Pak-China Strategic Naval Partnership


Dr. MehmoodUl Hassan Khan

(Director: Geopolitics/Economics, Member Board of Experts, CGSS, Pakistan)

Divergent and convergent forces have been “polluting” coasts, waters and shores of South East Asia Region for so many years. Integrative and disintegrative “posturing” and “signaling” have also been “posing” and “pausing” serious“Maritime Threats (MTs) and dangers to blue economy.

Indian hegemonic policies in Indian Occasion, undue interference in Arabian Sea, formidable formation of the Asian NATO (USA, India, Australia and Japan) navies, resurgence of international power brokers naval bases in the Gulf region have been creating “conflicting realities” and deadly tensions in “Straits of Hormuz and Macala” and last but not least South China Sea (SCS) as new security “flash point” has forced Pakistan and China to extend their naval cooperation. Moreover, perpetuated China’s “containment policy” has also started “unending” tussle among the different main stakeholders to divert energies, resources, means and ways to mitigate its spillover repercussions.

For the further strengthening of Pak-China maritime security mechanism, China has now launched a second advanced warshipa Type-054 Class Frigate for Pakistan.The said warship is the state of the art “sailing” machine which is indeed the country’s most advanced frigate.The new version has a better defence capability and is equipped with an improved radar system and a larger amount of missiles with a longer range.

It has also has world-class Stealth Capability (SC) which is in fact a valuation-addition to its overall maneuverability. Most probably, it has SR2410C radar which is a 3D multifunction ESA (electronically scanned array). According to manufacturer’s data, it has an air range of over 250 km and can track 150 surface and air targets simultaneously.

According to official statement of the Pakistan Navy (January 30, 2021), the launching ceremony was held at the HudongZhonghua Shipyard in China’s Shanghai and was attended by Chief Naval Overseer (China) Commodore AzfarHumayun and senior Chinese officials.

While addressing the ceremony, Commodore Humayun termed the addition of the new warships to the Pakistan Navy’s fleet “significant”for enhancing Pakistan’s maritime defence and deterrence capabilities.

During his speech the senior navy official acknowledged the commitment, hard work and timely completion of this important milestone project by M/s CSTC and HZ Shipyard, Shanghai despite ongoing global pandemic”.

According to the statement, the said warships will be one of the most technologically advanced surface platforms of Pakistan Navy’s fleet, equipped with the latest surface, subsurface and anti-air weapon systems.

It will also be fitted with a range of electronic warfare, air and surface surveillance and acoustic sensors integrated through state of the art Combat Management System (CMS).

The PLA Navy has about 30 of the Type 054A ships, each of which has a loaded displacement of 4,000 metric tonnes and is equipped with advanced radars and missiles.

The first-in-class frigate was launched in August 2020. Pakistan signed a first contract for the delivery two Type 054 A/P frigates in 2017. An additional contract for two more ships was announced in June 2018. The keel laying for the second vessel took place in March 2020. Steel cutting for the final two ships took place in November 2019. All four units are set to be built in China and delivered to the customer by 2021.

According to Global Times (December 2020), the Type 054A is a multi-role frigate and is recognized as the backbone of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) fleet of surface combatants with 30 vessels in commission. They have a length of 134 meters, a beam of 16 meters for a displacement of 4,000 tons. They have a crew complement of 165 sailors and are fitted with a H/PJ-26 76mm main gun, 8 C803 anti-ship missiles, 32x VLS cells for HQ-16 surface to air missiles, 2x Type 730 30mm CIWS and 2x Triple Torpedo launchers.

In the PLAN, those frigates feature a Type 382 radar which shares a close resemblance with the Russian MR-710 Fregat radar. Unlike the Pakistan Navy variant, the Type 054A in Chinese Navy service dos not feature a long range / metric wave radar.

According to Pakistan Navy these warships will be the most technologically advanced platforms of Pakistan Navy which will strengthen its capability to meet future challenges and maintain peace, stability & power equilibrium in the Indian Ocean Region.

The Pakistan Navy is rigorously pursuing its modernization drive and currently undertaking an important renewal of its fleet, with the procurement of several modern platforms. In addition to these frigates from China, Pakistan will also commission new corvettes from Turkey and OPV from the Netherlands. It is also modernizing its submarine force too.

The navies of China and Pakistanconducted their sixth bilateral naval exercise, titled Sea Guardians-2020, in the northern Arabian Sea during 2020. Such military exercises further strengthened security cooperation between the two countries. According to Chinese mediathe naval drills are aimed at exploring new methods of conducting China-Pakistan joint naval drills while stepping up the capabilities to jointly address issues such as maritime terrorism and crime.

It was held on India’s west coast, a critical security area from New Delhi’s perspective. Clearly, the exercise was very important for China because it increased the PLA Navy’s familiarity and understanding of the operational conditions in this part of the Arabian Sea. Moreover, gaining greater access to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan was also likely an attractive incentive for China. Successful holding ofSea Guardians-2020 opened an alternate route for China in the event of a naval blockade by an adversary that closes the Malacca Straits choke point.

Both states appeared enthusiastic about undertaking these naval exercises on a regular basis.During the joint naval drill Pakistan emphasized the importance of their joint collaboration. China continued to reiterate that the naval drills have nothing to do with the prevailing situation in the Middle East and that it was not aimed at any third country. The PLA reportedly stated that the joint exercise involved two sessions “joint training in Karachi and live-fire drills in northern parts of the Arabian Seaand included workshops, tactical simulation, joint patrol, air and missile defense, law enforcement inspection and anti-submarine operation.

The PLA Navy deployed five major ships, including the guided-missile destroyer Yinchuan, the guided-missile frigate Yuncheng, the comprehensive supply ship Weishanhu, and the submarine rescue ship Liugongdao, whereas Pakistan represented by two Zulfiquar-class F22P/F21 frigates, two fast attack craft, one fixed-wing anti-submarine patrol aircraft, two ship-borne helicopters and more than 60 special operations soldiers.

The two navies had engaged in a number of training exercises including joint patrol, air-defense, joint anti-submarine, maritime live-firing, and joint marine training.  The Pakistan Navy (PN) said that the overall aim of the exercise was to enhance the two navies’ technical and tactical capabilities, exchange of professional experiences against maritime threats, evolve a synergistic approach between the two sides and preserve regional maritime security.

The joint naval drill was in addition the “warrior” series of exercises between the two armies and the “eagle” series exercises between the two air forces. Islamabad and Beijing have had a decades-long strategic partnership, and they have conducted many military exercises.

The commencement of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has geared-up naval cooperation between the countries since 2015. Various meaningful MOUs have already been inked to extend military and naval cooperation in diverse fields of production, joint venture, training, exchange of professional and sharing of information on security matters between the two countries.

Extended advancement of the CPEC towards Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan (black sea) has encouraged both states to deepen their naval cooperation to maintain regional peace. Development of Gawdar seaport has further strengthened and brightened bilateral naval cooperation.

Being prominent regional expert of CPEC & BRI I, foresee that further strengthening of naval cooperation between Islamabad and Beijing is the “antidote” of western Chain’s containment policy. Thus increasing naval cooperation is the need of the hour between Pakistan and China.