China has finalized its largest ever arms deal, which will deliver a total of eight new submarines to Pakistan,Tanveer Hussain Pakistan’s minister for defence production confirmed that the US$4-5 billion deal was sealed recently while opening a new exhibition center at the country’s Defence Export Promotion Organization last week.

Four of the submarines will be built in China, with the other four to be constructed in Pakistan as part of a technology transfer agreement. Construction will take place simultaneously in both countries, though Hussain did not indicate when it would commence. Pakistan will also build a submarine training center in Karachi, the country’s main port city, Hussain added.

Neither side has revealed the model of the new submarines, though most analysts believe they will be the air independent propulsion (AIP) equipped variant of the S-20, an export version of China’s Type 039A/Type 041 class diesel-electric submarine.

According to US-based political news website Duowei News, China has been transferring weapons technology to Pakistan for some time, starting with aircraft, then helicopters and now submarines. The two sides have also co-developed the PAC JF-17 Thunder (or FC-1 Xiaolong) multi-role combat aircraft, which made its first overseas sale to the Sri Lanka Air Force earlier this year.

The new deal will modernize Pakistan’s submarine fleet, which currently has eight subs, including three French Agosta-class 90-B subs and two Agosta-class 70-B subs.

Tom Waldwyn, research analyst in the Defence and Military Analysis Programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the US-based Defense News that the capabilities of Chinese submarines are not something which can be easily determined as it benefits countries on both sides to keep this a secret.

Waldwyn notes that if the subs are indeed AIP S-20s, they would give Pakistan “greater operational flexibility through increased endurance.”

Military analyst Brian Cloughley on the other hand notes that Pakistan will remain reliant on China for arms even with the transfer of technology. “It is in the interests of both parties to have as much as possible manufactured in Pakistan, but of course the really high-tech systems will have to come from China, as it’s simply not cost-effective for Pakistan to gear up to make them,” Cloughley said.

China’s nationalistic Global Times tabloid said China has now overtaken Germany to become the world’s third-largest arms exporter.


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