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Pakistan Is Getting Eight Submarines From China

October 31, 2016
The port of Karachi.

The port of Karachi.

And in 12 years the nuclear-armed state could have a formidable deterrent under the Indian Ocean. This is how long it will take for the present arrangement, where four diesel-electric submarines are assembled in China and an additional four are built at a Karachi shipyard, to join the Pakistan Navy as commissioned vessels. Their arrival marks a huge leap forward for both the Pakistan Navy, whose own abilities are rather modest, and Islamabad’s cozy relationship with Beijing–its armorer of choice for the past 30 years.

On October 16, 2016, Chinese media outlet confirmed the deal by citing the chief executive of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC). did mention two crucial details. The first was the ballpark figure for how much eight submarines are going to cost. This was put “between 4 billion to 5 billion USD.” The second is citing a Reuters story from April 2015 that first broke the news.

What didn’t report was the designation of the “attack submarines.” It was a photo of a scale model above the article labeled “S-20” that suggested what the Pakistan Navy has its sights on: China’s latest diesel-electric attack submarine.

For Pakistan to seek out Chinese submarines isn’t as groundbreaking as it sounds. Since the 2000s Pakistan’s navy has been turning into a collection of Made in China warships. Its largest surface combatants for example, the Zulfiqar-class frigates, are Chinese designed anti-submarine warfare platforms.

Long-reliant on French, German, Turkish, and American suppliers, the large order of Chinese submarines comes at a time when the Pakistan Navy’s current fleet is both aging and nearly obsolete. With just five submarines alongside dozens of littoral “fast attack craft,” having quiet diesel electrics at its disposal would better prepare the branch for a serious confrontation with India.

A multi-billion dollar deal of this magnitude adds perspective to the Pakistan Navy’s years of false leads and negotiations with European navies for surplus vessels.

When reports first broke about Pakistan’s quest for diesel-electric submarines in mid-2015 it was immediately known these were a batch of S-20 or Yuan-class, a.k.a. Type 41, vessels. Very little is known about the Yuan-class except its reputation as an analog of the Russian Kilo-class or Project 636 submarine.

What is certain among various analysis of the Yuan-class is its conventional Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) system allows it to travel undetected in shallow waters for longer periods. Normally, most diesel-electrics divide their time between running on batteries and then switching to diesel propulsion. There are some, however, who have claimed the AIP for these exported Yuan-class submarines won’t be included.

AIP or not, what Pakistan gains with its Yuan-class submarines is a boost for its local shipyards and a medium-term ability to maraud neighboring coastlines