MULTINATIONAL military exercises enhance operational readiness and skills; promote mutual understanding and cooperation among the participating forces, and the ability to perform combined operations. One such exercise is Mavi Balina or Exercise Blue Whale. The 7th edition of this biennial exercise was held from 30 October 2020 to 10 November 2020. Considered to be the largest submarine exercise in the Mediterranean Sea, it was hosted and administered by the Turkish Naval Forces Fleet Command Headquarters at Aksaz Naval Base. Six countries participated in the exercise included Pakistan, Spain, Algeria, Italy, Bulgaria, and the US along with the host country Turkey’s naval and air force.
The exercise is aimed to provide surface and submarine warfare training to the participating navies. They will be given training on submarine operations, naval air operations, and submarine defence warfare. Pakistan Navy Ship PNS Zulfiqar were participating in Exercise Mavi Balina in Turkey with submarines, frigates, corvettes, patrol ships. Maritime patrol aircraft, F-16 from the Turkish Navy, and Air Force along with ships from other navies. Pakistan’s participation in the Mavi Balina exercise will further enhance its submarine warfare operational expertise and skills and promote friendly cooperation with the Turkish Naval Force.
Importance of anti-submarine warfare: Both Indian and Pakistan Navies have been operating submarines for the last several decades. The importance of submarine and anti-submarine warfare has further increased in the past few years in the region. The reason for this is the increasing number and role of submarines in both navies, growing anti-submarine warfare technology and aggravating political and strategic relations among the countries. Firstly, India is developing both nuclear-powered attack and nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines in addition to its conventional submarines.
Pakistan is also replacing its old submarines with the new HANGOR class submarine from China. In addition to submarines, anti-submarine warfare capabilities are also being acquired by India from the US and other countries. India has signed to buy 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters from the US which will be primarily used for anti-submarine warfare operations. India has also tested a missile armed with a torpedo which can target enemy submarine 100s of miles away theoretically. This torpedo may work along with the P-el maritime patrol aircraft acquired from the US. With advanced anti-submarine technologies, hiding arid protecting ships become difficult in a tense environment. Lastly, India-Pakistan relations remain tense.
On top of it, US policies to beef up Indian military capabilities pose a direct threat to Pakistan. The US is enhancing its military partnership with India both bilaterally and multilaterally. On the multilateral front, the US efforts are focused on strengthening QUAD to counter Chinese expansion in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean and under the QUAD it is expanding anti-submarine capabilities of member countries. Enhancement of capabilities in a fast-paced manner on one side creates a capability and technological gap in the South Asian region. This requires other countries to explore necessary options and take steps to diminish this gap for peace and stability in the region.
Pakistan-Turkey cooperation in the naval domain: Participation in Mavi Balina will further enhance Pakistan Navy’s operational skills and training and would also promote friendly ties with the Turkish Navy. Cooperation between the two navies has already a sound basis. Pakistan has signed for MILGEM class corvettes with Turkey. Two corvettes will be built in Turkey and two in Pakistan with the transfer of technology from Turkey to Pakistan. The delivery of high-tech corvettes to the navy will be complete by 2024. These corvettes will be capable of anti-ship, anti-air and anti-submarine warfare.
To take this cooperation to further heights, both are working on the designing of the Jinnah class frigate. Pakistan will own the intellectual property rights over the frigate. This means that Pakistan could manufacture more frigates of its own will in the future. The defence partnership in corvettes, their technology transfer and designing of Jinnah class frigate paint a positive picture for Pakistan Navy’s fleet development. Combined exercises and training between both navies will enhance their mutual understanding and open more avenues for partnership in the future.
This article was published in the Pakistan Observer on November 13, 2020.