While China and Pakistan endeavour to develop Gwadar Port as a commercial hub for the entire region, Pakistan Navy is gearing up to new face challenges and threats which might come its way after the port become functional; the navy has fully operationalised its strategic Jinnah Naval Base near Gwadar Port at Ormara, Balochistan.
India has increased its naval strength in recent years and aims at transforming itself into a ‘blue-water navy’ within the next 10 to 15 years. By 2022, the Indian Navy will have 50 warships including three aircraft carriers, five nuclear submarines, 22 conventional submarines and a number of long range maritime patrol aircraft.
India acquired a nuclear submarine (Akula-II) from Russia in April, 2012. A second nuclear submarine of the same class will be inducted soon. Moreover, the sea trials of its indigenous nuclear submarines are also in progress. Pakistani defence establishment is looking at this induction of nuclear submarines in Indian fleet as a cause of great concern.
With minimal budgetary allocations, Pakistan Navy is quietly relying on minimum deterrence to counter any external threat. Jinnah base may just be the answer to Pakistan’s prayers.
The base is situated 350 km west of Karachi and 285 km east of the Gwadar Port, and has been connected with China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
“With the development of this base, Pakistan has acquired the capacity to secure naval trade in these waters. Moreover, we have expanded Pakistan naval forces’ outreach towards the west coast into the Strait of Hormuz where all the oil traffic flows in and out,” an officer at the base told Pakistan Today during a recent visit to the base at Ormara which is otherwise restricted for media.
“Karachi would remain our focus for the foreseeable future. However, Jinnah base would reduce reaction time of Pakistan Navy to six to 8 hours in case of any adversity,” the officer said, adding that the base had a berthing facility “for anything from warships to submarines and from heavy ships to warplanes”.
Asked whether or not Gwadar would also act as a naval base for Pakistan, the officer said that Gwadar would act purely as a commercial base.
“Though Pakistan Navy has a small base at Gwadar, its main focus would be security of Gwadar. Jinnah base, on the other hand, would be a purely naval base which would help maritime forces monitor the entire coastal area from Ormara to the Gulf waters,” the officer said.
Rear Admiral (r) Pervez Asghar, an expert on naval defence, told Pakistan Today that Pakistan Navy had developed four bases along the coastal areas of Balochistan including Ormara, Pasni, Jewani and Gwadar which had helped expand its ‘strategic outreach’ towards the west coast.
“In the past, we only had one [naval] base at Karachi and our military installations were vulnerable to any Indian adventure. However, with the development of these new bases towards the west coast, not only do we have alternative options to defend our positions, our reaction time has also decreased significantly in case of any attack,” the retired naval admiral said.
He said that the navy now also had a submarine base at Ormara. “We have developed Pakistan marine corps to thwart enemy designs of amphibious landing around the coastal areas,” he added.
“Pakistan Navy is now well placed to secure all sea lines of communications (SLOCs) emanating from the Persian gulf towards Pakistan. Moreover, the naval infrastructure including Radars and communication gadgets, have now been able to overlap each other – a capability we had severely missed in the past,” he added.
He said that the new bases had also helped secure Gwadar Port as there was no military presence on the port due to its being commercial in nature.
“Now, navy’s special forces are better placed in Ormara to secure Gwadar Port and nearby sea routes. Moreover, Ormara base would also help neutralise the enemy’s narrative that they would be able to block Karachi’s harbour in case of a showdown,” he added.
Asghar said that Pakistan had also developed a jump-off base for Pakistan’s maritime aircraft at Pasni.
He said that Pakistan Navy had recently raised another naval station at Turbat, namely PNS Siddiq for P-3c Orion aircraft.
“These P-3cs are capable of flying over 14 hours nonstop without refueling. They have stealth technology and can fly below the radar and strike India’s Eastern coast. Pakistan Navy has also developed Naval Base Jewani, about 60 km from Iran to help expand its outreach into the Gulf waters,” he added.
Jinnah base would act as an alternative option for Pakistan Navy to Karachi where all the logistic and technical support for berthing navy’s ships and even submarines were available.
“We have developed the required facilities for technical repair of ships and submarines at the base. It is an alternative arrangement to the Karachi base and can easily meet our defence requirements. However, Karachi dockyard would still be the center for major overhaul or repair,” the Jinnah base officer said.
The officer said that during the next five years, navy plans to develop huge workshops at Ormara, which would also have the ability to overhaul submarines and warships.
He said that the Jinnah base’s positioning provided cover against natural calamities and enemy’s advances as it was covered by sea on two sides and a 2 km wide hill stood on the third.
On the top of the hill, called `Hammer Mountain’ due to its shape, Navy’s surveillance unit RDS-Mianwali is stationed to help the officers keep an eye on movements taking place in and around the area.
Since the Karachi coast has become a hub of commercial activity, making it difficult for the Navy to perform its tasks and the industrial waste in Karachi’s waters has been damaging the Navy’s assets and reducing the life of the ships, Ormara is a better option for future Naval operations.
The law and order situation in the entire coastal belt is far better than other parts of the restive Balochistan province as well as Karachi where Rangers along with other paramilitary forces is involved in a clean-up operation.
Jewani, with a population of around 100,000 people and approximately 90 km away from Gwadar Port City, serves as a main surveillance point for Pakistan Navy to keep an eye on all the maritime traffic in the Arabian Sea.
Due to proximity of the area with Iran, many inhabitants of the area are duel nationals and can freely visit Iran on a mere permit from the deputy commissioner.
But navy has also has reached out to the locals in the area to win hearts and minds of the Baloch people. It has set up educational and health facilities, many of which provide free of cost services to the local people. Under Chief of Naval Staff’s scheme ‘Adopt A Child’, navy officers are paying educational and other expenses of 100 children in the area. The navy also provides jobs to locals in their facilities.
The navy operates a PN Hospital in Ormara which contains facilities like emergency department, trauma center, intensive care unit, labour room, operation theatre and a pharmacy.
A Navy Cadet College has also been set up the area, where 50 per cent of the admissions are offered to candidates from within Balochistan under a district-quota system. The other 50 per cent seats are offered to candidates from other provinces of the country.
A Bahria Model School is also working in the area to impart education to Baloch children. The school runs on donations and financial support of the provincial government.