Saturday, 12 November 2011

Azmat Class Fast Attack Craft For The Pakistan Navy

The Pakistan Navy is slated to receive its first Azmat Class Fast Attack Craft (FAC) from China in within 6 months. These boats are not to be confused with the older Azmat class which are less than half the tonnage and are significantly less capable ships. The Azmat class will be the first stealth FACs in the Subcontinent. They will be superior in every way to the Indian Navy counterparts. To date however, only two such ships have been ordered. A follow on order for two more are also likely. 

Of the two boats ordered, one is being built in China and another is being built in Pakistan. These boats are well-armed although somewhat lacking in air defense, a typical problem with smaller boats of this type. The ships are designed to have both a defensive and offensive capability. Herein lies the advantage of these boats - with many Indian ports within 200 miles of Pakistan, the Azmat Class's 500 nautical mile range and 110 mile C-802 range makes these boats an effective threat along with her traditional defensive coastal role. The ship is further equiped with a modern networked C4I system that will be a force multiplier in terms of network-centric warfare, utilizing the sensors of other ships, aircraft and PN assets.

The PLAN Type 022 Houbei Class

A question is often asked why the PN did not by the Type 022 Houbei Class FACs. While these boats are faster and stealthy, they have significantly less range and are also more dependent on external guidance and sensors. Their hull design is also not as suited for poor weather conditions at sea. These imply that they would be less effective for the Pakistan Navy. The Type 022 are also significantly smaller boats. In comparison, the 022 pursues closely the Soviet doctrine of missile boats which also require large numbers. In comparison, the Azmat Class is closer to an OPV (Offshore Petrol Vehicle) suitable for a wide variety of roles as an OPV and a missile boat. In fact, this author speculates that they may later even utilize ship-launched UAVs. 

One notable characteristic of the Azmat Class is that it uses nearly half the crew for a similar sized / category ship. This shows how advanced automation has reached Chinese naval development and will significantly lower the cost of operating these boats. They also would lower the casualty count in case of war. 

The Azmat Class is considered slower than some contemporary missile boats, although of similar speed to Corvettes and OPVs. The length of the ship in relation to the bow wave creates an optimal speed when the latter is nearly the same length as the former. At this speed the drag is lower, giving the ship greater endurance. 30 knots is thus a compromise and a an ideal "sweet spot" for a ship that is 60 meters in length. Further, this represents only open source information and it may be the ship can run faster when needed at wartime. 

At $50 million, the Azmat Class is a moderately priced ship that is well-balanced in her traits and able to play multiple roles, a quality rare for her class. The ship provides both stealth and automation that breaks new standards. Capable of both defensive and offensive operations, the Azmat class will play a small but important role in the Pakistan Navy.

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