The 'Seaspark' series of exercises has been an important feature of the Pakistan Navy's operational calendar of events since 1979, when due to Pakistan's withdrawal from CENTO in 1978, the MIDLINK series of maritime exercises were discontinued.
The Pakistan Navy began its first war exercises of the new century "Sea Spark 2001", along Pakistan's coastline and in the open sea. The two-week exercises, which began in the Arabian Sea on 23 January, included three separate phases - harbour defence, tactical manoeuvres and an analytical phase. The Royal Saudi and Pakistan navies concluded a series of joint manoeuvres on March 6th.
The inaugural briefing of the exercise was held at the Pakistan Navy Tactical School, PN Dockyard. Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Abdul Aziz Mirza and other senior naval officers attended the meeting. The officer conducting the exercise, Rear-Admiral M A Tahir, acquainted the audience with the salient features of the exercise. In addition to evaluation of various concepts of ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) defence in the tactical phase and Naval Vulnerable Area and Vulnerable Points on the coast would also be assessed.
Seven surface ships of the Royal Saudi Navy, HMS Taif, HMS Al-Hofouf, Al Yarmouk, HMS Hiteen, HMS Buraidah, HMS Al-Jawf and HMS Shaqra, and all available Pakistan Navy units including the naval air arm, frigates, submarines, missile boats and auxiliary craft, participated in the Seaspark exercises, the primary focus of which was an assessment of variables in anti-submarine warfare and submarine defence. The Saudi fleet included helicopter-carriers with about 1,500 highly trained officers. The Agosta 90B submarine participated in these exercises for the first time.
The participating units of Pakistan Navy have been suitably allocated for the exercise to Blue and Orange forces headed by Rear-Admiral Taj Muhammad Khattak and Rear-Admiral Asad Qureshi respectively. These two forces would pitch against each other in specific threat environments of modern day warfare and had proved to be a major step towards the improvement of the joint operational concept.
The Commander, Karachi, Rear-Admiral S A Baqar, and Commander, Logistics, Rear-Admiral Mushtaq Ahmed, also gave a briefing on the training, air, and harbour defence plans and logistic aspects of the exercise.
In the first phase, the naval chief visited PNS Mekran at Pasni where he saw various PN installations, including forward operating bases, dispersal sites, surveillance, command control and intelligence centres established for the exercise.
He was also briefed by the Blue and Orange forces area commanders on the plans to counter the seaward threats, maritime offensive role, air surveillance and strike capability of both the forces.
In the second phase, the naval chief inspected the Naval Base established at Jiwani where he witnessed the anti-air defence arrangements and deployment of Pak Marines, Special Services Group and other related security elements. He also saw the naval communication and direction finding stations and inspected their maritime surveillance performance.
In the final phase, he arrived at Gwadar and proceeded to PNS Akram where he witnessed different mobile and static communication installations, anti-defence arrangements and harbour and area defence plans of both the forces.
In a related development, during the exercises Pakistan Navy officials for the first time alluded to their nuclear ambitions, saying that the Pakistan Navy was capable of equipping its submarines with nuclear weapons "for defence purposes", but the decision to proceed with the provision lies with the government.