Dragon Intensifies Its Efforts To Acquire Technologically Advanced Military Hardware Via Pakistan
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Dragon Intensifies Its Efforts To Acquire Technologically Advanced Military Hardware Via Pakistan

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Dragon has speeded up the process of acquisition of high-end military hardware for reverse engineering and remove its noisy submarine engines for possible operations against the US via Bashi channel. Such acquisitions are being made via Pakistan- its long-time partner in nuclear proliferation activities and other such clandestine activities. Over the years, Pak Establishment’s subservient policies stemming from its economic needs and its perceived threat from India have turned it into a satellite state of China.

Turkey’s involvement in shady deals has also become palpable.

The increasing Pak defence budget during the last few years raises the question of its resources especially when the Pak economic situation is fast deteriorating. Defence allocation is around 18.43% [$7.8 bn] of the budget for 2020-2021. However, this does not present the true picture. According to Ayesha Siddiqa, an expert on Pak military affairs, if major acquisitions by the Pak armed forces, spending on the public sector development programme (PSDP), expenditure on the nuclear programme and para-military forces, payments for military pensions, a newly set-up national security division and a few other military expenditures are added the figure would go much higher around $ 11 bn.

The Pak Defence budget has been constantly been rising from 2013 when was 15.9% to now 18.43%. The defence budget for the year 2020-2021 represents about 12% increase over the previous year. Such a rise in defence allocation when the Pak government is unable to provide the basic necessities of life to its citizens appears incongruous. The allocation for health ($151 mn) and education ($545 mn) are hugely insufficient. The much-needed subsidies have been reduced by 48%. Tax on petroleum has been enhanced by a whopping 73% not only adding to the woes of common-men but significantly raising the inflation rate. Despite this, the tax revenue has gone down by 30%.

Its foreign exchange is barely sufficient for two months. Its GDP growth is continuously going down from 5.5% in 2017-18 to (-)1.5% in the pandemic period. Its external debt even before the pandemic had risen to $112 bn. About 47% of the Pak budget goes into servicing debt. Under these circumstances, Pakistan’s emphasis on the acquisition of technologically advanced weaponry appears strange. Its only perceived adversary is India, whose defence budget is continuously decreasing from 17.08% in 2016-17 to about 13.73% for year 2020-21. Significantly the Indian defence budget includes miscellaneous expenses and pensions. Hence, there is no justification on this ground.

Pakistan is getting from China major defence weapons. Its missiles and other weapons are from China which is providing these items for its strategic interests. What is noticeable is the Pak efforts to acquire technologically advanced weaponry from other countries for which it has no financial capability. There are credible indicators that China and Pakistan are involved in dubious deals for such purchases from other countries, which China cannot directly purchase. Obviously, the Chinese objective is to acquire such weapons/equipment for reverse engineering and produce similar weapons indigenously and replace its outdated military hardware.

Crucially, Pakistan maintains links with shady and proscribed organisations to make payment for such procurements. While the money comes from China, it is manoeuvred in such a way that involvement of China remains unnoticed.

The Pak Navy bought a passenger aircraft from Brazil through a third-party deal and then got it modified in a European country. While this may be used by Pakistan but its technology would be shared with China which may use that for producing similar aircraft. Pak-China are jointly producing J-17 with the Russian engine RD-93. Pakistan is also trying to get German engine for its Chinese submarines, which are noisy. China itself was concerned about it as it finds the noise of submarines reveal their positions. Pakistan is also procuring Italian torpedoes to replace the Chinese torpedoes and low-level search radars from Italy.

An article by a defence analyst BK Singh has indicated two instances to prove the Chinese effort to acquire technological information via Pakistan. First, the soft loan of $5 bn, which was being given by China for the purchase of four Type 054A and eight submarines, could have contained the hidden amount for the Pak acquisitions.

Second, a recent satellite-based photograph revealed that Pak Agosta 90B submarine which was acquired from France was berthed between the two Chinese ships and importantly that was not the usual berthing place for 90B submarine. This information needs to be seen in the backdrop of Pak contract of 2016 to upgrade its two 90B submarines by a Turkish firm STM despite “sanctions and restrictions” imposed by France whose Naval Group was the submarine’s manufacturer. The contract included torpedo countermeasure systems and acoustic measurement sensors, is aimed at giving new capabilities to Pakistani submarines. Within the scope of modernization activities undertaken by the STM, the entire sonar suite of the submarine ship, periscope systems, and command and control system, as well as the radar and electronic support systems, are being replaced by Turkish military software. This was completed in two of its submarines by the mid-2020. It appears that its technology was being shared by the China, which is highly concerned about the noisy engines of its submarines.

Dragon’s illicit acquisition of advanced technology, whether military, civilian, or dual-use, has been a cornerstone of its effort to “catch up” to the West technology for decades. Since the 1970s, the PRC has developed a reputation as an aggressive gatherer of export-restricted defence products, sensitive commercial technologies, and foreign military intelligence. This effort has only accelerated in the last three decades. The US considers China as the single greatest risk to the US technology. China’s efforts to acquire advanced technology illicitly can generally be divided into two broad categories. The first consists of espionage, both in its traditional form, where intelligence and military organs clandestinely steal national security secrets, and its industrial variant, where the aim is to acquire commercial secrets and the range of actors, has been broadened to include scientific and manufacturing entities. The second includes collusion with other countries which can acquire such hardware even by violating rules and share clandestinely with China.

The Cox Report in US, had pointed out how the Chinese Ministry of State Security stole nuclear related technology from the US that included seven most advanced thermonuclear weapons, designs for small warheads. Integration of MIRV technology. These included the W-88 Trident D-5 warhead, W-56 Minuteman II, W-62 Minuteman III, W-70 Lance, W-76 Trident C-4, W-78 Minuteman III Mark 12A, and the W-87 Peacekeeper. Beijing is now increasingly using Pakistan to acquire technologically advanced equipment and weapons for reverse engineering. Pakistan was reported to have provided with China unexploded Tomhawk cruise missiles. It also covertly shared US F-16 aircraft with China which harvested its technology for J-10 fighter aircraft. In February 2020, a ship going to Karachi and carrying autoclave, which can be used in the launch process of ballistic missiles, was detained. The autoclave was declared as the industrial dryer to hide its identity. The final destination was suspected to be Turkey to assist it in its quest for nuclear weapons. It is strongly suspected that Turkey could be possessing a number of centrifuges, with the assistance from Pakistan and supported by China.

Thus, Beijing’s lavish military assistance has a sinister dimension, besides assisting Pakistan to build its capacity to contain India and help in the export of Chinese weapons: this is to acquire technologically advanced hardware to match US to deter US in the South China Sea. Dragon’s efforts to steal high-end technology with the help of Pakistan deserves a serious attention of the comity of nations to alert their entities against such deceptive activities.

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