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The realms of satellite imagery always take you behind in the time machine to understand what happened yesterday. While surfing on Google Earth, the author chanced upon some Chinese ships in Colombo. There were two ships: one was Type 905 auxiliary oil replenishment ship and the other was Type 53H3 frigate. The missing pennant number on stern of the frigate and retractable hangar on the stern of the oiler were convincing giveaways.

 

A quick look at the dates and reverting further back in time and space to Karachi proved fruitful. They were in fact the PNS Nasr (pennant #A47) and PNS Saif (pennant #253) of the Pakistan Navy, observed at Karachi on 24 February 2017, preparing for the Sri Lankan visit. Both ships are of Chinese origin, constructed at Dalian shipyard and Hudong Zhonghua shipyard respectively.

 

 

The most interesting part of comparing satellite images of Karachi and Colombo is the retractable hangar on the stern of PNS Nasr. At Colombo it is out with a shed behind the extended hangar, suggesting it is carrying a helicopter possibly for an aerial replenishment exercise with the Sri Lankan Navy at sea. Although  Pakistani media touted it as a goodwill visit and so did the official Sri Lankan Navy website, it was in fact an exercise conducted in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The two ships reached Colombo on 12 March 2017 and were captured in satellite imagery on 13 March 2017. The satellite image of PNS Nasr clearly shows six resupply ports, four of which are for oil and two are dry ports.

 

 

The other satellite image is that of the frigate PNS Saif armed with eight HQ-7 or Hongqi-7 surface to air missiles (SAMs) ahead of the bridge and eight C-802 surface to surface missiles (SSMs) right behind the bridge. Unofficial sources suggest that these two ships carried out exercise with SLNS Sagara and SLNS Suranimila for enhancing cooperation and interoperability between the two navies.

 

 

Implications

 

Pakistan trying to compare itself and compete with India in vain is not new, especially in the Maldives and Sri Lanka. Pakistan has been trying to imitate almost every Indian overture in the military domain. Pakistan has been playing the religious card when it comes to training Maldivian National Defence Forces (MNDF) personnel as well. And as far as the Sri Lankan defence forces are concerned, Pakistan plays the money card, providing everything almost free of cost.

China, a bigger player in this game, has been assisting Pakistan militarily by providing ships and submarines to contest India. Pakistan, in turn along with its best friend China, has been supporting the Sri Lankan government militarily to maintain a hegemonic upper hand over India in the IOR.

The Indian Navy, on its part, needs to monitor such exercises and learn from the manoeuvres tested during these exercises. Pakistan would do better by concentrating on its own economic development rather than trying to compete with India.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.