Pakistan government has approved the purchase of eight submarines from China, as per an “in principle” decision conveyed during a hearing of the Pakistan National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Defence. Pakistan has been negotiating the purchase of six submarines – now increased to eight — from China since 2011.
Pakistan Navy currently operates five French submarines: three Agosta 90B submarines purchased in the 1990s and two Agosta 70 submarines of late 1970s vintage. It also has three MG110 miniature submarines. After the recent accidents, the number of active duty submarines in Indian Navy is now down to 13 diesel-electric submarines and the nuclear-powered INS Chakra.
Although Pakistan navy officers neither gave the cost of the deal nor disclosed the types of submarines being procured from China, reports suggest that Beijing is likely to offer Yuan-class Type-041 diesel-electric submarines in a $4bn-$5bn deal. As per IHS Jane’s Fighting Ships, the Type 041 ‘Yuan’ class is a diesel electric attack submarine (SSK), potentially with Stirling air independent propulsion, that is armed with YJ-2 (YJ-82) anti-ship missiles and a combination of Yu-4 (SAET-50) passive homing and Yu-3 (SET-65E) active/passive homing torpedoes.
At $4bn-$5bn, this deal is likely to be China’s biggest ever arms sale, much bigger than the deal for 50 JF-17 fighter jets bought by Pakistan in 2010 for around $1bn. As per the latest SIPRI report, Pakistan bought more than 40 per cent of China’s arms exports during the past five years, making it China’s top arms importer.
Pakistan had earlier tried to purchase three Type 214 diesel-electric submarines from Germany but the deal could not be finalized as Islamabad deemed them to be too expensive. Pakistan also held negotiations with France for acquiring Scorpène-class submarines but French refused to sell them to Pakistan. The Agosta submarine scandal of 1994 with its ongoing corruption charges and death of 11 French engineers in Karachi in a terror attack in 2002 contributed to the French refusal.
China is likely to offer a long-term loan to Pakistan, possibly at a low interest rate, to cover the cost of this new deal.
Iskander Rehman, a non-resident Fellow in the South Asia Programme at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC who authored the report ‘Murky Waters: Naval Nuclear Dynamics in the Indian Ocean’ believes that this purchase will have a significant impact on the sub-continental naval equation. “Unlike India, Pakistan does not seek so much to project naval power as to to deny access to its principal maritime approaches. The addition of another eight diesel-electric submarines to the Pakistani fleet will render Indian naval operations along the Makran coastline far more challenging in times of conflict,” Rehman says.