The Pakistan Navy commissioned its second Type 054A/P Tughril-class frigate “Taimur” at the Hudong Zhonghua shipyard in China, giving Islamabad a much-needed breathing space in the Indian ocean over its arch-rival, India.
The commissioning ceremony was attended by the head of Pakistan Navy mission in China, Commodore Rashid Mehmood Sheikh as the chief guest. Highlighting its importance, a twitter communique stated that the warship will provide a “sustainable boost to the service’s combat capability and enhance Pakistan Maritime defense.”
The Tughril-class frigates, officially designated as Type 054A/P are the modified versions of Chinese Type 054A frigates with customizations in automation and weaponry. The Pakistani version features SR2410C AESA radar, a Type 517 VHF air-search radar, and CM-302 anti-ship missiles, which are absent on the original Chinese Type 054A ships.
A total of 4 frigates have been ordered, the contract for the first two being signed in 2017 with a follow-up order for two more in 2018. The actual cost of the deal was not disclosed by either side, however, estimates show a price tag of $348 million per unit.
The Tughril-class frigates are poised to form the mainstay fighting component of the Pakistan Navy, having capabilities of Anti-Surface Warfare, Anti-Submarine Warfare, and Anti-Air Warfare while having low radar observability. The four ships in the class are Tughril (commissioned in January 2022), Taimur (commissioned in June 2022), Tipu Sultan (launched in August 2021), and Shah Jahan (launched in December 2021).
The Indian Ocean ‘Game of Thrones’
However. the Pakistan Navy’s surface fleet has little to boast about when it comes to ‘dominating’ the Indian Ocean- especially against its arch-rival India. The Pakistan Navy currently has 8 guided missile frigates, 6 corvettes, and 4 missile boats in active duty, with 2 more Tughril-class frigates and 4 multipurpose corvettes under construction. When compared to the Indian Navy, which shall soon have a fleet of 2 aircraft carriers with operational air wings, 10 guided missile destroyers, 12 guided missile frigates, 20 corvettes, and 10 offshore patrol vessels, the Pakistan Navy seems to be at huge disadvantage. 11 stealth guided missile frigates, 3 stealth guided missile destroyers, 16 corvettes and many other offshore patrol vessels and support ships are being constructed for the Indian Navy at present.
Additionally, Pakistan Navy’s submarine fleet of 5 conventional boats would require radical expansion, when compared against New Delhi’s might- having 2 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) capable of delivering nuclear warheads, and 16 diesel-electric attack submarines (SSKs). 2 more SSBNs, 1 SSN (on lease from Russia), 6 indigenously-built SSNs (Project 75A), and 2 SSKs shall join the Indian service within the next two decades, while Islamabad has ordered 8 SSKs to be delivered by 2028. The additional capabilities provided by carrier-based fighters and other reconnaissance aircraft like P-8I Neptune along with much more reliable weaponry and nuclear submarines has clearly given the Indian Navy an edge to keep its western counterpart at bay, while maintaining sufficient power projection tools to hold vital chokepoints in the Indian Ocean.
However, forming alliances is one solution that Islamabad is keen to harness. Its partnership with China has own advantages, though with a risk of isolation in a world showing hostile behaviour towards Chinese aggression in the Western Pacific. Its dwindling economy might also hamper its plans for military expansion in the foreseeable future.