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CGI image of the fourth Ada-class corvette for the Pakistan Navy. (Photo: PN)

There are indications that the final corvette in a four-vessel programme for Pakistan includes a change of air defence missile.

Construction of the final Ada-class (MILGEM) corvette of four for the Pakistan Navy (PN) is under way at the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works (KS&EW) — with one notable difference.

The PN Chief of Staff, Adm Muhammad Amjad Khan Niazi, attended the steel cutting ceremony of the final ship on 15 June. He acknowledged the commitment and dedication of KS&EW and Turkish shipyard ASFAT  for meeting a challenging schedule despite the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.

Interestingly, the latest ceremony included different CGI images from previous ones, hinting at a change of approach from the PN.

Earlier renderings showed these corvettes with the HHQ-16/LY-80N air defence missile made by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. This missile is derived from the Soviet-era Buk (SA-11 Gadfly) SAM.

The latest rendering of the future Pakistani corvettes does not show the fire control radar associated with the HHQ-16 missile, but it does show the MBDA Albatros NG system and its soft vertical launcher.

The PN expects the first of its four new corvettes to enter service in 2024. This is consistent with the date MBDA mentioned in a March 2021 press release when it received its first order from an unnamed international customer for the Albatros NG naval air defence system.

Albatros NG fires the extended-range variant of the MBDA Common Anti-air Modular Missile (CAMM) family.

Pakistan-based defence analyst Usman Ansari told Shephard that he does not think the switch from Chinese to European missiles reflects dissatisfaction by the PN about the performance of the HHQ-16.

In his opinion, this shows the Pakistan Navy is going for a mix of weaponry and not relying too much on one supplier.

Pakistan is still waiting to receive its first Chinese-made Type 054A multi-mission frigate, which is armed with the HHQ-16. A total of four Type 054As are on order from the PN.

Another important factor for switching from Chinese missiles to European might be the significant weight savings created without sacrificing, or even improving, performance. The CAMM-ER missile has a longer range than HHQ-16 at about 25% of the weight (160kg versus 650kg for the Chinese missile).

Albatros NG will be fitted to all four corvettes. The first two are under construction at Istanbul Naval Yard in Turkey, and the second pair in Karachi.

The vessels are to be delivered between 2023 and 2025, and Shephard Defence Insight calculates their cost at $250 million per ship.