Yesterday, the Pakistani government confirmed the purchase of eight new submarines from China. “The National Security Committee has approved, in principle, the acquisition of eight Chinese submarines,” Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Defense, Rear Admiral Mukhtar Khan, informed the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Defence in Islamabad.
Details on the type of vessels or their price tag are murky. IHS Jane’s quotes an unnamed Pakistani Foreign Ministry official who said that, “in the recent past, there have been reports of discussions for the Type 041 submarines.”
According to 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.” The export version of the vessel allegedly displaces about 2,300 tons, according to public sources.
However, as I noted here, the Wuhan-based China State Shipbuilding Industrial Corp (CSIC) supposedly had already signed a contract in April 2011 to deliver six Type 032 Qing-class conventional attack submarines by 2016/2017. Apparently, this deal must be off the table now.
Still other media sources report that Islamabad will build submarines under license based on the Qing-class vessels displacing 3,000 tons: “Pakistan will also build two types of submarines with Chinese assistance: the Project S-26 and Project S-30. The vessels are to be built at the Submarine Rebuild Complex (SRC) facility being developed at Ormara, west of Karachi.”
The procurement of a new fleet of submarines constitutes Islamabad’s most expensive arms deal by far. Estimated total costs range between $4-5 billion. IHS Jane’s quotes a former Pakistani defense official who said that it is “difficult to imagine a price of less than USD 500 million per submarine, if not more.”
He also said that he suspects China to extend a long-term loan, possibly at a low interest rate. Another Pakistani military expert told the Financial Times that there are still many unknowns: “At this stage, we don’t know the exact financial terms and unless we know the financial terms we can’t be certain about the significance of this order,” he said. “Still, it’s an important contract for Pakistan.”
Ali Sarwar Naqvi, a former senior Pakistani diplomat, said about Beijing’s rationale behind the weapons deal: “China has its own strategic reasons to help Pakistan in this area. As India prepares to head in to the Pacific Ocean, the Chinese are looking to head in to the Indian Ocean.”