Sino-Pak naval cooperation reiterated
10 April, 2013
By S M Hali
The history of Pakistan's relations with its friends is replete with concrete examples of the contribution of People's Republic of China towards building a strong and robust Pakistan, enabling the latter to stand on its own feet.
Pakistan and China enjoy diverse and intimate relationship since their creation six decades ago. Throughout this period, China has remained a steadfast ally of Pakistan and has extended assistance in all fields, including defence that commenced in the mid-sixties. The naval collaboration got off to a rather belated, but steady start.
Following the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the Sino-Pak naval cooperation grew multifold due to Western sanctions on the latter. The Pakistani navy, comprising vintage colonial era warships and lacking effective and agile naval platforms, was at the mercy of the Indian navy's fast missile and gunboats in the conflict.
To plug this capability gap, China proceeded to supply naval craft of various types to Pakistan, which joined its navy in batches throughout the 70s and early 80s. These included Huchuan class fast attack hydrofoil craft, Hainan class submarine chasers, Shanghai-II class fast patrol/gun boats, Huang Fen class fast attack missile craft and Hegn class fast attack missile craft. They added a new dimension to the Pakistan Navy (PN) fleet and enabled it to effectively carry out surveillance of its southeast sector along the Pakistani coast whose vulnerability was exposed during the 1971 war.
In June 1978, China's Vice President, along with his delegation and President of Pakistan, visited the PN fleet and witnessed firepower display of Chinese crafts in open sea. By 1984, the entire flotilla of promised Chinese ships had been integrated into the PN and was employed for surveillance and patrolling off our ports and coastal cities of Bin Qasim, Pasni and Gwadar.
The successful experience of Chinese naval platforms reiterated the PN's confidence in China's naval hardware, prompting Pakistan to venture into acquisition of larger naval vessels. A bilateral agreement was, therefore, signed with it for the construction of 20,000 tons fleet replenishment tanker in early 1986. The ship was constructed according to the navy's requirements and commissioned as PNS NASR in August 1987, which still continues to provide sterling service.
In the 1990s, the slapping of Pressler Amendment on Pakistan by the US impelled its defence planners to seek further Beijing's assistance and cooperation in the field of naval construction and aim for indigenisation. So the construction and induction of missile craft, PNS JALALAT and later PNS SHUJAAT in late 90s, bore fruitful results.
Besides undertaking bilateral naval visits, the relationship blossomed in 2005 when the deal to acquire four F-22P frigates under Transfer of Technology (ToT) package was signed with China. Under this agreement, three ships were to be constructed in China, while the fourth one in Pakistan with Chinese assistance. The arrangement have gone ahead as planned and to-date three frigates have been commissioned and integrated into the PN fleet, while the fourth one, constructed by Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works, is scheduled to be commissioned this month. These state-of-the-art ships are designed to operate in multi-threat environment and are fitted with sophisticated sensors suite and weapons.
They also carry Z-9EC helicopters that have been delivered to the PN, optimised for anti-submarine warfare operations. Our navy's experience of F-22P ships and Z-9EC helicopters has been an unqualified success that has encouraged it to enter into various major acquisition projects with China.
In the same context, PN signed a deal under ToT with China in 2011 for the construction of two fast missile crafts. They were to be constructed one each at China and Pakistan and would also carry advanced missiles capable of hitting targets at extended ranges with precision.
In addition, it has signed a deal with China for the induction of radar controlled guns and low level air defence radars for the terminal air defence of its vital installations. It will not only boost the PN's quest to attain self-sufficiency in the construction of naval hardware, but also provide it with quality equipment to address its shortfalls.
The high point of Sino-Pak relations has culminated in China's assistance in the construction of the first phase of Gwadar port, while its administrative control has also been acquired by it.
Sis by side, the People's Liberation Army Navy's regular participation in bilateral and multilateral naval exercises with Pakistan Navy have enriched the experience of both navies in meeting maritime challenges and reiterates naval cooperation.
The writer is a former Group Captain of PAF, who also served as air and naval attache at Riyadh. Currently, he is a columnist, analyst and host of programme Defence and Diplomacy on PTV.