Guardians of the Deep Sea: Pakistan Navy Submarine Force

Published in Hilal English

Written By: Commander Syed Ailya Hassan,

Commander Tanweer Shahid

“The Nation is secure as long as there’s a submarine on watch underneath the sea.”

Vice Admiral (R) Ahmad Tasnim HI(M), SJ & Bar, SBt, War Veteran of 1965 & 71 wars. He was the CO of Hangor submarine which sank the Indian naval ship Khukri.


If as a military man, you dream to operate a platform that is invisible, can plunge into the sea to hundreds of meters, stays down for months unheard, runs for months without refueling and is the most lethal weapon ever designed, then your ultimate choice will be the submarine. Submarine is an incredible piece of technology. Not so long ago, naval forces worked entirely above the water, but with the addition of the submarine to the standard naval arsenal, the undersea world became a battleground as well. The inventions and adaptations have allowed sailors to not only fight battles but also live for months in a completely unnatural and testing environment.


guardianofthesea.jpgAmong all military platforms, submarines have always instilled both fascination and fear. Submarines are designed as a weapon of war; once under way, the rhythm of machines takes over. Their movements remain closely guarded secrets and lives of men onboard is a mystery. The life of a submariner is unique, unlike the aviators or armoured troops, he does not park his weapons at the end of the day, rather he lives within them. Nothing compares to the experience of living and working aboard a state-of-the-art submarine. It is an opportunity that a solider is going to find rarely in any other branch of military.

Submarine service is a stealthy and secretive business by nature and necessity. This course of executing missions routinely involves venturing unseen into the unknown, conducting classified work that cannot be discussed with the outside world in which one operates and takes on responsibilities that most cannot fathom. Operating a submarine requires precision team work. More than any other branch of naval service, each man relies on coherent team work. Submariners know that their lives depend on each other. It is more than a profession, rather a “lifestyle” reserved for the very best and bold. No environment is more challenging than the one confronted by the submariners. Modern technologies have catapulted the submarines to new levels of endurance, stealth, effectiveness and lethality.

guardianofthesea1.jpgNaval power of a nation demonstrates its offensive as well as defensive capabilities. Safeguarding one’s own sea lines of communication and to attain sustainable military strength, as well as denying the use of the critical sea areas to adversary could be the highest strategic priorities of a country. These naval tasks are best performed by a variety of platforms; each type having its own peculiar capabilities. However, due to their unique characteristics, submarines can play a very important and unparalleled role in the accomplishment of these tasks. In the five domains in which military forces operate i.e., “on land, in the air, on the sea, beneath the sea, and in the space”, it is the undersea operations that are least visible and extremely dangerous. Submarines combine the qualities of stealth, endurance, flexibility and of course, fire power to carry out their tasks silently and unhindered. Being invisible and covert in nature, these operations are rarely known and thus least understood. Submarines have the ability to operate covertly for extended periods of time and to attack with devastating lethality without warning.

Genesis of Pakistan Navy Submarine Force
Pakistan’s Submarine Service came into being on June the 1st in 1964, the day when Pakistan Navy Submarine (PNS/M) GHAZI, the first submarine, was inducted in Pakistan Navy Fleet. Pakistan became the first country of the region to operate a submarine. Submarine service owes special debt to Vice Admiral A.R. Khan, then C-in-C Navy and the founder of Submarine Force who had the vision to equip PN with elite and most sophisticated weapon of that time. Soon after its arrival in Pakistan, GHAZI established the tradition of patrols in the vast expanse of North Arabian Sea. GHAZI blazed a trail of raw courage, professional skill and national dedication that has inspired and guided the young naval arms ever since. The strength of squadron was augmented in 1970 by addition of French origin Daphne Class Submarines named after first submarine of the class as Hangor Class Submarines. Subsequently, the force was progressively developed over the period of time and presently, Submarine Service has completed more than 50 years of safe and smooth operations.


guardianofthesea3.jpgWar Heroics
Pakistan Navy Submarine Force proved its worth and earned glorious recognition through performance in both 1965 and 1971 wars. When the Indo-Pakistan War broke out on September 6, 1965, GHAZI, the only submarine at that time, was assigned to keep secret patrol over the Mumbai harbour which at that time was packed tight with Indian warships including Indian aircraft carrier VIKRANT. Being offensively deployed in enemy waters, it was told not to tinker with smaller vessels but focus on the heavier units. So effective was its blockade that no Indian warship dared run the gauntlet. It was the operational bottling up of the Indian fleet by the GHAZI that enabled the Pakistan flotilla to move in and blast the Indian naval fortress of Dwarka. This audacious performance won it 10 military awards including two decorations of Sitara-e-Jurat.

The dread of PN Submarine Force seems to have persisted in the Indian mind in the six years between the two wars. This was apparent during pre-hostilities in 1971 when the Indian Navy moved the aircraft carrier VIKRANT, not only out of Mumbai but even out of Cochin, and from Cochin in October 1971 all the way to their eastern seaboard. Finally, not even content with the security of massive naval base at Visakhapatnam, they hid it away in the backwaters of the Andaman Islands. With the increasing chances of war in 1971, GHAZI alongwith newly joined Daphne class submarines, undertook a few patrols to gather intelligence and pick up vital operational information for wartime submarine operations. The patrols helped the crew to build confidence and to test their stamina and equipment under exacting wartime conditions. At that time, GHAZI was the Pakistan Navy's only submarine which had the ability to undertake operations on India's Eastern sea board in the Bay of Bengal. The submarine was therefore tasked to lay mines and operate outside Visakhapatnam Port on the Indian eastern coast. Its deployment to the Bay of Bengal ought to be regarded as a measure taken to rectify a strategic posture that was getting increasingly out of step with military realities. Dispatchment of GHAZI to the Bay of Bengal at an immense stretch of over 3000 miles of the Indian Ocean was critical. The submarine quest on the VIKRANT's scent was not only an irresistible temptation but also demanded a smart strategy. The submarine daringly completed the transit and reached the assigned station but guardianofthesea2.jpgcould not sustain and sunk presumably after accidently hitting a mine laid by herself.

The story of PN submarine GHAZI, though tragic, is no less death defying. It is an epic account of valor written in blood by its crew members.

HANGOR alongwith other daphnes sailed and stationed along the Indian west coast. Submarines were operating with environmental conditions extremely favourable for ships to detect submarines. The crews were, therefore, extra vigilant on their sensors. For HANGOR the period of patient waiting reached climax on the evening of December 9, 1971. For the first time since the onset of war, the enemy came in to effective weapon range when she identified two enemy frigates some distance off the Diu Head. The Commanding Officer maneuvered the submarine, determined to inscribe the name HANGOR in the annals of Pakistan's history. The submarine closed the two targets at shallow depth with caution, and launched a torpedo on the first ship.

The torpedo exploded under the magazine of INS KHUKRI and the huge explosion broke the ship in two and she sank in less than two minutes causing heavy casualties. HANGOR also fired a torpedo on the other ship. The ship on hearing the torpedo reversed course, increasing its speed to outrun the torpedo. The enemy manoeuvre was, however, unsuccessful. The torpedo hit her at long distance causing severe damage. Indians lost around 250 men in this event.

For their act of courage and devotion to duty, the officers and men of PNS/M HANGOR were decorated with 4 Sitara-e-Jurat, 6 Tamgha-i-Jurat and 14 Imtiazi Asnad. This is the highest number of operational gallantry awards given to a single unit of Pakistan Navy.

Present and Future Outlook
With the proud history of valor and courage, today, PN submarine service is the most credible defence line of Pakistan. This is not only because it was the Squadron of the Naval Fleet to register a kill in the last war, but also as it is perceived to be an effective mean to counter any threat from an adversary. Today, Pakistan Navy has five potent submarines; two of these are Agosta-70s and three Agosta-90Bs, all of French origin. In addition, three invigorating small submarines (Midgets) are also part of the PN submarine force.

Agosta-70 submarines HASHMAT and HURMAT were inducted in 1979 and 1980 respectively. Though construction suggests that the submarines are old, yet the platforms have regularly been upgraded from time to time to keep them effective in modern naval warfare. Lately, both the submarines underwent Life Extension Programme to enhance their structural life and to equip them with modern sensors and weapons. Agosta-70s are capable of launching Harpoon anti-ship missiles as well as anti-ship and anti-submarine torpedoes. The capability has given these platforms a significant weapon range advantage.

The other three submarines are Agosta-90Bs; KHALID, SAAD and HAMZA. The induction of these platforms in the last decade provided PN Submarine Force with a significant boost in capabilities and endurance. The enhanced features of these submarines have outstretched the boundaries of PN operations in the Indian Ocean. Two of the submarines HAMZA and SAAD are fitted with Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system named MESMA, which gives the submarines longer underwater endurance. Moreover, these submarines are also capable of launching German DM2A4 torpedo and French SM-39 Exocet Surface to Surface missile.

The Midgets are primarily used for Special Operations and littoral operations. They can also be considered as an effective offensive punch by fighting the war in enemy waters. Midgets are capable of achieving superiority in shallow coastal waters as well as inside enemy straits/harbours and channels. Present Midgets were constructed inland as a joint venture with Italy. The Midgets are named as X-Craft 01, 02 and 03 and were inducted into PN Fleet between 1990 and 1993. The special features of these craft include Exit Trunk for frogmen landing, mine and torpedo carrying capability.

Pakistan Navy, being cognizant of the effectiveness and requirement of submarines, has made a contract with China for the acquisition of 8 latest conventional submarines. First four of these submarines will be constructed in China whereas last four are planned to be indigenously manufactured by Pakistan at Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works. First of these submarines are scheduled to join PN Fleet in 2022. In addition to a comprehensive suite of sensors and weapons, including both missiles and torpedoes, these submarines will also be equipped with a potent AIP system. Availability of such a capable AIP system having enhanced endurance will give PN submarines almost the same advantages and capabilities as that of nuclear propulsion except speed.

The squadron is commanded by a Submarine Officer of the rank of Commodore. He is assisted by Commanding Officers (of the rank of Captain/Commander) of the submarines, Midget Group and PNS ABDOZE. PNS ABDOZE is the base unit of the squadron that provides administrative and logistics support to the submarines.

National Standard
Pakistan Navy Submarine Service holds the distinction of being the first squadron of Navy to be conferred upon the coveted National Standard. The award was presented to PN Submarine Force by the then President of Islamic Republic of Pakistan Mr. Farooq Ahmed Khan Laghari on January 3, 1997. Award of National Standard to Submarine Squadron is the most distinguished manner to recognize the services rendered by the submarines to the nation. It not only symbolizes the importance of this elite force but also acknowledges the great tradition of valor and sacrifice exhibited by officers and men of the squadron.

2014 marked a significant year in history of the squadron. On June 1, 2014 PN Submarine Service proudly celebrated its 50th anniversary. Beyond any doubt, this has been a journey of courage and commitment. With a modest beginning in 1964, Pakistan Navy Submarine Force grew into one of the finest in the world with an established exemplary track record and outstanding achievements during war. The squadron retains its prestigious position even today as the leading combat component of Pakistan Navy.

Pakistan Navy Submarine Force has a glorious history due to the sacrifices, relentless efforts, professionalism and utmost dedication of our predecessors. The success story of the past five decades, particularly during wars and periods of tension has made the nation proud. The men who put the Dolphin insignia on their chests are ready to continue the legacy of selfless devotion, persistent efforts and innovative ideas under the prevailing environment, which is characterized by uncertainty and intricacy. The change in geostrategic landscape has been rapid and wide ranging with numerous challenges and quite a few opportunities. The submariners believe it to be a national responsibility and are committed to uphold the standards inherited by the veterans and to pass it on to future generations, so that they can also proudly cherish their past.

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