Pakistan selected the Embraer jet to replace its fleet of 9 US-built P-3 aircraft

The Pakistan Navy on Thursday inducted its first new long-range maritime patrol aircraft. In a ceremony at the PNS Mehran naval base at Karachi, the maritime patrol aircraft, converted from a Lineage 1000 passenger jet built by Brazil's Embraer, was inducted.

The Embraer Lineage 1000 is a business jet, which can carry around 20 passengers and has a maximum range of 4,400 nautical miles (8,149 km). The Pakistan Navy announced it had contracted to buy two more aircraft of the same series, which would be equipped with "latest weapons and sensors to undertake maritime air operations".

Why Induction Is Significant

Speaking at the induction of the new aircraft, Pakistan Navy chief Admiral Mohammed Amjad Khan Niazi commended the transition of the force from propeller-driven maritime patrol aircraft to jet-powered ones.

By inducting the Embraer jet, the Pakistan Navy has gone the way of its arch-rival, the Indian Navy, in moving to jet-powered maritime patrol aircraft. In 2013, the Indian Navy inducted its first P-8I maritime patrol jet, built by Boeing. The P-8I, based on Boeing's ubiquitous 737 passenger jet, replaces the Soviet-era Il-38 and Tu-142M turboprop aircraft of the Indian Navy.

The Indian Navy currently operates 10 Boeing P-8I jets and will eventually have a total fleet of 18 such aircraft.

Pakistan selected the Embraer jet to replace its fleet of 9 US-built P-3 Orion turboprop aircraft, which first entered service in the mid-1990s.

Jet-powered maritime patrol aircraft are faster than turboprop aircraft. Moreover, given their commonality with commercial aircraft in terms of engines and spare parts, jet aircraft offer lower operating costs.

In October last year, then Pakistan Navy chief admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi had said the force would replace the P-3 Orion with a total of 10 converted commercial aircraft. Defence News then reported the selected aircraft was the Embraer Lineage 1000. The publication added the aircraft would be called the Sea Sultan.

In July, Defence News reported that the Pakistan Navy had contracted Italian company Leonardo and South Africa's Paramount Group to convert three Embraer Lineage 1000 jets to a maritime patrol configuration. "The contract with Leonardo involves the acquisition of two aircraft to join the single Lineage 1000 already in Pakistan, followed by the design, modification, installation and integration of an anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol package," Defence News reported.

Defence News reported Leonardo would fit a radar system and torpedo-release system currently used by the Pakistan Navy's fleet of maritime patrol aircraft.

Pakistan, reportedly, signed a $190 million contract with Leonardo in June.

Paramount Group will handle the "pre-conversion maintenance, repair and overhaul" of the aircraft.

How Does It Compare With Indian P-8I?

According to reports, there are around 28 Embraer Lineage 1000 aircraft in service worldwide. The Pakistan Navy will have to buy the aircraft from private operators worldwide and coordinate conversion and modernisation of the aircraft with vendors.

The P-8I has a maximum take-off weight of nearly 85 tons, nearly twice that of the Embraer Lineage 1000, thus having capability to carry a greater weapons load. Moreover, the P-8I benefits from an assured flow of technology and support from the US Navy and Boeing, unlike the Sea Sultan.

However, the induction of the Sea Sultan will prove a boost to Pakistan's capabilities to patrol the Arabian Sea and track Indian surface ships and submarines. Moreover, the Sea Sultan fleet may have another role in the future: Spotting targets for the P282 hypersonic missile. Abbasi had claimed last year "In the hypersonic domain, the ship-based, long-range, anti-ship and land-attack P282 ballistic missile is under development." International experts have assessed the P282 to be similar to China's fleet of DF-21D and DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missiles. While the accuracy of ballistic missiles in tracking ships is debatable, they are harder to shoot down than cruise missiles.