This article first appeared here on the Future Directions International web site on 9 May 2012.
In spite of progress being made to enhance bilateral ties, geopoltical rivalry between Pakistan and India continues to escalate. The most recent example was demonstrated by the launch of India’s Agni-5 nuclear-capable intermediate-range ballistic missile, which was closely followed by the launch Pakistan’s Hatf-4 Shaheen-1A nuclear-capable intermediate-range ballistic missile. While this strategic rivalry has been notable on land, escalation in the maritime domain has made Pakistan increasing concerned at India’s unprecedented plans to modernise its navy.
India’s naval modernization and expansion programme has continued to raise Pakistan’s suspicions and has contributed to escalating tensions. On 20 February this year, Pakistan Navy Chief,Asif Sandila, told Defense News, a flagship US-based publication, that “The strategic dimension of India’s naval buildup is a cause of concern.” He added: “We are mindful of this development and taking necessary measures to restore the strategic balance.”
The sentiment expressed by other Pakistani defence commentators provides another revealing insight into how Pakistan is likely to fashion its future naval strategy. For instance, in 2002, Malik Ayaz Hussain Tiwana stated in the Defence Journal, one of Pakistan’s leading defence publications: “In any future conflict, Pakistan naval forces should be capable of selectively operating on India’s eastern seaboard, threatening its shipping and tying down a portion of the Indian Navy in the east.” He concluded: “Also, Pakistan naval units should be adequately equipped to challenge and break any enemy blockade attempted away from the ranges of our Air Force cover.”
Similarly, in December 2011, Masood-Ur-Rehman Khattak, a Research Fellow at the Islamabad-based South Asian Strategic Stability Institute, wrote in the Eurasia Review: “[The] Indian Navy is developing its overall capabilities at rapid pace. Induction of [an] aircraft carrier, nuclear submarines, network-centric and electronic warfare capabilities, latest radars, weapons and equipment, fast [attack] boats, frigates, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, satellites, UAVs and regular exercises at sea will make [the] Indian Navy a serious threat to Pakistan’s maritime interests in future.” Given that maritime trade constitutes 97 per cent of Pakistan’s total trade, it is evident that Pakistan is fearful that a modern and expanded Indian Navy could pose a greater threat to its sea lines of communications and, in the event of war, impose a naval blockade that would have a crippling effect on the nation’s economy.
Although Pakistan’s economy continues to demonstrate limited growth potential, afflicted by serious energy shortages, governance-related problems and violent extremism, in recent times the Navy has been allocated resources to modernise and expand its capabilities. The Navy’s surface fleet has either acquired, or placed orders for, maritime surveillance aircraft and helicopters and a variety of vessels emphasising a new auxiliary tanker, corvettes, missile boats, mine-counter measure vessels and patrol boats from shipyards either in Pakistan, China, Turkey, UAE and the US.
The Navy’s major surface fleet acquisitions emphasised a US$600 million deal which resulted in the delivery of four Chinese-made F-22P frigates; and more recently in March 2010, the delivery of one refurbished Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate as part of a bilateral transfer agreement with the US. Into the future, the Navy has also indicated that it is looking to purchase larger frigates with more firepower from China.
The Pakistan Navy is also looking to modernise and replace its fleet of submarines. The Navy has announced that it intends to replace its two aging French-made Agosta-70 diesel-powered submarines and is interested in acquiring at least three, or possibly more, new generation fast-attack submarines. Although no formal decision has been announced, the Navy has also demonstrated interest in purchasing either HDW Type-214 submarines from Germany or air-independent propulsion submarines from China. More recently in February 2012, Defense News cited unofficial Pakistani Navy sources, which claimed that the Pakistan Navy was in the early stages of developing its own nuclear-powered submarine.
Due to Pakistan’s lingering economic constraints its Navy has been forced to seek partnerships with allied countries that can provide the necessary technical expertise and financial resources to fund joint research and development and acquisition programmes. In doing so, China has emerged as Pakistan’s partner of choice to assist in implementing its naval modernization agenda. As reported by the China Daily in July 2010, former Pakistani chief of naval staff, Admiral Noman Bashir, indicated Pakistan’s willingness to offer ports, logistics and maintenance facilities for prospective Chinese firms or the Chinese Navy. As part of Pakistan’s drive to enhance local industry, the Navy has in recent years appointed a task force to develop Pakistan’s shipbuilding industry. Indeed, plans are in place to develop two major shipbuilding and maintenance yards at Gwadar and Port Bin Qasim respectively.
Noting its ongoing and poor economic performance and limited available resources, Pakistan’s Navy is channelling its focus to enhance its maritime force projection and strike capabilities. By also resorting to bilateral partnerships, Pakistan has managed to improvise its strategy of deterrence for the time being, but continued economic woes are likely to place greater restrictions on Pakistan Navy’s future modernization ambitions and therefore its overall capacity to be a deterrent to India.