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CNS Liuzhou is a Type 054A frigate. The vessel exported to Pakistan is said to be based on this class. [Photo/Xinhua]

China recently started construction of an export version of one of its advanced warships and will deliver it to Pakistan as part of a major arms deal, according to China State Shipbuilding Corp, a large State-owned defense contractor.

It said the ship is a version of the Chinese Navy"s most advanced guided missile frigate, without specifying its type.

In late December it said the ship is under construction at its Hudong-Zhonghua shipyard in Shanghai, noting it will be equipped with modern detection and weapon systems and will be capable of anti-ship, anti-submarine and air-defense operations.

According to the Pakistani Navy, the ship"s class is Type 054AP, which means it is based on the Type 054A of the People"s Liberation Army Navy. It previously said four such ships had been ordered.

Once constructed, the warship will be one of the largest and technologically advanced platforms of Pakistan"s Navy and strengthen the country"s capability to respond to future challenges, maintain peace and stability and the balance of power in the Indian Ocean region. It will also support the Pakistani Navy"s initiative of securing sea lanes for international shipping by patrolling distant waters, it said in a statement on its twitter account.

Type 054A is the best frigate in service with the PLA Navy. Military sources said the ship has a fully loaded displacement of about 4,000 metric tons and is equipped with advanced radars and missiles. About 30 Type 054As are in service with the PLA Navy, observers said.

Cao Weidong, a senior researcher at the PLA"s Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said that in the past, the Pakistani Navy would ask its Chinese contractors to use Western radars or weapons on ships constructed by Chinese shipbuilders because it believed Western naval technologies were better than Chinese ones.

"But it seems that all weapons and radars on the new ship will be Chinese products, which reflects our progress in the industry and the Pakistani Navy"s confidence in our technology and capability," he said.

Cao said there are many nations selling frigates in the market, so Pakistan must have made thorough comparisons in terms of combat capability and costs.

"I believe the reason they chose our type is that ours is one of the few that can carry out all of the air-defense, anti-ship and anti-submarine tasks," he said, expecting the service of the Chinese frigate to substantially boost Pakistan"s defense capability.

An insider in China"s shipbuilding sector with knowledge of the Type 054AP program told China Daily on condition of anonymity that the ship is the largest and most powerful combat vessel China has ever exported.

"Based on pictures circulating on the internet, the ship will have vertical launch cells that can fire Chinese HQ-16 air-defense missiles and other kinds of missiles. Vertical launch cells will bring flexibility to the user in terms of weapons portfolio, thus giving it a stronger fighting capability," he said, adding that the Type 054AP is the best frigate Pakistan can access in the international market.

"The service of Type 054APs will double the combat power of the Pakistani Navy"s surface fleet," he said.