Agosta 90-B
A Quantum Jump in Submarine Assets

Columnist Col (Retd) EAS BOKHARI gives an overview of the new induction in the Pakistan Navy

The French are usually somewhat fastidious about the licensed production of their hardware - the case in point being their sale of Mirage-2000 to India sans licensed production facilities. In the case of Pakistani acquisition of Agosta 90-B submarines there is no such restrictions - and the third submarine will be fabricated in the Pakistan Naval Dockyards - Karachi.

It has even officially been declared by no less a person than the CNS (Chief of the Naval Staff) - that such boats could even be exported once they start rolling out of the Dockyard. With their state of the art propulsion, and weaponry these boats will surely be a good buy.

The construction methodology of the submarine known as a modular concept involves three major phases as below:

* Phase I.
Work Preparation, Fabrication, and Pre- Outfitting of three mod- ules/sections.
* Phase 2.
Junctioning and final outfit- ting of the three sections.
* Phase 3.
Setting to work HATs and SATs.

In the initial i.e. the first phase, fabrication and mounting of all seating, piping as well as cabling and equipment mounting required during pre-outfitting is taken in hand. This phase has already been completed through detailed planning coordination, work preparation - and through strict quality control at each step. This of course is due to the effort of a motivated workforce which is responsible for this achievement in the Dockyard.

Immediately after the lowering - the sections are junctioned and the Second Phase commences which also includes the final outfitting.

The main event of the Phase I is the transfer of the sections to graving dock and accurately placing on keel blocks for which state of the art theodolites are used. This operation is the key operation in Phase I.

To use a bit of the technical naval jargon - the operation discussed above is quite intricate and is conducted with the help of four Dual Walking Beams - and a specially installed Dock Lift System. The movements of this apparatus are highly precise and are synchronised to ensure safety of men as well as the section itself.

By the acquisition of this capability '... Pakistan Navy can now think ahead to explore new dimensions for the use of the facilities developed for submarine construction. Pakistan Navy has truly distinguished itself as one of the very few in the world who have demonstrated the effective use of such high-tech systems....'

Surely the Submarine Construction Department PN Dockyard Karachi must be congratulated for this technological achievement. A brief description of the potentials of the submarine and why it frightens the Indians will be found in the paragraphs that follow.

Unfortunately Pakistan has been much less aquatic as far as naval assets are concerned - and the total naval hands at 22,000, its strength is just about one and a half infantry division's strength. Naval assets - in any case are expensive - and we have to do the best with whatever we have. We cannot afford expensive and gargantuan carriers - nor we claim to be a blue water Navy. Our naval strategy hinges on keeping of our sea lanes open - and the defence of the all important Karachi harbour.

With the above mission in view - our best bet is to use the available surface ships and the state of the art submarines in unison. With the induction of the AGOSTA 90-B KHALID - Pakistan Navy has achieved a much favourable position as far as the submersibles are concerned. And that is perhaps the only sector where the Pakistan Navy can match (to some extent) with the mammoth blue water Indian Navy.

There is no doubt in my mind that submarines are the centre piece of the Pakistan Navy - or perhaps the ultimate weapon system as far as the naval arm is concerned. The calculus of the submarine assets of India and Pakistan (after including the Agosta - Bs) will be as below:

Indian Assets

Pakistani Assets
Sindhughosh - Soviet Kilo Class with 533mmTT 8 Hashmat France Agosta with 533TT (F-17 HWT)
Harpoon USGW 2
Shishumar Ge T-209/1500 with 533 mm TT 4 Hangor Fr Daphne with 533mmTT (L-5HWT)
Harpoon USGW 4
Kursura - Soviet Foxtrot with 533mmTT (plus 3 in reserve) 5 MG 110 SSI SF Midget 3 3


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Everytime there is a change in the Pakistani naval assets -notwithstanding the overall Indian supremacy - the Indian Press engulfs itself in frenzy and hysterical articles start appearing there. Take for example the 'Indian Express' New Delhi of 19 November 1999. here are some gems from a piece from Sandeep Unnithan:

'Pakistan's New Agosta submarines with their sea launched Exocets could increase its capability to deny the seas to the Indian Navy....'

' India's response is proceeding at a snail's pace and bureaucratic delays have critically affected the Indian Navy's capability to replace obsolete ships....'

And then Mr Rahul Roy-Chaudhry a research fellow at IDSA (Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses) says '... The balance is not going to shift with one submarine but it gives Pakistan a qualitative edge - this is a submarine designed in the late eighties, is quieter and faster and has greater capabilities....'

The 'Indian Express' continues with their lament '... The KHALID comes armed with the SM-39 Exocet submarine launched anti-ship missiles (AShM) with a range of 50 Km. Launched from beneath the surface, an AShM gives a submarine valuable manoeuvring time after firing the missile and is inherently more dangerous than a torpedo.... This capability is currently not available with the Indian Navy....'

The lament continues - and it is good that it continues. Here it is '... But it is the imminent transfer of revolutionary Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology with these three new submarines that could prove to be really worrisome for the Indian Navy. AIP increases the underwater stay of conventional submarines nearly four fold from five days to 20 days, giving the sort of endurance usually associated with nuclear submarines...' The AIP plant which is fitted into the submarines - a combination of pressurised oxygen and ethanol in onboard tanks feed the engines internally and increases its endurance.

The Indian predicament is that most of their naval assets are of Soviet (Ex) origin - and now they are finding difficulty in establishing economic rapport with Russia which is passing through a period of economic stress - and cannot accept Indian rupees/ other barter arrangements for transferring weapon systems. That problem always arises if one depends on a single source of supply of military hardware.

A few words about the Agosta contract - and that's again from the Indian sources. Roy Choudhri calls it a great leap forward from building mere patrol boats and writes '... As per the contract with France the third Agosta 90-B to be built indigenously by Pakistan (around 2005) will be equipped with a French Mesma AIP plant, which will later be retrofitted in the other two vessels. In effect the third indigenously - built submarine in this ($ 1 billion deal) will give Pakistan the critical capability to indigenously build submarines in the future'. (India is already doing this.)

Of course there should be no doubt that the Agosta deal is a part of the Pakistani Navy's efforts to retain the qualitative rather than quantitative edge over the vastly superior Indian Navy.

By and large the Pakistani acquisition of the submarines has also been quite eclectic - and the Daphnes are as old as 27 years or so and it is only the recently acquired 'prowlers of the deep' which have enhanced submarine prowess of the Pakistan Navy.

Pakistan first went in for the Agosta type - 70 boats in 1978 - and the induction of KHALID is surely a quantum jump - and this boat in fact is an improved version of the Agosta - 70

PNS/M KHALID is named after Hazrat Khalid Bin Walid - one of the most highly regarded, respected and successful military commanders of Islam. He was bestowed with the title of 'Saif Ullah' by the Holy Prophet (PBUH). PNS/M KHALID encompasses all the attributes to strike terror and rub the fear of God in the heart of our enemies. The submarine has deep diving capability and can take on patrols for more than sixty days. She also possesses state of the art Combat System integrating all available sensors for launching multipurpose wire guided torpedoes and sub-launched missiles with battle proven prowess. The infrastructure of the submarine systems, weapons and sensors make her a state of the art boat which is presently unique (amongst the conventional boats) - and possesses unprecedented naval warfare potential.

KHALID has the following special features of tactical significance:

  • New battery for a greater range of opera- tions.
  • New pressure hull steel for deeper diving capa- bility.
  • New suspension for quieter running.
  • MESMA Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) - system.
  • SUBTICS combat sys- tem.
  • A variety of multipur- pose wire guided torpe- does and sub-launched missiles.

Finally the Submarine Construction Department - Pakistan Naval Dockyard has undertaken the indigenous submarine construction programme in hand which of course is a leap into the New Millennium. More details of the methodology of this construction programmes will be presented in a later article.

Credentials 'PNSM KHALID'

Pennant Number S-137
First Plate Cut 18 Feb 95
Launched on 8 August 98
Commissioned 8 July 1999
Dimensions (Meters)
Length 67.90
Beam 6.8
Extreme Width 8.0
Draught 5.198
Displacement (Tons)
Standard 1250
Surfaced 1510
Submerged 1760
Torpedo Tubes - 4
Can carry a range of missiles/torpedoes/mines
Maximum Speed
Surface 12 Knots
Dived 20.5 Knots (Kts)
a. Diesel Electric (I Shaft)
b. MESMA (Air Independent Propulsion)
Navigational Radar KH-1007
Attack & Search Periscope
SUBTICS (Combat System)
Active Array, Cylindrical Array, Distributed Array, Intercept Array and Towed Array.
Complement Officers - 8, CPO/Sailors - 43
Endurance More than 60 Days