Navy’s Type 054A Frigates: Technologies, Numbers, and Deterrence of the Indian and Pakistan Navy

Pakistan Navy has commissioned the first of the four Type 054 or Tughril Class frigates on 8 November 2021. “PNS TUGHRIL” has become one of the largest and technologically advanced ships in the Pakistan Navy’s fleet. The TUGHRIL Class Ships are built at HZ Shipyard, Shanghai, China. Three remaining ships will be commissioned by the end of the next year. Technology is often considered a major force multiplier. For Pakistan Navy, the ships too act as a force multiplier due to the introduction or a boost to several warfighting capabilities.

With the commissioning of ships, particularly the anti-air and anti-surface warfare capabilities of navy have strengthened. The introduction of a supersonic cruise missile and the advanced Surface to  Air Missile (SAM) systems fills the void which the navy has been experiencing against its much more capable and armed opponent Indian Navy. While commissioning these four warships beefs up the navy’s muscles, it is only a step towards achieving a sufficient deterrent, not a goal in itself.

Systems and Weaponry

The 4000 tons Tughril Class is a multi-mission capable ship, fitted with potent weapons like Surface to Air Missile (SAM) and supersonic Surface to Surface Missiles (SSM) with land-attack capability. While the ships can perform a variety of maritime operations, these are anti-surface and anti-air warfare capabilities that stand out. These two categories hold significant importance for PN due to the growing numerical and technological prowess of the Indian Navy.

The introduction of a supersonic cruise missile and the advanced Surface to  Air Missile (SAM) systems fills the void which the navy has been experiencing against its much more capable and armed opponent Indian Navy.

Besides that, the ship has guns, torpedoes, and torpedo defense systems. The weapons and sensors installed on the ship are among the latest. It has SR2410C long-range and Type 517/SUR17B air-surveillance radars. The SR2410C is a 3D multifunction electronically scanned array (ESA) radar having a range of over 250 km and can simultaneously track 150 surface and air targets, while Type 517 is a long-range air search radar with a 300 km range. There are surface search and Echo Band Radar with AESA capabilities as well.

Anti-Surface Warfare

One of the major threats to the ships of Pakistan Navy from the Indian Navy is the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile’s anti-ship version, which is deployed on Kolkata and Rajput class destroyers, Shivalik and Talwar frigates. The Indo-Russian Brahmos can be launched from land, submarine, or a ship in an anti-shipping role to hit the target at 300-500 km range with a supersonic speed of Mach 2.0-2.8. Pakistan has selected the CM-302 Supersonic Cruise Missile for Tughril Class ships. The CM-302 has a range of 300 km with speed between Mach 2-3. The missile is similar to Brahmos in many aspects like range, payload, and speed. However, after Indian membership of the Missile Technology Control Regine (MTCR), India has conducted a test of an extended range Brahmos and may increase it more in the future. Pakistan, not being a member of MTCR, is restricted to getting missiles with up to 300 km ranges. India is also developing a hypersonic version of the Brahmos missile in collaboration with Russia. A hypersonic cruise missile uses a scramjet engine as compared to the ramjet engine in a supersonic missile.

Pakistan is also developing an in-house supersonic cruise missile, as revealed by the Pakistan Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP)’s disclosure for the year 2017-2018, and a hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile, P282. There are also reports of CM-401 anti-ship missiles, and Harbah land-attack cruise missiles may also be deployed on the ships.

Surface to Air Missile System

The Tughril class ships have a 32 cells vertical launch system (VLS), the first for any ship in Pakistan Navy. As compared to the mechanical launch system, a VLS system can launch more missiles in less time, depending on the number of launch cells. The air defence system or SAM on Tughril is the most advanced version of the HQ-16/LY-80 medium-range air defence system. It has a 70 km range and can destroy an aircraft or anti-ship missile. Earlier, Pakistan Navy lacked this capability while India enjoyed a clear advantage by having the Israeli made Barak 1 and Barak 8 SAMs. The Barak 1 was designed to upgrade the gun-based close-in weapon systems (CIWS) with a 12 km range. However, the Barak 8 system has a long range of up to 150 km. It is installed on the Delhi and Kolkata class destroyers, Kamorta-class corvettes, Indian aircraft carriers, and the future Nilgiri class stealth frigates.

Balance of Fleets

As argued earlier, while the ships are indeed a historic addition to the Pakistan Navy, their number may not be enough to act as a credible deterrent for them being the principal surface ships of the navy. The Navy’s goal is to deter and counter the Indian aggression mainly; therefore, its composition should also consider the whole spectrum of assets and capabilities of the adversary. Indian Navy is a much bigger and capable force than Pakistan Navy. Nevertheless, Pakistan Navy’s interest in getting new technologies and weapons to meet the Indian threat is noteworthy. The new ships do add to technological power equilibrium, but their number is not enough for numerical balance. Therefore, it should also strike a favorable and manageable balance with the Indian naval fleets. Currently, Indian Navy operates submarines, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, and other small warships. Pakistan Navy’s fleets consist of submarines, frigates, corvettes, and other small warships. India enjoys an edge in the variety of warships and their numbers.

Other than the Tughril class ships, Pakistan Navy has eight frigates of different classes and 18 different patrol and coastal combatants. Indian Navy, on the other hand, has two aircraft carriers, 10 destroyers, 17 frigates, and 170 patrol and coastal combatants. There is a clear imbalance between the surface fleets of the two navies, with the Indian Navy enjoying a huge advantage. The sub-surface fleet is one area where the balance is reasonable, with Pakistan Navy having eight and the Indian Navy having 16 submarines. The above numbers reflect only currently deployed ships, excluding the planned inductions on both sides. While Pakistan is doing well in getting new technologies and platforms to meet threats from the Indian side, Indian efforts are more pumped and ambitious due to extensive resources, available options, and great power aspirations. For Pakistan, a slight increase in the number of surface ships will add to the deterrence value of the Pakistan Navy.

Samran Ali

Samran Ali works on nuclear and strategic issues at the Center for International Strategic Studies, Islamabad. He tweets at @samranali6.

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