Mar 16 - 22, 2009

China is transferring naval shipbuilding technology to Pakistan for manufacturing F22P Frigate, which has the capability of operating in multi-threat environments and equipped with long-range surface-to-surface missiles that can attack multiple targets simultaneously. Earlier last year, China launched the project for manufacturing the first F-22P frigate for Pakistan Navy at its Hudong Shipyard in Shanghai. Presently, China State Shipbuilding Corporation and China Shipbuilding Trading Company are providing technical and material supports to the country for the construction of the fourth F22P Frigate at the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works (KSEW). China has so far been the strength for Pakistan defense industry.

A curtain raising ceremony of the F22P Frigate was held at the KSEW on March 5. The ceremony was attended by the Ambassador of Peoples Republic of China in Pakistan, senior Chinese delegates and high ranking civil and military officials from China and Pakistan. On the occasion, the chief guest, federal minister for defense production Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi hoped that with speedy pace of construction work, this vessel will join Pakistan navy much earlier that the scheduled time. "Concerted efforts will ensure that Pakistan becomes a leading shipbuilding country in the region in line with its potential and ideal location", the minister said.

Under a US$750 million deal signed in April 2005, China agreed to further strengthen defense ties with Pakistan by transferring naval shipbuilding technology to the south Asian country. Under the deal, while three of the four ships will be built in China, the construction of fourth one will complete at the KSEW by 2013.

At present, KSEW is the country's only yard, which is fulfilling the needs of local shipping industry through repairs. The docking facilities of KSEW have not been enhanced since 1970. It has the limitation of depth of water in the present channel. Karachi Port Trust (KPT) is currently working on a deep draught container terminal project for which KSEW needs space to undertake bigger ships for repair and maintenance. Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC) has only a fleet of only 14 ships and presently Pakistan depends on foreign ships for 80 per cent of its trade.

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. The F22P frigates are 123 meter-long ships with nearly 3,000 tons displacement and practically 30 knots of speed. The ships are equipped with long range surface to surface missiles, surface to air missiles, torpedoes, latest automatic 76 MM guns, state of the art homing weapon system, sophisticated long range sensors, radars, sonars, electronic warfare systems and an advanced Command and Control system. The ships can also carry an advanced 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.

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.

Islamabad has significantly increased its defense budget during past two years. Former government of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had increased the defense budget for the financial year 2007-08 to Rs277 billion from Rs250.2 billion of the year 2006-07. Separate allocations had been made for the purchase of JF-17 Thunder aircraft from China. Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani-led coalition government had revised upward the defense expenditure projections from Rs 275 billion to Rs 350 billion for the last fiscal year as compared to Rs 252.6 billion revised budget in 2006-07. For the current fiscal, the government has allocated Rs296.07 billion for the defense budget, which shows a 7 percent increase from the last year's Rs277 billion.

It is ironical that the coalition government has deviated from its claim of "freezing" the defense budget. The local analysts find the increase difficult to justify, given the rhetorical commitment by the elected government to engage in dialogue instead of continuing military operations.

Pakistan and China already enjoy strong ties in military cooperation. 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. The two countries have jointly developed deep-sea port at Gwadar in Balochistan close to Iranian coast.

Islamabad plans to set up two giant shipyards with a capacity of 600,000 DWT at its ports of Gwadar and Bin Qasim at an estimated cost of $500 million. It has already sought Chinese help and advisory services from international firms for the purpose. In view of the growing demand for new ships around the world, the strategically located Pakistan is a take-off point for such projects.

Gwadar can turn into an ideal place for a facility for repair and maintenance of bigger local and foreign ships and vessels.

The proposed Gwadar shipyard is planned to be set up at Gwadar East Bay. It will spread over 500 acres of land. It will have at least two dry docks of approximately 600,000 DWT. The shipyard will not only provide the facility of ship repairing but it can then be further upgraded to undertake state-of-the-art shipbuilding of bigger size and high-tech ships like Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) and Ultra large Crude Carriers (ULCCs).

The capacity in the Gulf for such repair of vessels is limited and such a facility at Gwadar will be one of the trigger industries for bringing up Gwadar port and development of the region.

The country wants to build the proposed shipyards in cooperation between Pakistani private sector and Chinese Corporate sector while government would also incorporate its participation. The development of shipbuilding and marine industries can make the country a leading shipbuilding player in the region.