Apr 21 - 27, 2008

US$750 million F-22P frigate deal has further strengthened defense ties between Pakistan and China. This month, China launched the project for manufacturing the first F-22P frigate for Pakistan Navy at its Hudong Shipyard in Shanghai. The frigate is capable of operating in multi-threat environments and equipped with long-range surface-to-surface missiles that can attack multiple targets simultaneously. The ship, named PNS Zulfiqar, was built under a deal signed in April 2005. The deal includes the transfer of Chinese naval shipbuilding technology to Pakistan.

The visiting Pakistani chief of naval staff Admiral Muhammad Afzal Tahir had inaugurated the launching ceremony and considered it "a great day for the Pakistan Navy and a great day for Pakistan-China friendship". He said, "The sword class ship will be equipped with the state of the art weapons and sensor systems and will carry Z9EC helicopters being manufactured in China."

China has been the main supplier of military equipment for Pakistan. Chinese have made marvelous progress in the defense production sector in recent years and the quality of their products meet the international standard. Pakistan Air Force also plans to buy new Chinese made J-10 fighters in big numbers. The four Chinese Frigates are in addition to the other four frigates Pakistan Navy is to buy from Greece under a deal signed in 2005 in Athens. F-22P is an improved version of the Chinese Jiangwei II (053H3). The first of the Jiangwei II class frigates entered service in late 1998. The 342-foot long Jiangwei II displaced 2,400 tons, but the F22P is expected to be a little longer, and heavier, perhaps as much as 3,000 tons. The F22P will probably carry anti-ship missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, a 100mm gun, anti-submarine weapons and a helicopter. Crew will be about 180 sailors, and each ship will cost $200 million.

The F-22P is a modification of a Chinese frigate that uses a Russian-designed main gun rather than a Chinese model. It will be armed with eight surface-to-air missiles and eight surface-to-surface missiles. It has a stealthier platform as it uses some of the Type 054 frigate's Radar Cross Sectional (RCS) reduction concepts. With under-sea censors, the frigate will be capable of detecting both nuclear and conventional submarines at long ranges. While three of the four ships will be built in China, the construction of fourth one will complete at the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works (KSEW) by 2013. According to the official sources in Islamabad, the Peoples" Liberation Army is providing all assistance to meet Pakistan Navy's requirements through the construction of the F-22P, which will form a very important component of the country's surface fleet.

Last week, the visiting Pakistani naval chief held meetings with China's minister of defense and navy chief. Pakistan plans to deploy the frigates for the defense of its maritime interests and to meet its commitments in other aspects of maritime diplomacy. The country had previously procured such military hardware from Western countries, including Britain and France. The shift from West to East reflects the Pakistan navy's confidence in Chinese industry, according to Pakistan's naval chief. The frigate deal is a considered a catalyst for cooperation on construction of other vessels. It will enhance the country's capabilities in shipbuilding and managing the construction of large warships.

Pakistan-China collaboration in manufacturing F-22 P frigates marks beginning of a new era of defense cooperation in the naval field. In 2005, Pakistan had clinched a $ 600-million defense deal with China, which included construction of four F-22P frigates for the Pakistani Navy and transfer of technology for indigenous production of modern surface fleet. Under the deal, Karachi dockyard was to be upgraded to enable Pakistan to build its own fleet of frigates. It was also agreed that the frigates would be equipped with organic helicopters specially designed for surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles along with numerous associated self-defense systems. The signing of the frigate deal in 2005 was a milestone in the defense cooperation of the two counties, as it was for the first time that the two navies had reached a high-level collaboration to augment surface fleet.

The local analysts believe that the acquisition of new surface vessels by Pakistan Navy in addition to strengthening its submarine fleet with French made Agosta submarines is an attempt by Pakistan Navy to catch-up with its Indian counterpart. In 2005, Pakistani Navy had seven frigates compared to 13 of the Indian Navy. Pakistan can match the neighboring country vessel by vessel by 2010 and the country is expected to have 15 frigates by 2013. Independent observers claim that a silent arms race is in progress, as India has already taken the possible acquisition into account.

Newly elected coalition Pakistani government of Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani has revised upward the defence expenditure projections from Rs 275 billion to Rs 350 billion, for the current fiscal year as compared to Rs 252.6 billion revised budget in 2006-07. The local analysts find the increase difficult to justify, given the rhetorical commitment by the new government to engage in dialogue instead of continuing military operations.

Pakistan and China already enjoy strong ties in military cooperation. Last March, Pakistan hosted a naval exercise participated by the naval forces of U.S., Britain, Turkey, and France. The Chinese navy for the first time participated in such a multilateral exercise near Karachi. For Pakistan, the phenomenal development of China in economic and technological fields has been a source of inspiration. The two countries have jointly developed deep-sea port at Gwadar in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan close to Iranian coast. It is considered a strategic port designed to be a "listening post" to keep a tab on the shipping lanes of Arabian Sea.

New Delhi feels that the Gwadar port would have serious strategic implications for India. Indian naval chief Admiral Suresh Mehta recently (in January 2008) said that the Gwadar port would empower Pakistan to control strategically important energy sea-lane on the Persian Gulf. Geographically, India controls no choke point on the coastline of the sub-continent through which international shipping must pass. New Delhi believes that the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar to be a Chinese naval base, which is likely to develop into another nuclear submarine or aircraft carrier homeport by the passage of time. Pakistani Chief of the Naval Staff however dispels the India's concern saying Gwadar port on southwest coast of Pakistan is purely a commercial venture for the economic progress and development of the country.