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ISLAMABAD, April 23: The Pakistan Navy on Monday announced commissioning of its first stealth fast attack missile craft – PNS Azmat – and said it would augment its ‘combat potential’ and redress the regional balance of power.

The commissioning ceremony was held at the Xingang Shipyard in China.

Speaking at the commissioning ceremony, Naval Chief Admiral Mohammad Asif Sandila said the induction of the missile craft “addresses a longstanding operational requirement of Pakistan Navy”.

Admiral Sandila noted that the new missile craft would enhance the warfare capability of Pakistan Navy and enable it to maintain “forward presence in area of interest, contributing to balance the power equation in the region”.

Pakistan’s joining of the growing list of countries with fast attack missile crafts is primarily in response to Indian efforts to bolster its littoral capabilities.

Two missile craft equipped with advanced weapons and sensors were to be built under an agreement between Pakistan Navy and China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Company Limited (CSOC) that involved transfer of technology. Now that the first missile craft has been commissioned, construction of the second is under way at the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works. It is expected to be completed by the end of this year. It is estimated that each of the craft would cost $50 million. The inducted vessel is 63 meteres long and has a beam of 8.8 metres with a displacement of 560 tons. It would be manned with a crew of 12-14 sailors and has been equipped with eight C-802A/CSS-N-8 Saccade anti-ship surface-to-surface missiles. China has long been Pakistan’s major defence equipment supplier and the two countries have earlier collaborated in the construction of JF-17 fighter aircraft and four frigates for Pakistan Navy.Admiral Sandila said the induction of the missile craft was yet another example of close Sino-Pak defence cooperation. Terming the commissioning of PNS Azmat a milestone in defence and strategic cooperation between Pakistan and China, he said: “This ship will undoubtedly be a very welcome addition to PN Fleet which would indeed provide synergy in defence of our sea frontiers. Its immense firepower coupled with stealth features makes it a real versatile platform which would not only prove vital for ensuring effective presence in our area of operations, but would bring a new dimension of operation of stealthy platform of this tonnage.” On its way to Pakistan the ship will stop over in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.