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The Pakistan Army Is Loyal To Its Very Old APCs

April 26, 2022

As the country’s armed forces proceed with a remarkable transformation of all its branches–an effort willingly assisted by China–there’s still inventory that resists obsolescence. During last month’s annual Republic Day parade the army in particular carried the event with an impeccable display of its arsenal. But an unmistakable fixture were the M113A2 APCs and their local variants that represent the branch’s mechanized workhorse. Some estimates reveal there are more than 1,000 in service with the army although this figure is likely a gross underestimation. Thanks to an active production line in the state-owned Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) these reliable tracked APCs can be assembled en masse as long as they’re needed.

Pakistan has a deeper history of receiving US-made arms and equipment than the generosity shown by China. But for all its problems decades of assistance from the US led to the technology transfer for the M113 APC, a tracked infantry transport with adequate armor (versus small arms fire) and some fording ability, thereby securing the backbone for the ground forces’ mechanized formations. HIT’s active maintenance, repair, and production line for M113’s ranks it among three other Asian countries that assemble the APC: South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey. The South Korean variant of the M113A1 is known as the K200 KIFV and has several improvements since it’s offered for export. Dormant production lines for M113 APC’s are found in Belgium, Egypt, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States.

The best characteristics of the M113A1/A2 APCs are their cost-effectiveness for armies that need protected mobility for its soldiers. As a US “defense export” it helped strengthen dozens of allied and friendly militaries at an unprecedented scale. Its firepower and protection level are inadequate by today’s standards but there are no shortage of options for enhancing both. A lethal variant of the M113 is the M901 I-TOW which is equipped with a remote turret carrying two BGM TOW anti-tank missiles. Pakistan’s army received a small batch in the 1980s and HIT attempted to augment these with its own Talha APC that carried a single manually operated Baktar Shikan ATGM (copy of the Norinco HJ-8) on its roof. An even more effective approach to the same is the British Army’s Exactor that carries six Israeli-made Spike NLOS missiles. A surprising aspect of the army’s M113A2 fleet, as well as their locally made variants the Talha and the bigger Saad, are their primary armaments being limited to a single heavy machine gun.

Considering its drawbacks the M113 is extremely versatile and can be tailored for whatever role, whether as an ambulance, a mobile command post, a self-propelled artillery system, or a genuine infantry fighting vehicle. There’s some evidence HIT is assembling the first batch of new IFVs for the army based on its long experience assembling the M113A2. If these do enter service they give the army better chances against their closest Indian opponent–the BMP-2 Sarath assembled by the now privatized Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). The Sarath is a licensed copy of the Soviet vintage BMP-2 armed with a 30mm cannon, a coaxial machine gun, and an externally mounted Konkurs ATGM.

It’s surprising how the army and defense ministry never drew up a program for acquiring the latest IFVs from their all-weather friends like China and Turkey. The military-industrial sectors of each have exportable IFVs that feature multiple weapon systems and superb mobility. Norinco alone has several proven APC and IFV models that match or surpass the performance of the M113A2. There’s an abundance of choices from elsewhere. In recent years some of the most advanced IFVs have come from Asian countries like Singapore, whose Hunter AFV has unrivaled situational awareness, and the South Korean Redback whose development emphasized firepower, mobility, and protection. India’s private and state-owned manufacturers have long conceptualized IFV’s that surpass the BMP-2 yet these never entered production or underwent rigorous testing.

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