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Changing tack: Pakistan Navy transforms amid increasing Indian Ocean rivalries

The Pakistan Navy's Zulfiquar-class frigate, PNS Saif , is seen firing anti-submarine mortars at Exercise ‘Aman 2021' in the Arabian Sea near the port city of Karachi. (ASIF HASSAN/AFP via Getty Images)

On the night of 4 December 1971, an Indian Navy strike force consisting of three Vidyut-class missile boats, two Arnala-class corvettes, and a fleet tanker approached the Port of Karachi. The force was deployed as part of a wider Indian offensive against Pakistan, and it made history that night by conducting the first-ever launch of anti-ship missiles as part of combat operations in the South Asian region.

The strike force sunk two Pakistan Navy vessels in the offensive with P-15 Termit (SS-N-2 Styx) anti-ship missiles. The ships sunk were namely the Battle-class destroyer PNS Khaibar and an Adjutant-class minesweeper PNS Muhafiz. A cargo vessel, said to be laden with ammunition meant for forces in the then West Pakistan, was also destroyed in this offensive.

The missile attacks are also believed to have caused a massive fire at the Keamari oil storage facilities near Karachi that day, which resulted in a country-wide fuel shortage in the days that followed the offensive. The Port of Karachi was also effectively blockaded by the Indian Navy in the aftermath of the offensive, with significant economic repercussions for Islamabad.

The offensive, and an operation that followed just days after, became known as Operation ‘Trident' and Operation ‘Phyton', respectively. The attacks significantly scarred the Pakistan Navy and it drove the country's military planners to thoroughly re-examine its armed forces.

Modernisation post-1971

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