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The Pakistan Air Force in 2016 (and beyond)
November 20, 2017

The Pakistan Air Force in 2016 (and beyond)

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has had an eventful year, though not one without major obstacles to its long-term development plans. Pakistan’s structural economic challenges require the PAF to make the most of the funding available. Unfortunately, India’s markedly strong air warfare development of recent years is fully independent of Pakistan’s economic fortunes, forcing the PAF to manage what is arguably the widest gap in terms of relevant technology and numbers (in comparison to the Army and Navy) between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. Nonetheless, important activities are in motion to help the PAF modernize its capabilities and, perhaps just as importantly, enable it to sustain itself in times of difficulty.

Fighters

India’s near-USD $9 billion purchase of 36 Dassault Rafales is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg in terms of the depth of the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s development efforts, but it is a representation of what the PAF has to consider in terms of the present and the future. Considering Pakistan’s economic capacity today and for the foreseeable future, parity in numbers and ‘technology in numbers’ is not possible, but building a sufficient defensive threshold could be possible.

The desire to build a defensive threshold is the driving force behind the JF-17 Thunder. Envisaged as a modern, low-cost, and capable lightweight multi-role fighter, the JF-17 is on track to forming the backbone of the PAF fighter fleet. As of December, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) delivered 70 JF-17s to the PAF (i.e. 50 Block-I and 20 Block-II). Currently, these have been allocated to three frontline units – No. 2, No. 16, and No. 26 – as well as the Combat Commanders School. Replacing the Chengdu F-7P appears to be the PAF’s primary focus, so No. 14 and No. 18 could be next; the forthcoming two-seat JF-17B could be sought for No. 18, converting that F-7P operational conversion unit (OCU) into the JF-17’s OCU.

No. 2’s transition to the JF-17 is noteworthy in that it places the Thunder in the PAF’s maritime theatre. The JF-17’s beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air capability and anti-ship warfare (AShW) capability via the SD-10 and C-802, respectively, are substantive improvements over the point-defence profile of the F-7P. This is especially true when taken in the context of the Karakoram Eagle (ZDK03) airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system and Link-17 tactical data-link (TDL) system.

With the procurement of 16 Aselsan ASELPOD advanced targeting pods from Turkey, the PAF is working to configure its JF-17s for the ground-attack role. Semi-active laser-homing (SALH) air-to-ground bombs, specifically kits integrated onto Mk-8x series general purpose bombs (GPB), should be expected. The PAF could be planning to supplement the F-16s in counterinsurgency (COIN) strike operations.

At Air Show China 2016, the Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology (NRIET) unveiled its KLJ-7A active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar. Designed for the export market, the KLJ-7A has been viewed as a prospect for the forthcoming JF-17 Block-III, the Thunder’s first major platform upgrade. During the 2016 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS), which took place in Karachi during November, the Italian defence giant Leonardo showcased its Vixen-1000 AESA radar and Skyward infrared search and track (IRST) system – again, for the JF-17 Block-III. The PAF’s subsystem selections for the JF-17 Block-III are not yet known, though 2017-2018 should be a key year considering the expected lead time of integrating, testing, and clearing the new suite.

Currently, 150 JF-17s – divided between three blocks – are on the official procurement docket. With its eye on the future, PAF officials also told IHS Jane’s that the PAF is interested in the RD-33MK and WS-13 for the JF-17. PAF officials reportedly informed local media outlets that an additional 100 JF-17s (building a fleet of 250 fighters) are planned. These subsequent units, potentially designated Block-IV and Block-V, could be at the receive a new turbofan engine. With the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC)’s second FC-31 prototype possibly flying with a variant of the WS-13, the PAF has a chance at building commonality between its next-generation fighters, should it decide to procure the FC-31, which is not known.

To scale its existing F-16C/D Block-52+ infrastructure, the PAF also sought eight new-built F-16C/Ds from the U.S. While the sale was approved, the U.S. Congress did not approve of a Foreign Military Financing (FMF) component, which was to subsidize a portion (38-50%) of the proposed sale. Consequently, the PAF stepped away from the sale. Had matters gone as planned, the PAF would have likely sought to build its F-16 Block-52+ fleet to the originally sought 36 units, if not more. In lieu of these fighters, the PAF sought used and surplus fighters from third-party users, such as Jordan.

In terms of its older F-16s, the CEO of Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), Muharram Dörtkaşlı, told Defense News that the PAF had started discussing upgrade options with TAI. Dörtkaşlı said that the PAF has “additional modernization requirements, especially from the structural upgrade perspective.” He did not offer additional details, though the question of extending the F-16’s airframe life and new subsystems, such as an AESA radar, could be on the discussion docket (in light of emerging air warfare trends).

The inability to accessibly secure the F-16 has not changed the reality that the PAF could need a capable fighter platform to help manage the crucial years involving India’s forthcoming Rafale induction. While the F-16 Block-52+ is not the ideal platform for such an issue either, the prospect of potentially upgrading it to the AESA-equipped F-16V form might have offered breathing space. But with that not in the picture, reports had surfaced of the PAF seeking Chinese and Russian alternatives. In terms of the latter, the talk surrounding the Sukhoi Su-35 is well-known, though the PAF has yet to officially confirm the matter itself, and Russia is not officially entertaining the notion. That said, the Su-35 has been viewed as a potentially sound asset if procurable, especially for imbuing the PAF with long-range and long-endurance combat capabilities. This could be valuable for strike, air interdiction, and maritime missions.

The Chengdu J-10 – especially the J-10B/C – could be something of interest to the PAF, especially considering the prospect of fielding it as an AESA-equipped platform. The PAF has not voiced interest in the matter, but Italy and Spain did place their Eurofighter Typhoon Tranche 1 units on the market, drawing interest from several small air forces, such as Bulgaria. Considering the relatively cordial defence ties in place between Italy and Pakistan at this time, one wonders if this issue had been raised at one of the several top-level meetings between Italian and Pakistani officials. There are risks, not least from the supply channel of the Typhoon, which divides manufacturing work between four partners, each stationed in a different country. The Tranche 1 is also an antiquated model, and the PAF would be liable to spend on a bespoke upgrade (unique to the PAF) to bring it up to par. Thus, this is an unlikely option.

The aging F-16s, specifically the older Block-15 lot procured in the 1980s (though upgraded under the Mid-Life-Update program), are also a concern for the PAF. In this respect, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman had announced that the PAF is in the process of determining its next-generation fighter requirements. Besides supplanting the PAF’s aging F-16s, the next-generation fighter is to also help the PAF deepen its domestic supply channels – i.e. indigenization. To support the program, the PAF is establishing an aviation research, development, and industry site in the form of Kamra Aviation City. The purpose of Kamra Aviation City is to help build relevant human capital and competencies in the field. With the second SAC FC-31 prototype flying, the PAF may have a nearing platform available to it to help bring its requirements to fruition.

Training and Development

The PAF had a busy summer in terms of exercises. First, it conducted an air warfare exercise at home – designated Tempest II – wit the aim of executing “newly conceptualized warfighting concepts.” In June, the F-16A/B Block-15 Mid-Life Update (MLU)-equipped No. 11 squadron visited Turkey to participate in Anatolian Eagle, the Turkish Air Force’s largest international air exercise. In August, six No. 5 F-16C/D Block-52 flew to Nevada to take part in Red Flag, the U.S. Air Force’s marquee air combat exercise.

The PAF considers these exercises, especially multi-national ones overseas, as very valuable capacity-building avenues. The PAF concluded the year with High Mark, its full-service exercise, which is conducted once every five years. 2017 could see the PAF hosting its own multi-national exercises, such as Shaheen (which is traditionally conducted with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force) and Indus Viper (which has been done with Turkey).

To impart expertise and training and COIN-related air warfare, such as close air support (CAS) and time-sensitive strikes, the PAF established a new institution – the Airpower Centre of Excellence (ACE). The ground-breaking ceremony was conducted in February. When complete and operational, ACE will be open to domestic and overseas partners.

Air Defence

The Pakistan Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) disclosed that the PAF ordered six LY-80 (i.e. HQ-16) medium-range surface-to-air missiles (SAM) in 2014-2015. The HQ-16 SAM has a maximum range of 40 km. This appears to have been a follow-on order to the three HQ-16 SAM systems and eight IBIS-150 radars bought in 2013-2014. Deliveries and integration may have commenced in 2016 and may potentially continue into 2017. In September, China unveiled an upgraded version of the HQ-16 with a range of 70 km. This could be something of interest to the PAF considering it would utilize the existing infrastructure investment put into the HQ-16 SAM program.

In May, Pakistan’s Prime Minister reportedly said that an air defence deal with China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CPMIEC) would be finalized once CPMIEC submits its proposal. The exact nature of this procurement is not known, but it does not appear to be related to the HQ-16 and FM-90 programs, which had been finalized in earlier years (as noted in the MoDP’s yearbooks). This has led some, including Quwa, to speculate that Pakistan could be seeking the HQ-9 long-range SAM, which is capable (in its export form, the FD-2000) of engaging targets at up to 125 km. Pakistan had sought the HQ-9 in earlier years, so renewed interest in the system would not be surprising.

Miscellaneous

In October, the Chairman of the Pakistani Senate’s Standing Committee on Defence, Lt. Gen (retired) Abdul Qayyum told the Associated Press of Pakistan that PAC led the effort to repair two damaged Saab 2000-based Erieye AEW&C aircraft. Three of Pakistan’s Erieye AEW&C came under attack from non-state assailants in August 2012. One was written-off as non-recoverable, but the remaining two were listed as damaged. One of the repaired units was flown at last year’s 23 March parade.

The PAF will consider it imperative to construct a modernization roadmap that provides it an adequate defensive threshold to discourage uninvited entries. Structural economic uncertainty will remain an issue; a crisis or slide in the next several years would have adverse impacts on the PAF’s modernization efforts.

  • Kashif

    Interesting times ahead, but Bilal i’m more interested in Air Chief’s Aviation City Programme, any on ground development so far?

    • I believe the ACM said they’ve selected and formed the Masters and Phd programs. The schools will be built over the next 5 years.

    • Shakeel

      Sorry to put a dampener on our lofty aspiration with regards to the Kamra Aviation City, The ACM assertions of creating a Centre of Air Power excellence is purely a cosmetic gesture,

      The actual reality does not replicate what is happening on the ground. The fact is that we cannot claim to create a ‘centre of excellence’ in the short span of 5 yrs. To develop such as a centre you need a sound human resource base & a coherent strategy to achieve your end goal.If you research the number of aeronautical/mechanical engineer/material engineer we produce at MS/Phd level are a mere drop in the ocean.

      Essentially, what is happening is that we are shuffling our existing resources to spearhead the creation of new institutions,leaving the burden of a skills shortage in institutions such as NUST, Air University, & IST. At best you are likely to find about 30 Phd Pakistani students globally who have undertaken study in these respective fields. If you compare this against the number of Turkish students who have undertaken Phd study in the engineering disciplines the difference becomes self-evident.

      On a positive, whilst those few individual that I have witnessed going back to Pakistan are dedicated individuals with overriding concerns for the betterment of Pakistan. The latter individuals give me grounds for hope & optimism. May Allah bless them.

      • Steve

        Agree with shakeel. We need serious work not cosmetics that make us feel good but deliver no tech or products. May be able to recruit expert foreign faculty possibly retired guys who would want to come to a warm country with a high salary for short term contracts to kick-start knowledge and manpower building. Guard them like ministers as our enemies will use proxies and try to destroy anything that makes us better. Need out of the box thinking

      • Kashif

        You’re right to a great extent, but we should also not belittle our achievements; see our nuclear programme despite all odds we not only manage to overcome all hurdles but also frankly can claim as one of most advance nuclear state. However, having said that we cannot sit and keep praising ourselves for single achievement. In my personal view, we should involve our already established universities and seek help of expatriots of relevant fields. Nevertheless the vision of ACM is plausible and believe me i’m always optimistic.

        • Shakeel

          If only I could share your optimism in the same vain. You only have to look at how Musharraf treated AQ Khan with distaste. Scapegoated due to political ineptness.Are we really serious of nurturing our best talents.

          Nvertheless, its good to be optimistic.

          • Kashif

            That single incident has perhaps changed our view, Musharraf is reaping what he sowed…tell me a single individual, with the exceptions of some rogue or safely say planted people, who believed the nonsense Musharraf levied against AQ Khan and coming back to our discussion who is disagreeing you regarding ill treatment of our talent, take example of Nargis Mawawala who would have thought that this lady, would one day, play a vital role in detection of gravitational waves and before this discovery, she was almost unknown in her home country. i mean people likes of her are there we need to give them their due respect and of course financial incentives to come back home and work here but alas R&D has never been our priority. In the end we need to establish institute the likes of “HEJ institute of chemistry” I’m hopeful our leaders will listen to the need of the hour.

            n thnx for sweet words

          • Rizwan

            Sorry, i don’t agree with you regarding AQ Khan. Although he made critical contributions to the Pak nuclear program, he is somewhat of a prima donna and his shenanigans caused great long term harm to the reputation of Pakistan’s nuclear program vis a vis it’s security. And no, it’s not a conspiracy. Please read “Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb” by Brigadier Feroz Khan. He served as Director Arms Control and Disarmament Affairs, in Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, Joint Services Headquarters.

          • Shakeel

            Brig Feroze who? He represents diddly- squat to me. It is a coincidence that his book was primarily revealed to mitigate the blow back effects of keeping AQ Khan under house arrest. The tenure of Zardari govt was
            riddled with absolute corruption & coincided with the Raymond Davis affair, & Abbotabad mess.

            Brig Feroze comes from the same mould as Husain Haqqani (former US Ambassador) & in more recent times Ayesha Siddique, who wrote a book called ‘HOW NOT TO BE A GOOD PAKISTANI CITIZEN’. Both these writers are proved to be huge blockbusters in India.

            On the grand scheme of things these people are mere
            miniscules & traitors that do not represent an ounce of public opinion in Pakistan. Clearly, some of the upper echelons of Pakistan society have had a legacy of intimacy with the US & India, but they do represents vast swathes of public opinion who are heavily in favour AQ Khan as the primary executor of Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

            The above author will prove to an invaluable rich picking for Rizwan, who have to align himself with term of Political Correctness. Perception based on whom?. Who cares? The same people were crying
            foul about WMD in Iraq yesterday and they found a tin of baked beans.

          • Steve

            These ignorants who write books to get at the establishment should have insight that washing dirty linen in public and giving our enemies ammunition to attack us is totally SELFISH and self serving. They are actually colluding with our enemies which we have a lot of. They just can’t resist writing stuff for $$$. I also think people in critical position civilian or military should have a 7-10 Year moratorium before they go and earn $$$ in a US think tank and divulge all our secrets, and more importantly our way of planning and thinking. If they do it anyway their and their family’s assets should be seized and they should be barred from Pakistan for life. That’s for PM and COAS to implement. Problem is we have an underperforming PM. It’s time we start acting like a real country and not a banana republic where anyone can bad mouth the country like that turncoat HH who is masquerading as an academic and writing books full of crap concerning our core interests. Time to get serious like the rest of the worlds advanced countries.

  • SP

    I think that best years for Pakistan economically are still ahead. All that is required is political stability, increasing tax to gdp ratio, tackling corruption, improving ease of doing business, creating skilled job opportunities for the youth and reducing inflation. If Pakistan can increase its GDP growth on a consistent level while doing the above mentioned things then most of the problems Pakistan is facing can be overcome.

  • آصف اقبال

    Should’ve discussed the procurement of TAI T129 ATAK helicopters.

    • nob hamid gul

      Already discussed in the previous article.

  • bill

    Pak should plan and start induction of a new AESA equipped jet to counter Rafael otherwise they shall be in hot water. At least we should induct block-iii JF17 from 2018 subject to quality AESA radr, IRST and HOBS WVR induction to keep some sort of parity. Especially in case of AESA radar PAF should not take sole decision on base of cost but rather on basis of range and quality. Both Chinese and Vixen should be tested extensively before induction.

  • Steve

    UAE was thinking of replacing 70 Mirage 2000. I believe the Qatari mirages are also not sold yet. We have been flying mirages for decades. That’s >80 planes which could be bought and upgraded with AESA, HMCS,etc. If we really are scraping the bottom of the barrel with modern jets, this could be explored since we an ally of UAE, Yemen misadventures notwithstanding. Problem is Block III JF17 may it be far off this level.

    • Sami Shahid

      Your suggestion is good but we don’t need Mirage 2000 because we have JF-17.
      JF-17 is a competitor of Mirage 2000 and once we develop block 3 the Mirage 2000 will be of no use.

  • Rizwan
  • Hamza

    I think that instead of spending money on these toys we must change our priorities and focus on more important issues like health (a women died at lahore and gujranwala for inadequate and ĺack of resouces for treatment yesterday), education ( pak spends just 2.1 percent of GDP on education which is a huge dilema of our time and pak is among one of the highest out of school child country in south asia(third world countries)), justice system ( 60000 pending cases as according to officals of prison department of just punjab). We need to pay attention towards rehablitation of common people because all these luxuries are the outcomes of poor tax payers who have nothing to do with these toys 🙁

    • KM

      All the institutions comes under the Government, fortunately few of them governed by the Armed Forces are doing what little it may be, for the defense of the country. The rest of the institutions governed by incapable ministers and bureaucrats who do nothing except filling their own pockets. For their incapability we shouldn’t pass a sweeping statement about priorities. No one stops Govt to use their funds wisely and setting their priorities right, all cosmetic works they do for the beautification of the country is solely for the Political gain rather than investing on human resource.

      • SP

        The problem in not civilian inefficiency or rule versus army rule or army efficiency, the real problem is the system which nobody has tried to fix including the army as it serves its interests to have a failed system that allows the army to take direct power every several years. What is required is systematic reform of the way the government machinery operates in Pakistan. As far as army efficiency is concerned if you throw that much money at any civilian organisation then it can also perform better.

        • Steve

          I don’t think there is a big army conspiracy to keep the civilians inefficient so that they can take over from time to time. Recent events do not support that conclusion. I partly agree with you but historically we have had hyper-corrupt politicians of the 10% mold, who will drive the country into the ground as long as they enrich their families, and siphon corrupt money to Dubai, Panama, and London. No wonder they are the darlings of our enemies, under the guise of ‘democracy’. Taking massive loans for cosmetic beautification of cities while pocketing kick-back money is also part of the problem. Our masses are uneducated and clueless, and will keep electing these bloodsuckers. There are nonexistant civilian checks and balances on the government. What can the army do? Long term we need to educate our population and build up and most importantly de-politicise our civilian institutions like NAB, the courts, police and CID etc. Pakistanis must learn the words transparency, accountability and governance. Almost annoyed that army dictators like Musharraf and Zia did not fix this before they left, but they were probably trying to stay in power and that took up all their energies. The politicians won’t pass the required laws and shoot themselves in the foot, as they get elected to make corrupt money. Overall a bad situation.

          • SP

            I agree with you to some extent. However the historical evidence does not suggest that the army wants to see an strong system in place as that would undermine its pre-eminence in society, and the main beneficiary of the status quo system is the army. Army dictators had a chance to strengthen the system but they further weakened the system for personal benefit by supporting corrupt elements in the military and politicians. Even now and in particular during the previous COAS the army had a strong input into the governance of the country but evidence suggests the influence was used to enhance the power of the army instead of betterment of the public. As far as Mr 10% is concerned let us not forget who (the army) allowed him and his spouse to re-enter the politics of Pakistan at the behest of the US. Let us not forget who involved us in futile wars for foreign powers the price of which the Pakistani public is still paying today. The army as the deep state has vast powers to better Pakistan in a positive way but instead it chooses to abuse its power for the wrong reasons.

          • Steve

            It’s a see saw of power and neither army nor politicians are blameless. I however don’t buy this theory that the army’s sole purpose is to keep itself powerful in the politics of the country. That’s the propoganda our enemies make. Army having a country etc. I don’t think any of us can name 3 honest politicians who put the country first rather than themselves. We probably can’t name anyone except perhaps Bhutto, who actually were effective and good at their job, and he too arguably has a hand in the ’71 debacle, and was blamed to allow a breakup rather than not be PM instead of Mujib. No wonder the army does not trust politicians. Other countries also have different unelected centres of power. Like USA has big corporations, the military industrial complex, banks and financial institutions. They have huge power and are corrupt in their own way. Every politicians is beholden to lobbies and contributors who pull strings just like some people say our army does. If everyone and every institution in our country is self serving than we are not in a good position. It will take time for our institutions to mature. This can be a very long discussion and probably in a different forum.

  • Sami Shahid

    Rather then buying SU-35 we should buy the latest MIG-35 as SU-35 is expensive and MIG-35 is a good alternate for F-16. J-10 is also good as the new J-10 is equipped with AESA radar and Helmet Mounted Display. What else we need….Pakistan must buy Long Range SAM’s as we will be facing a two front war in the future as the US will definitely provide F-16’s to Afghanistan once it will leave that country and even if the US does not provide F-16’s to Afghanistan then India will definitely provide its obsolete air crafts to Afghanistan ! I am proud of Pakistani engineers who repaired SAAB-2000.

  • Steve

    So what if she’s gay or Parsi. What did the Quaid say, “free to go to mosques or temples”. The mullahs can just go and play with themselves. They’ve held our nation back with their stupidity, and have made us the laughing stock of the world. They all hate and call each other ‘Kaffir’ anyway. They can stay in mosques which is their place, but they should be totally disempowered. It’s the governments job to guide our clueless masses in the right direction. Abdus Salam who is the only science Nobel prize this country has produced was thrown out because he was Ahmedi. Ignoring talent is dangerous for us as a nation as we don’t have much to start with and the enemy is at the gates. I am sure we don’t want to condemn our children’s children to be a cowering minority in a sea of Hindus. This is what the Quaid saw and saved us from. Please don’t start religious discussions. I think history will judge the AQK incident. I think there was no other choice for the government, as sanctions were looming, but we don’t know the whole story.

    • Shakeel

      Steve makes some sound points with regards to the maulana’s, who before independence called Quaid along the lines of ‘Kafir’,
      only finding themselves to be amongst the first to migrate when Pakistan proclaimed independence. It was largely the uneducated classes through their staunch support of Quaid to the end that Pakistan came into being.

      I reiterate I have all due respect to the maulana’s & please do not prescribe a ‘Fatwa’ against me.

      AQK will remain victim of Pakistan chequered history, just the way circumstances of our Quaid death was shrouded in mystery during his last gasp of breath in Ziarat.

      As far as choices are concerned? This is my take on the on the present situation & lessons from history.

      How long will Pakistan continue to lean towards other nations dependency. We have a choice of whether we adopt ‘halal’
      or ‘haraam’, just like the way some people in Pakistan from a hypothetical standpoint (topical issue ) have a choice whether
      to contaminate milk for our personal gains.

      The problem in Pakistan is that too many people advocate SELF- PRESERVATION, but I ask the question at what expense?
      Shouldn’t the latter act be balanced with examples of SACRIFICE.

      Tipu Sultan, known as Tiger of Mysore had a choice? He stated the following “one day life of lion is better than hundred years life of jack”

      In Spain 1492 Sultan Muhammad made a choice to self preservation and was exiled on his way out of Granada, he stopped at a mountain
      pass to look back at Granada and began to cry. His mother was unimpressed with his sudden remorse and scolded him, “Do not cry like a woman for that which you could not defend as a man.”In 1502 Islam was officially outlawed in Granada.

      Does Pakistan really want to find itself in the above predicament,
      the Nawaz Sharif’s Lahore being fulcrum of attention.

      Even the founding fathers of Isreal (PM Golda Meir) made a ‘off
      the record’ confession about the choices they had & the benchmark contribution of our beloved prophet p.b.u.h towards this goal.(PLEASE READ BELOW)

      http://www.asiantribune.com/?q=node/11826

      In a nutshell do we have a choice the answer in ‘Yes’. Are
      we willing to make the sacrifice (?)

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