One of the much-touted Chinese-built maritime patrol ships bought by Pakistan and commissioned into Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) in May 2017 has run into serious operational troubles, raising a big question mark about the ship’s operational capability and Pakistan’s over-reliance on Chinese-made military hardware.
Serious questions about operational capability, durability, after-sales service and maintenance have plagued Chinese made military hardware for years.
The patrol vessel, named PMSS Dasht, one of the six patrol ships constructed by China State Shipbuilding Corporation, was hailed as a symbol of deepening Sino-Pak defence cooperation. Pakistan has reportedly invested over $150 million in the project.
PMSS Dasht, named after a river in Balochistan, is tasked to secure Pakistan’s maritime zone, including the critical China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which culminates at Gwadar port in Balochistan.
But serious deficiencies in its weapons systems and other critical equipment has seriously undermined its operational capabilities and threatens to make the ship a sitting duck against adversaries.
The main weapon aboard the ship is a single-barreled 30mm semi- automatic naval gun to protect the ship in a direct engagement with an adversary craft. But the gun in its present state was almost a dud as it had failed various tests during its harbour acceptance trials at Xijiang Shipyard, Liuzhuo, China. The defects are yet to be rectified by the Chinese engineers.
Another critical component of a naval ship is its communication system. External and internal communication sub-systems incorporated in the vessel provide reliable communication between the vessel and shore command base, as well as with other ships. PMSS Dasht is equipped with a 500W HF TX/RX set. The set was found defective a few months back. It has neither been repaired or replaced.
Likewise, the fault alarm system on board PMSS Dasht has been found defective. It often sends out `general fault` and `internal fault` alarms without
any reason and then automatically resets, creating a serious operational problem for the ship. The alarms call for a standard response from the captain and the crew. False alarms waste resources and time besides creating a sense of false security.
Another fault is in the ship’s engine. The ship is powered by four 16- cylinder MTU 16V 4000M73L heavy-duty, medium-speed diesel engines, each generating an output power of 2,880kW at 2,050rpm. But this main engine has been leaking fuel because of an improper fitting of cylinder no. 5 fuel line. Leaking fuel is a potential cause for a blast on board the ship, especially during its operations on the waters.
PMSS Dasht is not the only Chinese built vessel which has invited criticism from Pak Navy officials. PMSS Zhob, commissioned in August 2018, is riddled with a set of defects which are yet to be rectified by Chinese engineers. Pakistani naval officials have complained of poor quality of block blasting and painting, bulging deck plates on the bridge deck, appearance of rust beneath anti-skid paint and on valves. The personnel aboard the ship have found anchor chain misalignment and the problem of anchor banging. These deficiencies show poor workmanship, maintenance and after-sales service on part of Chinese shipping firms.
Interestingly, Royal Malaysian Navy too was facing problems with substandard Chinese equipment. Malaysia had earlier (April 2017) entered into an agreement with China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Company Ltd (CSOC) for supply of four Littoral Mission Ships (LMS), costing USD 200 million. Of these, LMS1 (KD Keris) and LMS2 (KD Sundang) have been delivered. LMS3 was launched in Oct 2020 and is currently undergoing sea trails prior to the scheduled delivery in Sep 2021. LMS4 was launched in Dec 2020 and is scheduled to be delivered in Nov 2021.
RMN had reportedly approached CSOC multiple times for rectification of these defects but the response from CSOC has not been forthcoming, despite multiple reminders by RMN.