels for fisheries’ protection, search and rescue, pollution control, EEZ policing, and other coastguard type duties.
However, though more affordable to acquire/operate they have limited war fighting capability. Consequently, when purchased instead in place of fully capable warships, the navy will probably not be able to fulfil its main role of national defence due to being inadequately equipped. Under these circumstances a resource constrained nation essentially cannot ‘afford’ a ship that cannot fight, as necessity dictates every ship be able to defend itself and actively participate in wartime operations.
This is especially true for Pakistan Navy, which faces threats having to undertake anti-submarine/anti-surface warfare in a heavy electronic warfare measures and high air/missile threat environment, (and expect saturation missile attacks under these conditions). This, therefore, requires an affordable design that can replace a range of vessels and perform the full spectrum of roles, but still be credibly armed for wartime.
‘Affordable’ can be defined in terms of acquisition or operational costs. Low acquisition costs generally mean higher through-life operational costs. The formula is generally reversed when considering high acquisition costs mainly due to the cost of advanced technologies that help reduce operational/through-life expenditure.
An affordable warship today could be powered by an integrated electric or combined diesel propulsion system, be highly automated to reduce manning levels, and be equipped with sophisticated radar and other sensors in an integrated mast for air and surface search, acquisition and fire control. Weaponry would consist of a package to deal with the conceivable spectrum of threats, such a ship would be expected to act alone or in conjunction with other warships.
However, the physical footprint of some weaponry and sensors could dictate the feasibility of their inclusion on smaller vessels such as corvettes, requiring dedicated space for mission dependent modules. Consequently such designs may have common baseline weaponry such as a medium calibre gun, remotely operated small calibre guns, a gun and missile CIWS, and possibly ASW rocket launchers.
There can be a temptation to only rely on a gun CIWS for air defence, but they are not (and never should be) the first line of defence against air threats, especially not in the environment Pakistan Navy operates. ASW rockets like the RDC-32 can be used against unmanned underwater/swimmer delivery vehicles.
—To be continued