Home Global Village Saudi interests and the defence production capability of Pakistan

Saudi interests and the defence production capability of Pakistan


Taimur Khan |

“There is no competition whatsoever… I would even go to the extent of saying that Pakistan probably has a better industrial base, as far as defence production is concerned, than our country. In fact, they export defence equipment abroad, definitely more than what we are doing,”- Lieutenant General Sarath Chand of the Indian Army.

When it comes to an endorsement of the excellent caliber of defence production in Pakistan by its biggest rival, India, it is immediately realized that there’s undoubtedly some truth to the matter. Dating back to the 1990s when the fear of repeated US sanctions was real and looming over Pakistan, the task of ‘self-reliance’ was tactfully taken up.

This turned into a reality when Pakistan Air Force (PAF) started to induct the Pakistan-China jointly produced multi-role combat fighter, JF-17 Thunder in its inventory.

This paradigm shift has helped Pakistan to establish itself as one of the most self-sufficient armed forces in the world – outside the bloc of major powers. Pakistan has two ordnance factories which come under the banner of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF). Established in 1951, POF is the largest state-owned defence manufacturer in Pakistan.

Besides being the main supplier for the Pakistan Armed Forces and the Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), POF exports to a number of countries across Africa, Middle East and Latin America. Pakistan has also established its reputation in the production of heavy weaponry such as tanks and aircraft.

The Heavy Industries Taxila and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra are responsible for some of the world’s most affordable, modern-day fighting machines in production today. With the Al-Khalid tank, JF-17 Thunder fighter jet and PAC MFI-17 Mushshak trainer aircraft being the products with a high demand.

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The entire ‘self-reliance’ posture taken up urged Pakistan, a country which was once the third largest importer of arms and weapons to become capable of self-equipping its armed forces. This turned into a reality when Pakistan Air Force (PAF) started to induct the Pakistan-China jointly produced multi-role combat fighter, JF-17 Thunder in its inventory.

Number 16 Squadron which previously had the A-5 aircraft, Number 2 Squadron which previously flew the Chinese F-7 aircraft are now flying indigenously produced JF-17 Thunder fighter jets. Pakistan’s ability to make its own weapons not only adds to foreign exchange revenue but also reduces the fiscal pressures of imports for most regular weapon systems.

The tanks, Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), fighter jets, small arms, frigates, submarines, trainer jets, drones, artillery guns, supporting equipment and logistical equipment are all manufactured currently domestically.

Being a state that has a security-centric outlook, Pakistan has focused on dealing with external threats and since 2001 internal threats as well. Defence has remained an integral part of not only Pakistan’s foreign policy but also economic development. To sustain its long-term procurement plans and keep its inventory serviceable, Pakistan invested considerably in raising production and maintenance facilities for armored vehicles, aircraft, and naval vessels.

Marquee entities include Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF), Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT), Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW), Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and others. Despite having had to cope with diplomatic and military challenges right from the start, Pakistan has achieved a tremendous amount of progress, in fact, the indigenization of weapons industry in Pakistan is considered a lesson for small armies such as Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and Indonesia.

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The Armed Forces of Pakistan always set the trends for the world in training and fighting techniques. The 1970s and 1980s were the decades when Pakistan worked on its nuclear program and also signed agreements with French, Swedish and Chinese manufacturers for the setup of rebuilding factories and overhauling plants of weapon systems in Pakistan.

Pakistan is currently manufacturing all kinds of weapon systems at home with a remarkably small budget. The tanks, Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), fighter jets, small arms, frigates, submarines, trainer jets, drones, artillery guns, supporting equipment and logistical equipment are all manufactured currently domestically. Furthermore, Pakistan Air Force is although the 6th largest in the world in terms of number but the budget is comparatively small.

Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief is another area where the Pakistani Defence Forces have ample experience.

Nevertheless, no compromise has been made on the quality of military and defence equipment produced by Pakistan. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has formally announced it will commence development of a 5th Generation Fighter jet, medium altitude long-endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and munitions under the banner of “Project Azm” (i.e. resolve or determination).

Pakistan Navy (PN) has also been perusing a policy of self-reliance in defence production since the early 1970s. The indigenous ventures range from ships and submarine construction to the development of latest weapons and sensors. PN Dockyard prides itself with successful construction of Agosta 90-B submarines and assembling of midget submarines.

Read more: Pakistan’s Defense Minister hits back at India

Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works have rolled out large and medium-sized platforms like F-22P frigates, fast speed missile boats and Fleet auxiliary ships. Pakistan’s commitment to International Peace and Security has been on a constant display by its Armed Forces.

Pakistan Navy has firmly stood behind all international efforts aimed to reinforce maritime security and thus facilitates the uninterrupted and safe flow of transcontinental and intra-regional commerce on the maritime commons of the western Indian Ocean. Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief is another area where the Pakistani Defence Forces have ample experience.

This weapon system will augment credible deterrence against the prevailing threat spectrum more effectively, including anti-missile defences.

Pakistan Navy has been a forerunner in carrying out Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Operations both, at international and national level. Support of flood-stricken Sri-Lankan populace in 2017 is one of the many glorious chapters of the zeal and commitment displayed by the forces among others. Other than development on the ground, air, and maritime departments, Pakistan is also marking significant milestones in space technology as well.

Following the successful implementation of Pakistan’s first communication Satellite (Paksat-1R) programme as well as the recent securing of a geostationary orbital slot along with previous frequency resources, which has ensured a continuous and expanding foothold in the extraterrestrial world, the Government of Pakistan (GoP) announced that it will now establish the Pakistan Space Centre (PSC) to start the domestic development and manufacturing of satellites.

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Coming down to tactical weaponry, Pakistan being an advanced nuclear power, has succeeded in becoming one of the few countries in the world to develop short-range nuclear weapons (also known as Tactical Nuclear Weapons) as a counter to the Indian Cold Start doctrine.

Just recently Pakistan Army announced that it has successfully undertaken a series of flight tests of its battlefield nuclear-capable NASR missile, enhancing the rocket’s flight maneuverability and extending its range to 70 kilometers. This weapon system will augment credible deterrence against the prevailing threat spectrum more effectively, including anti-missile defences.

An interdependent security relationship is what the leaders are hoping for and by institutionalizing the strategic ties the goals of both the brotherly countries would be met.

Although the above-mentioned industries were not made for commercial endeavors, however, with an uncertain near-term economic outlook, especially in terms of trade balance and foreign currency stock, it is evident that a coherent export policy related to defence production is vitally required to meet the high cost of modernizing domestically among other reasons.

Though Pakistan managed to secure defence exports worth USD$270 million in 2016-2017, it is a minute fraction of the USD$1.69 trillion in total global defence expenditure. Recently the defence exports have increased in Pakistan and very ambitious statements have been issued, for instance according to a report in ‘Bloomberg’ in 2016, Pakistan is seeking to ramp up defence exports by more than 10-folds to USD$1 billion within the next two years, targeting sales to countries such as Egypt, Turkey, and Nigeria.

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Although the target cited was a little far-fetched, nevertheless progress has visibly been seen in the defence production area. For example, in the past, Pakistan had focused on exporting small low-value items, but it has upgraded its defence manufacturing capability to high-value products like tanks and fighter jets. In order to compete in the arms market, dominated by China, Russia, and the USA, Pakistan needs to further diversify the spectrum of products and deepen ties with regional and extra-regional countries.

These aspirations of enhancing the defence exports could not have come at a better time, if the Saudi Vision 2030 is rightfully utilized for increasing bilateral relations and taking them to a level of increased strategic relations, both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (KSA) will gain from the opportunity.

It is no secret that Pakistan Army’s experience and expertise, in all fields, may they be disaster management or intelligence is acknowledged and known around the world.

Capitalizing on the ‘special relationship’, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have long shared a strategic partnership in which greater socio-economic integration, regular political consultation and military cooperation which has always remained in foremost priority.

Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the former head of the General Intelligence Directorate, Saudi Arabia’s main intelligence agency, once described the relationship between Pakistan and KSA as ‘probably one of the closest relationships in the world between any two countries without any official treaty’.

Although military ties between the two states date back to the early 1960s, however, in light of the current economic and political reforms in Saudi Arabia, in which the Kingdom is eager to implement Vision 2030, Pakistan and KSA are now hoping to adopt a more strategic partnership, moving beyond the whims of personal ties.

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This fits perfectly with the late entry of Pakistan in the defence exports market. An interdependent security relationship is what the leaders are hoping for and by institutionalizing the strategic ties the goals of both the brotherly countries would be met.

The fact that Saudi Arabia has stated in the Vision 2030 that it, “would, in an unpredictable manner, enable Saudi Arabia to realize its dream of becoming one of the world’s major weapon manufacturers after having long been a major weapon importing country” shows its keenness for enhancing the defence industry, but initially things don’t start from scratch.

Pakistan would be needed in the efforts to start and develop till the point KSA can rely completely on its own production. By being the biggest importer of Pakistan’s weaponry in 2016, Saudi Arabia has shown trust in the quality of its defence industry.

This is exactly the kind of expertise required by Saudi Arabia for increasing imports and manufacturing its own defence hardware and weaponry.

Saudi Arabia clearly needs assistance and aid in all forms related to defence in order to reach the level of self-sustenance it has envisioned. It is no secret that Pakistan Army’s experience and expertise, in all fields, may they be disaster management or intelligence is acknowledged and known around the world. Apart from this, very few countries can outpace the experience Pakistan has had with UN Peacekeeping missions throughout the world.

Furthermore, the Armed Forces of Pakistan have exhibited an immeasurable amount of resolve and success when it comes to counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism efforts. With the success of recent military operations, like Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, the Pakistani military has proved that not only can it rid its motherland of diseases such as religious radicalism and terrorism but can also rehabilitate the masses so that a relapse does not occur.

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All of this adds to the credibility of the Pakistani Armed Forces. This experience highlights how much value the training and advisory capabilities the Armed Forces of Pakistan have, which is needed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, especially at a time when the entire region is victimized by terrorism.

Both countries can mutually benefit from this opportunity as Saudi Arabia requires the technology and expertise that Pakistanis have and Pakistan is looking to increase their defence production and export. Foremost of all, Saudi Arabia is planning on working on its nuclear capability and for that, it is going to be needing the experience that Pakistan has with the development and sustainability of KSA’s nuclear technology.

After all, despite popular belief regarding the relations between the two Islamic states, Pakistan has assets that are unimaginably valuable and needed by Riyadh.

The success story of the production of JF-17 Thunder is one spread across the world. This is exactly the kind of expertise required by Saudi Arabia for increasing imports and manufacturing its own defence hardware and weaponry. Although China and USA are leading the market it is a basic rule for every state to go for a policy of the lowest cost and maximum benefit.

Most importantly in order to reach the localization of military manufacturing, Saudi Arabia is going to need both technical and tactical support to start and that is where the Pakistan defence industry is open for negotiation and business. Hopefully, an increase in relations, both diplomatically and strategically would be seen with the formation of a new political leadership in Pakistan following the recent general elections.

In Imran Khan’s speech, it was very clearly laid out that deepening relations with Saudi Arabia among other states is a major foreign policy objective, which would be best achieved through increasing trade relations and strategic ties. After all, despite popular belief regarding the relations between the two Islamic states, Pakistan has assets that are unimaginably valuable and needed by Riyadh.

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Pakistan’s role as the “Zipper of Eurasia” therefore makes it indispensable to Saudi Arabia in a pivotal geostrategic sense and thus adds credence to the argument that the South Asian state is needed much more by the Kingdom than vice-versa. In a time where Saudi Arabia is undergoing far-reaching systemic reforms, Pakistan’s help is needed more than ever, especially strategically.

Mr. Muhammad Taimur Khan is a freelance journalist. He holds an M. Phil Degree in International Relations from  National Defence University, Islamabad. He wrote many research articles, Policy Briefs, Issue Briefs, Book Reviews and Monographs on topics related to International Relations. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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