Naval base attack weakens Pakistan's counter-terror surveillance

Published: May 24, 2011
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Since 2003 Pakistan has spent $507.6 million in Foreign Military Finance grants given by the United States on purchasing and upgrading seven Orions. PHOTO: REUTERS

Since 2003 Pakistan has spent $507.6 million in Foreign Military Finance grants given by the United States on purchasing and upgrading seven Orions. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: When Pakistan lost US-supplied surveillance planes in a Taliban’s raid on a naval base in Karachi, its ability to guard its coastline and participate in Western-led maritime counter-terrorism activities was weakened.

Two P-3C Orion patrol aircraft were destroyed in the May 22-23 attack at Pakistan Naval Station Mehran, when up to six attackers stormed the base, starting fires, setting off explosions and fighting pitched battles with security forces, killing 10 people and wounding 20 more.

Pakistan still has three Orions, Army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said.

A vital ally to the United States in its war against militancy, Pakistan uses the anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft to assist the US-led operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Security analyst Imtiaz Gul, said the attack has caused more psychological than tangible damage for Pakistan. But the Pakistan Navy has lost some of its ability to patrol its coastline at long-range.

“The surveillance aircraft were not being used for strike capability. It was more for surveillance, and now Pakistan loses that sight over the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea,” Gul said.

Former army general and columnist Talat Masood said the aircraft’s long-range abilities were key.

“They are very important in the sense of maritime security,” he said. “They are the eyes and ears of the navy.”

The aircraft are also part of Pakistan’s role in the Combined Task Force-150, the maritime component to Operation Enduring Freedom, the operation name for the US-led war effort in Afghanistan. CTF-150 covers the Arabian Sea from the coast of Pakistan to the horn of Africa.

Pakistan’s aerial maritime surveillance is carried out from PNS Mehran and the surrounding base. Since 2003 Pakistan has spent $507.6 million in Foreign Military Finance grants given by the United States on purchasing and upgrading seven Orions.

Pakistan purchased two Orions in 2006, with the United States delivering two more upgraded aircraft in 2010, estimated to have cost around $35 million each. Intelligence firm STRATFOR said the aircraft “substantially enhanced the Pakistan navy’s maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities”.

Pakistan’s combat ability against India has also been dented by the planes’ loss, former general Masood said. “For instance, they would be striking the Indian submarines in the case that there is hostility and open war – they would be in a position to attack them with torpedoes,” he said.

“They are part of the naval weapons systems so the loss in a way is a significant loss,” Masood said

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Reader Comments (6)

  • yahya-ali
    May 24, 2011 - 9:46PM

    i hope our ability to defeat militant is still there or else we’ll lose more planes in futureRecommend

  • May 24, 2011 - 10:27PM

    planes are the last thing we should worry about!@yahya-ali: Recommend

  • mahmood
    May 25, 2011 - 12:00AM

    The aircraft that were destroyed were used in antisubmarine warfare — how do you stretch that into fighting terrorist? Recommend

  • MAD
    May 25, 2011 - 12:47AM

    They’re meant to take out Indian submarines. good thing we have 5 left plus 6 more coming within the next year. also the two french allouettes based in balochistan.Recommend

  • r u abbasi
    May 25, 2011 - 9:30PM

    The price of safety and security is eternal vigilance. Till Pakistani Politicians and Generals stop lining their pockets, Pakistan will continue to suffer.

    Pakistani people should feel lucky to know that the holes in its defense systems have been exposed. The question is what will be done to secure and plug these loop holes, otherwise the enemies of Pakistan will exploit these weaknesses. At the end of the day there is no one to blame but Pakistani’s themselves who have not been strong enough to demand change. Change happens via democracy. Can anyone name a single political party of Pakistan which is not dynastic, which has internal elections and its leadership changes. Recommend

  • Navile
    May 25, 2011 - 10:28PM

    If the planes were that precious, they should have been guarded better. Lets shift some security from Bilawal House to our strategic assets.Recommend

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