Pakistan has launched its fourth and last F-22P Zulfiquar (Sword) class general purpose frigate. The PNS Aslat was built at the Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW) with Chinese assistance.
The frigate was launched at a ceremony held at the KSEW on Thursday with Pakistan Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Noman Bashir as chief guest. The News International, Pakistan's leading English-language newspaper, reports the Aslat will be handed over to the Pakistan Navy in December next year after the completion of construction, fitting out and trials.
Her three sisters, Zulfiqar, Shamsheer, and Saif, were built at Shanghai in China and are currently in operational service.
Construction of the Aslat commenced in 2009. The class displaces 2500 tons (standard) and has a length of 123.2m, a beam of 13.8m and a draught of 3.76m. Her maximum speed is set to be up to 29 knots and her range, without refuelling, 4000 nautical miles. The single 76.2mm main gun is a Chinese development of the Russian AK-176M, the wikipedia notes. The gun “is designed to engage ships, aircraft and anti-ship missiles”. In front of the main gun are two 6-cell RDC-32 anti-submarine rocket launchers.
The frigate's primary surface-to-surface missile armament comprises eight C-802 subsonic anti-ship missiles carried in two launchers with four cells each, fitted between the foremast and the funnel. A Chinese copy of the French Exocet, the C-802 has a range of at least 120km. Air defene is provided by a FM-90N short-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system fitted on the foredeck aft of the main gun. The traversable launcher has eight cells each containing one reverse-engineered Crotale missile. “The FM-90N can engage several targets, including supersonic and sub-sonic sea-skimming missiles, using different guidance modes simultaneously. The system is also designed to engage small targets such as unmanned aerial vehicles,” the wikipedia says.
The class is further fitted with two Type 730B close-in weapon system (CIWS) comprising a seven-barrel 30mm Gatling gun. The guns, similar in appearance to the Dutch Goalkeeper, are mounted side-by-side on the aircraft hangar aft, with the off-mount sensors in between. In addition, the class brags two 3-cell ET-52C torpedo launchers.
The frigate also carries a single Harbin Z-9EC anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter a licence-built variant of the Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin. This is said to be equipped with a surface-search radar, low frequency dipping sonar, radar warning receiver, doppler navigation system and armed with torpedoes.
Speaking at the launching ceremony, the naval chief said that launching of the frigate was “a clear manifestation of the indigenisation policy of the government, especially attaining self-reliance in maritime defence capabilities.” Acknowledging the efforts of the Pakistani and Chinese engineers and technicians who built her, Bashir congratulated the China State Shipbuilding Company (CSSC), China Shipbuilding and Trading Company (CSTC), Hudong Zhongua and Karachi Shipyards for launching the ship “as per schedule” and remarked that the occasion was “yet another example of unparalleled Pak-China rock-solid relations.”
Bashir also emphasised building a strong navy capable of defending the maritime interests of Pakistan. He noted Pakistan did not harbour aggressive designs “but our sea trade routes, vast Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and international energy lines that pass very close to our coast need to be protected which is not only in the interest of our country but of the entire international community”. Therefore, Pakistan Navy will continue to endeavour to maintain peace and stability in its area of responsibility, he said.
Also on the occasion, the Karachi Shipyard announced construction of a Fast Attack (missile) craft for the Pakistan Navy, The News International reported.
Once commissioned, the Aslat will bring to 11 the number of frigates in Pakistan Navy service. The Pakistani sea service currently operates six Tariq-class general-purpose escorts (ex-Royal Navy Type 21 frigate or Amazon-class frigates) as well as one former-US Navy Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate, the PNS Alamgir.
The Pakistan Navy also operates five diesel-electric attack submarines (SSK). The Agosta 90B class submarine can fire Exocet anti-ship missiles (ASM) while the two Agosta 70 can be equipped with the US Harpoon. The latter two were originally built for the South African Navy as SAS Astrant and SAS Adventurous. The imposition of a mandatory arms embargo in terms of United Nations Security Council Resolution 418 of 1977 scuttled their delivery and they were later sold to Pakistan.