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Pakistan’s quest to bolster its underwater defense capabilities with the Hangor-class submarines faces ongoing challenges, as evidenced by recent delays in the program.

In April 2015, Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) greenlit the acquisition of eight Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) equipped submarines from China. This collaboration involved co-production, with Karachi Shipyards and Engineering Works (KSEW) building four submarines and the remaining four constructed by China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC).

The Hangor class is based on the China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co. Ltd (CSOC) S26 design, itself derived from the Yuan-class submarine. This variant caters to the export market.

Initial projections anticipated the delivery of the first four Hangor submarines in 2023. However, these deadlines have been missed. While the program experiences delays, there are signs of progress. KSEW has begun construction on two of its assigned submarines. Steel cutting for the fifth submarine commenced in 2021, followed by the sixth in 2022.

A significant roadblock for the Hangor program is the engine situation. Germany imposed a ban on the export of MTU Diesel engines, originally planned for the submarines. This has forced Pakistan to utilize Chinese-made copies of the MTU engines. While they offer a solution, these Chinese engines come with a potential drawback: Higher Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (NVH) levels. These noise characteristics can compromise a submarine’s stealth capabilities. This very concern led Thailand to abandon a similar submarine deal without the MTU engines.

Pakistan has opted for the Chinese alternative engines. However, integrating and certifying these engines appears to be a time-consuming undertaking, contributing to the program’s delays. The Hangor-class submarine program remains a work in progress. Overcoming the engine hurdle and successfully integrating the Chinese alternatives are crucial steps for the program’s success. Time will tell how Pakistan navigates these technical challenges and whether the Hangor class can deliver the quiet and advanced underwater defense capabilities it envisions.