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Pakistan's Naval Strategy: Dangerous Intentions, Limited Capabilities


Pakistan would love to have a powerful navy. The trouble is it can’t build one. $58 billion in debt, the Pakistani government can’t afford much else either.

But such small details won’t stand in the way of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s goal of bumping Pakistan up to naval parity with its neighbors. On Tuesday, the Pakistani Defense Minister assured reporters that all “projects to enhance the professional capabilities of Pakistan Navy” would receive the necessary funding. He also discussed “the future indigenous developmental plans of [the] Pakistan Navy to strengthen the defense of motherland.”

Up to now, Pakistan has been an afterthought in Asia’s naval arms race. It has five diesel-powered submarines on active duty, compared to India’s 14 conventional and one nuclear-powered vessels. Earlier this year India unveiled its first homemade aircraft carrier, the 40,000 ton INS Vikrant. Pakistan’s largest ship, a decommissioned American-built frigate (the only one delivered of five ordered) is about a tenth the size.

Sharif’s lofty ambitions notwithstanding, Pakistan’s ongoing economic failure and government dysfunction will almost certainly ensure that its ambitious naval program remains more wish than plan. As the Australian defense attaché in Islamabad put it: “There is no money: Pakistan is broke, and any commitment to spend billions is at the present time unthinkable.”

That said, however, the potential for China to aid a Pakistani naval buildup is something analysts need to keep in mind. Pakistani naval strength, potentially aligned with China, would set off alarm bells in Delhi and likely accelerate the arms race in the Indian Ocean.

[Agosta 90B Submarine photo courtesy of Yannick Le Bris]

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  • Pete

    A Pakistan navy!

    These Third Worlders can’t even feed themselves and they have pretensions of having a navy.

    what’s next, a Pak space program?

  • Corlyss

    So much unabated Western envy while the West insists it’s sooooooooo unworthy . . .

  • Kevin

    Why on earth would Pakistan want to put it’s limited defense budget into a naval buildup? The only reason is a foolish desire for prestige projects which could be equally satisfied by a somewhat more useful Air Force. Pakistan’s defense challenges are foremost internal security and Afghan spillover and in their eyes competition with or threats from India. Intelligence, counter-insurgency and sir support are needed for the first while a conventional army-air force and strategic (nuclear) forces are needed for the second. A Pakistani navy beyond a Coast Guard is just an extravagant waste of money that will accomplish no rational objective of Pakistani national security. From the PMs POV maybe navies are better because they are less likely to stage coups than armies, but still a massive waste.

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