China recently delivered the remaining two frigates Pakistan ordered in 2018, wrapping up the deal and taking another step toward the friendly ties these two nations have maintained since the 1950s.

In an exclusive report by Global Times, the Pakistan Navy marked the handover of the two Type 054A frigates in a commissioning ceremony held at the Hudong Zhonghua Shipyard in Shanghai last Wednesday.

Pakistan Navy Chief Amjad Khan Niazi, who had earlier visited China, graced the ceremony and boarded the vessels afterward.

Respectively named PNS Tippu Sultan and the PNS Shahjahan, the Pakistan Navy will use both in safeguarding its seas, linking toward the western region of China. According to its naval chief, the frigates will also provide seaward defense and protection of Islamabad’s vital sea lines of communication.

China and Pakistan signed the shipbuilding deal in 2018, ordering four warships based on the Type 054A in service with China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)—called the Type 054A/P frigates. The Pakistani Navy received and inducted the first two vessels in late 2021 and mid-2022, respectively, named the PNS Tughril and the PNS Taimur.

China’s Surface Combatant Backbone

The Type 054A, NATO reported name Jiangkai-II, ship class is a multi-role missile frigate built by one of China’s largest shipbuilding firms for the PLAN.

It is a new-generation variant based on Type 054 (Jiangkai Class), with its lead ship delivered and inducted into service in 2008. Since then, the warship has become a significant platform in the Chinese Navy’s surface combat fleet, capable of performing various maritime missions, including anti-ship, anti-submarine, and anti-aircraft. However, it has so far undertaken mainly escort and evacuation missions.

The warship reportedly has a fully loaded displacement of 4,000 metric tons and a top speed of 27 knots with a range of 8,000 nautical miles equipped with state-of-the-art weapons and sensors. With a length of 134 meters (roughly 439 feet), the Type 054A frigate can accommodate up to 165 crew and a medium-sized helicopter on its single helicopter deck.

Each vessel has four sets of eight-unit vertical launch systems (VLS) that can fire a combination of anti-aircraft missiles and anti-submarine torpedoes. Moreover, the frigate uses the Type 1130 Close-in weapon system (CIWS), which claims to fire 10,000 ammo per minute, capable of intercepting the incoming missile and hitting low-flying drones and fighters.

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There are some notable differences between the Type 054A frigate variants, mainly in the type of weapon and sensor systems fitted on each warship. For one, Pakistan’s frigates employ a 3D multifunction electronically scanned array (AESA) radar called SR2410C radar, while the Chinese version features a less expensive Type 382 radar, a 3-D naval air search radar. Nevertheless, China both developed and produced radars.

Other upgrades in the Type 054A/P frigates include advanced anti-submarine warfare (ASW) suite and a combat management system, which Niazi told Global Times boosts the warship’s capabilities to operate even in highly contested areas.

A Symbol of Friendship and Alliance

Completing the four-frigate deal indicates the enduring ties between China and Pakistan despite the shifting geopolitical backdrop in recent years.

Since the 1950s, both countries have maintained a steadily growing affinity founded on several factors, including shared interests in regional stability and economic development, common enemies, and a long history of cooperation, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is an ambitious billion-dollar infrastructure project launched in the mid-2010s that will soon connect China directly to the Arabian Sea via Pakistan, thereby boosting each other’s trade and investment.

Once successfully established, Beijing can maintain its access to the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean, which is significant in the event of a maritime blockade in the Strait of Malacca.

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Besides the Type 054A/P frigates, China delivered the first six J-10 fighter jets to Pakistan in March last year, ramping up the latter’s air defense capabilities. Meanwhile, eight Hangor-class submarines Islamabad ordered in 2015 are expected to be handover by 2028.

Following the commissioning ceremony, Song Zhongping, a military commentator for a Chinese state-owned media, said that the military cooperation between Beijing and Islamabad is only going up from here, especially with the growing regional tension.

Song noted that both countries share “actual interests” in preserving peace and stability in South Asia, cited via Reuters.

The newly inducted warships are projected to significantly boost the Pakistan Navy as a maritime nation with a coastline of about 1,050 kilometers (652 miles) and an Exclusive Economic Zone of approximately 240,000 square km to protect. Some analysts even consider this an improvement in the country’s comprehensive combat capabilities against its main competitor India in the South Asian region.

Find out the reason behind the neverending beef between India and Pakistan in “The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan” by Yasmin Khan—an extensive book that explores the nuanced account of one of the most significant events in modern history and its long-lasting legacy that imprinted between the two South Asian countries.