After inducting advance fighter jets from China, Pakistan plans to buy six state of the art submarines from the neighbouring country in an apparent bid to boost its under-sea warfare capabilities.
Islamabad is planning to buy six submarines outright with options of joint development of conventional submarines with China, The Express Tribune reported.
The newspaper did not mention the class of submarines being sought by Pakistan saying merely that Islamabad wanted advanced under-sea vessels with air independent propulsion (AIP) system, which would give them capabilities to stay submerged longer and operate noiselessly.
The Defence Ministry has asked the federal Cabinet to approve the purchase of Chinese submarines to counter "emerging threats" faced by Pakistan, the paper said.
Pakistan has a total of five active diesel electric submarines plus 3 midget submarines. While the three submarines are of German SSK class, Islamabad had recently inducted two French Agosta class submarines as well.
With attempts to acquire AIP technology, Islamabad would be in race with New Delhi, which plans to arm its French Scorpene submarines with the technology but only by 2013. Pakistan's Defence Ministry informed the Cabinet that the country's Navy is facing a "critical force imbalance" in terms of the number of submarines and ships in its fleet.
The "capability gap is widening exponentially with the passage of time", the report said.
The navy plans to acquire the six AIP conventional submarines that can operate in a "multi-threat environment under tropical conditions" and are capable of launching torpedoes and missiles, the Business Recorder daily quoted official documents as saying.
A protocol for joint development and co-production of submarines by the Pakistan Navy and China Shipbuilding and Offshore Corporation will be signed shortly after approval by the federal Cabinet, the paper said.
In view of "urgent naval requirements", the issue of acquiring Chinese submarines was part of the talking points for President Asif Ali Zardari's visit to China in 2009, the media reports said.
The matter was also discussed during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Pakistan in December 2010, the reports said. The Cabinet has been told that Naval Headquarters had pursued the purchase of submarines with Chinese authorities, who have assured Pakistan of their "firm support" for the submarine project.
Under the proposed protocol, four submarines will be constructed at a Chinese shipyard and the remaining two in Pakistan. Co-development and production will include joint development, training of Pakistani personnel, upgrades of Pakistan Navy's shipyard and other related aspects.
Pakistan is in the process of inducting 36 J-10 fighter aircraft from China in a deal worth more than USD 1.4 billion, with options open for induction of more similar aircraft. Islamabad and Beijing are also collaborating to build an advanced fighter JF-17 or 'Thunder'.