Transforming Role Of Pakistan Navy: Consistent Response To Challenges – OpEd


Since its birth on 14th August 1947, the role of Pakistan Naval forces [i] has been to secure state?s maritime national interest, including safeguarding state?s 1046 km[ii] long coastline along the Arabian Sea, defending its ports, and maintaining order and peace in its area of control.

The major tasks of Pakistan Navy are to defend its Exclusive Economic Zone, offshore economic resources, secure sea lines of communication and protect merchant fleet. In the aftermath of 9/11, Pakistan realised the importance of having a robust maritime force and decided to commit greater resources for its development; consequently, tactics and strategic planning of PN also underwent a shift.

Today, PN is transforming gradually into one of the most vigilant and capable naval forces in the Arabian Sea region to enable itself to tackle the growing challenges of 21st century with a positive, determined and professional approach; and in the process it is becoming a more confident and assertive player and a major stakeholder in maintaining regional maritime security. PN’s regular organization and participation in bilateral and multi-national naval exercises and deployment of its assets in the US-led task forces CTF-150 and 151 are some of the glimpses of Pakistan Navy?s contribution to the world peace.

In last two decades, PN has upgraded itself to counter both conventional and non-conventional maritime challenges. In December 2010, the then Pakistani chief of the naval staff acknowledged that the Pakistan Navy was heading towards a major transformation[iii], which required passing through a series of transitional phases.

After partition, Armed Forces Reconstruction Committee (AFRC) had divided the Royal Indian Navy between India and Pakistan. Pakistan’s share was quite limited[iv], as Royal Indian forces were mainly land based. The challenges which Pakistan Navy faced during its initial phases were: difficulties in communication between eastern and western wings of Pakistan, lack of trained human resource and above all, the threat perception of the then government n which land battles were considered to be decisive in countering any direct threat to Pakistan’s security and territorial integrity.

That thought considerably subsided upgrading of naval defence. The chance to modernize and expand the navy came in the era of 50s when Pakistan entered into defence pacts with US.[v] Those pacts not only enabled PN to get acquainted with modern equipment and Western doctrinal concepts but also paved the way for acquisition of its first submarine PNS Ghazi[vi], which was used in the Indo-Pak War of 1965 when PN participated in Indo-Pak war 1965 and proved its potential in operation Dwarka. However, Western military assistance to Pakistan was stopped by the assisting countries due to that Indo-Pak war; hence, PN?s modernization program suffered.

The importance of underwater forces gained momentum in Pakistani Naval strategy because of post-1965 war conditions and financial constraints. US imposed embargoes forced Pakistan to explore other options; hence, France and China became a major source of arms and equipment. By 1966, Daphne class submarines were under construction and plans were approved for raising a Special Services Group. In the wake of 1971 War, PN considered it critically urgent to review its strategy; therefore, PN improved its small boat attack capability, aviation arm and inducted Agosta and Daphne class submarines[vii].

By 1977, the US sanctions eased; consequently, PN got some equipment[viii]. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan turned Pakistan into a frontline ally of Washington which resulted in the restoration of Pakistan’s military modernization plan. It worked out, and by mid 80s Pakistan Navy became more assertive, improved its maritime capabilities, almost doubled its surface fleets (from 9 to 16), and acquired sophisticated long-range anti-ship missiles and eight Brooke and Garcia-class frigates from the US Navy [ix] on lease.

In 1988, Pakistan signed a deal with the United States for the acquisition of three P-3Cs. However, there was some indication of change in US policy towards Pakistan, which came ultimately in the form of Pressler’s Amendment. Hence, PN’s plans for modernization halted again in 1993 as US cancelled the deal and supply of essential spare equipment to Pakistan[x].

Consequently, Pakistan Navy switched to alternatives, Six Type 21 (Amazon) class frigates were acquired from UK in 1993-94 and deals with France were also made for mine hunters and Agosta 90-B submarines[xi]. Pakistan Navy learned both during and following the cold war era that in naval warfare, indigenous capability and advance technology is essential, because it could no more depend on foreign equipment, manufacturers and suppliers. Thus, Pakistan focused more on developing indigenous production capacity to reduce its dependency; and most of the deals negotiated during that period with China and France focused on transfer of technology.

In 1990, when Pakistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China, for ten years defence cooperation, the following decade witnessed a boom in Pakistan?s naval structure. Construction of missile craft PNS SHUJAAT and PNS JALALAT equipped with long range surface to surface missiles at Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works also took place under the Sino-Pak naval collaboration. PNS JALALAT was Pakistan’s first indigenously developed missile craft, commissioned in the PN fleet in 1999.

In late 90s, Pakistan ratified the UN Law of the Sea Convention 1982 which provided the state with an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of approximately 240,000 square miles, thus it added to the PN’s responsibilities. War on Terror resulted in military cooperation between Pakistan and US, which once again enabled Pakistan Navy to learn modern operational tactics and techniques. It participated for the first time (April 2004) in maritime counter-terrorism efforts of the US-led Coalition called Coalition Maritime Campaign Plan (CMCP); and took Command [xii] of Multinational Task Force-150 in 2006, at Bahrain[xiii].

This not only enhanced PN interoperability with other navies but also its awareness regarding doctrinal expertise. In 2005, a deal was signed between PN and PLA Navy. According to it, four F-22 P class Frigates were to be delivered to the Pakistan Navy[xiv], during the period 2006 to 2013. These frigates equipped with Z-9EC helicopter are capable of multiple operations including anti-submarine and anti-surface.

The integration of these modern frigates has strengthened and augmented PN’s capabilities of defending the sea-frontiers and operating under multi-threat environment. Since the neighboring state has shifted its nuclear rivalry against Pakistan from land to sea lanes with the induction of Arihant and Akula class SSBNs and SSNs in the Indian Ocean, thereby raising Pakistan’s security concerns, PN has responded through this new challenge by establishing Naval Strategic Force and Command [xv]in May 2012. It will not only develop PN’s second strike capability but will also strengthen Pakistan’s policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence [xvi] to ensure regional stability.

Despite limited resources and unforeseen hindrances, PN’s consistent modernization, with the induction of new platforms, equipments, additional ports and expertise learned through interaction with other navies, has reduced its vulnerability. PN’s active role in counter maritime terrorism efforts and its participation in bilateral and multilateral naval exercises demonstrate the fact that PN is in a process of transformation and expansion.

In the following years PN will have a more assertive role, and will continue to pursue its offensive-defence strategy. Apparently, Pakistan Navy has extended its goal from sea denial and gathering strength, towards achieving sea control capability– hence, enhancement of national power potential.

Above all, like the other components of Pakistan’s armed force, PN also draws tremendous strength from the well-acknowledge strategic will of Pakistani nation to solidly stand with it in beating off any threat to Pakistan’s national maritime security interests.

PN is certainly well on course to fulfilling that aspiration of Pakistani nation.


Miss Umm-e-​Habiba is P​h.D. Fellow at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad and Lecturer at National University of Science and Technology. She is a research-analyst of Pakistan and global affairs.

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