Ensuring PN’s operational readiness



Armed Forces and their various components periodically conduct exercises or war games to employ their martial resources in training for military operations, either exploring the effects of warfare or testing strategies and validating concepts. Pakistani military is no exception and each service conducts exercises in realistic scenarios, individually as well as integrating the other two services for joint operations.

Pakistan Navy (PN) is no exception and to ensure its operational readiness, it frequently conducts exercises of different magnitude.

The task of PN has become more challenging because of the advent of maritime terrorism while the extension of Pakistan’s sea limits from 200 to 350 nautical miles, adding over 50,000 sq km of continental shelf, to the previous 240,000 sq km of EEZ, under Pakistan’s jurisdiction has amplified its watch keeping responsibilities. The upgradation of Gwadar Port and commencement of work on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), of which Gwadar is the lynchpin, has added a new dimension to PN’s sphere of responsibilities. PN is charged with not only keeping Pakistan’s Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) open but also providing a safe and secure environment at sea for smooth functioning of the Gwadar port as well as to accrue desired socio-economic benefits of CPEC.

Major threat to Pakistan’s territorial waters emanates not only from non state actors like sea pirates but states with hostile buildup, belligerent attitude and postures. India recently announced that its Navy has 48 ships under construction at various shipyards across the nation and is on course to become a 200 ship navy by 2027 including an additional six nuclear submarines. Currently Indian Navy operates 137 combatants with new ships being added at a rate of four to five a year. Because of Indian bellicose behaviour and the varied threat, PN has to ensure its combat readiness to meet all forms of challenges.

In this milieu, PN’s major biannual maritime exercise Seaspark 2015 was conducted in the North Arabian Sea in November 2015 with a multifold scheme of objectives.

Various phases of the exercise, commencing with the planning to the execution including live firing of weapons were accomplished in a multi-threat environment in a realistic scenario. In the modern era, no force conducts operations in isolation. Similarly, PN, while corroborating its operational plans, evaluated its war preparedness and enhanced its interoperability with Pakistan Air Force and Army. All operational units of PN including ships, submarines, aircrafts, UAVs, Special Forces and Pakistan Marines along with elements of Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA), PAF and Pakistan Army participated in the exercise. During the exercise, full spectrum of threats was exercised ranging from conventional to asymmetric, cyber and information warfare domains. Besides enhancement of operational preparedness, the exercise also spotlighted the seaward defence of the coast and response against emerging non-traditional threats emanating from sea.

Pakistan’s geographic location at the confluence of major sea routes of the world is both a challenge as well as an opportunity. To turn the threat stemming from its strategic geographical position into an opportunity and ultimately strength, it is imperative that Pakistan develops its maritime sector and a potent naval force for its effective defence.

Seaspark-15 visibly demonstrated that PN’s operational and developmental plans are focused to maintain an efficient and well balanced naval force to deter aggression at sea. Its force goals are neither over ambitious nor inadequate. PN, being an extension of the state’s foreign policy, endeavours to enhance Pakistan’s maritime relations with regional and extra-regional navies by participating in and organising regular exercises and ships visits.

It is heartening to note that in the over six and a half decades of its establishment, starting humbly with a handful of World War II vintage surface crafts and having faced numerous challenges, PN has acquired a status of respect and come a long way in preparing itself to defend the maritime frontiers of Pakistan.

The public exchequer contributes some of its scarce resources towards maintaining its maritime force but it is inspiring that besides focusing on its traditional naval operations, PN actively contributes in numerous spheres of nation building. In addition to responding to the beck and call of the nation as well as the region, whenever a natural calamity strikes, PN is contributing effectively in the field of education, health and creating job opportunities for the uplift of the coastal community. During the international and national disasters or contingencies, PN has lent a helping hand in conducting extensive search, rescue and relief operations and plays an important role in the rehabilitation of the affected personnel even going to the extent of rebuilding houses, schools, medical centers and public amenities.

Seaspark-15 visibly demonstrated PN’s operational readiness to meet any challenge or threat to Pakistan’s maritime interests during peace and war but also showcased its capability of defending the SLOC connecting Gwadar with international markets, which are an extension of the CPEC.

PM Mian Nawaz Sharif, important members of his cabinet, provincial leaders of Sindh as well as the top brass of Army and Air Force witnessed live firing and culmination of the naval war game. The echelons of decision makers must have concluded that exercise Seaspark 2015 has provided the required impetus to Pakistan’s resolve of maintaining peace, security and stability in the region but they also need to ponder on a vital aspect in this realm.

The PM is a scion of the trading community and is fully cognizant of the play of factors of demand, supply, profit and loss. He must definitely be aware that maritime transport is essential to the world’s economy since 94 percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea and it is, by far, the most cost-effective way to move en masse goods and raw materials around the world. This merits the formation of a fully fledged and independent Ministry for Maritime Affairs and not a subsidiary of the Ministry of Ports and Shipping. Even a cursory glance of littoral states indicates that a majority of them have independent ministries of maritime affairs. Why should Pakistan ignore this vital sector?