Islamabad and Beijing inked two new military procurements contracts during the December 17-19 visit to Islamabad of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last year, which included the purchase of 20 CH-3 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) and FT-5 small-diameter bombs for the Pakistan Army’s Aviation Corps, and the first two of up to six Type 022 Hobei-class catamarans for the Pakistan Navy (PN). The CH-3 is a medium-altitude long endurance (MALE) unmanned platform developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CASC). It comes equipped with a belly-mounted turret housing optronic sensors, and twin wing-mounted hardpoints for carrying two 75kg FT-5s. The CASC claims that the CH-3 is capable of battlefield reconnaissance, fire adjustment, data relay, intelligence collection, ground-strike missions and electronic warfare missions. The MALE-UCAV has a cruising speed of 220kph, 12-hour maximum endurance, and a 200km communications radius. The FT-5 small-diameter bomb contains a 35kg (77lb) warhead, and has a circular error probability of 15 metres, or less than 50 feet. Its effective glide range is up to 5km (3.1 miles) when launched from the CH-3 UAV. The other members of the FT family--the 500kg (1,100lb) FT-1, 500kg FT-2 with gliding fins, and 250kg (550lb) FT-3 bombs--are all GPS-guided and have already been ordered for the Pakistan Air Force’s JF-17 Thunder multi-role combat aircraft.
Meanwhile, determined to maintain its qualitative superiority in undersea warfare over its Indian counterpart, the Pakistan Navy (PN) has embarked on an ambitious force modernisation programme in partnership with DCNS of France and the China State Shipbuilding Industrial Corp (CSIC). Presently, the Karachi-based state-owned Pakistan Navy Dockyard, with DCNS’ assistance, is cutting open the pressure hull of the PN’s first of two double-hulled Agosta 90B diesel-electric submarines (SSK)—the 2,083-tonne PNS Khalid—so that it can accommodate a module containing the DCNS-supplied Module d’Energie Sous-Marine Autonome (MESMA) air-independent propulsion (AIP) system. Installation work is due for completion by the year’s end, following which the PN’s second Agosta 90B SSK—PNS Saad, will be subjected to an identical refit next year. The PNS Khalid was commissioned into service on 21 December 21, 1999, while PNS Saad--the first Agosta 90B SSK to be licence-assembled at the Pakistan Navy Dockyard under a Transfer of Technology (ToT) agreement with DCNS, was commissioned on December 13, 2003. The third Agosta 90B SSK--PNS Hamza--was commissioned on September 26, 2008 and it was fitted from the outset with a MESMA module, thereby becoming the first SSK in South Asia to be equipped with an operational AIP system.
With CSIC, the PN early last month inked a contract under which the CSIC’s Wuhan-based Wuchang Shipyard will supply six Type 041A Improved Yuan-class SSKs, all of which will be equipped with a Stirling-cycle AIP system. The double-hulled Type 041A SSK, with a submerged displacement close to 3, 600 tonnes, bears a close resemblance to the Russian Type 636M SSK, and features hull-retractable foreplanes and hydrodynamically streamlined sail. The first such SSK was launched at Wuhan Shipyard on September 9 last year, and a total of three such SSKs are on order from China’s PLA Navy. This development effectively puts an end to the PN’s three-year-old efforts to procure new-generation SSKs worth US$1.2 billion from either France or Germany. It may be recalled that France had in July 2006 cleared DCNS to offer three single-hulled Marlin-class SSKs to Pakistan, but matters did not proceed further as the PN had been insisting that the to-be-acquired SSKs be modified to fire Boeing-built RGM-84A Harpoon ant-ship cruise missiles (the three existing Agosta 90B and two 1,043-tonne Agosta 70 SSKs of the PN are presently configured to fire only the MBDA-built SM-39 Exocet anti-ship missile). Subsequently, from 2008 onwards the PN zeroed in on the single-hulled Class 214 SSK built by Germany’s Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW), but the balance tilted in favour of CSIC early this year when Beijing offered the Improved Yuan SSK, something that the PN’s Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Noman Basheer and Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari have since wholeheartedly embraced. However, in an effort to mollify the French, a high-level PN delegation visited France on April 27 last year to begin contract negotiations with DCNS concerning the upgrading of the PN’s two existing Agosta 70 SSKs. This contract was inked last June, and includes the installation of SUBTICS combat management systems on the two SSKs.
The AIP system for the Type 041A Improved Yuan SSK was developed by the 711th Research Institute of CSIC. R & D work began in June 1996, with a 100-strong team of scientists and engineers led by Dr Jin Donghan being involved in developing the Stirling-cycle engine, while another team led Professor Ma Weiming of China’s Naval Engineering University began developing the all-electric AIP system. The two projects entered the production engineering stage in 2007, with the Shanghai Qiyao Propulsion Technology Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the 711th Institute, becoming the principal industrial entity charged with producing the AIP system. Incidentally, the Type 041A SSK’s all-electric propulsion system is a derivative of a similar system that was developed about a decade ago for the PLA Navy’s six Type 093 Shang-class SSGNs and three Type 094 Jin-class SSBNs.—Prasun K. Sengupta