12 February 2016
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JF-17 makes a goodwill visit to Qatar
A Pakistan Air Force (PAF) contingent comprising of two JF-17s and two Super Mushshak trainers visited Qatar on the invitation of the Qatari government.
The goodwill visit coincided with an official visit by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who visited to sign a number of bilateral agreements across a range of fronts including energy, media and education.
Alan Warnes, a leading Pakistan aviation watcher and writer, reported that the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) could be interested in acquiring the JF-17 to replace its ageing Alpha Jets.
The Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet is an advanced jet trainer capable of light attack and close air support (CAS) missions. The Alpha Jet has the capacity to externally carry up to 2500 kg in munitions, which could include general purpose bombs and air-to-ground missiles, such as the AGM-65 Maverick.
If looked at from purely the angle of taking over the light attack and CAS role from the Alpha Jet, the JF-17 might seem like “overkill.” If Qatar was merely looking for a straightforward Alpha Jet successor, it could simply consider turboprops such as the EMB-314 Super Tucano or an armed variant of the PC-21, which it already ordered to serve as a trainer.
The JF-17 on the other hand is a multi-role fighter capable of much more than simply light attack and CAS. Perhaps it is for that reason that the JF-17 has apparently piqued the QEAF’s interest.
If the Rafale acquisition is of any indication, the QEAF’s modernization roadmap is not limited to simply replacing old platforms, but to greatly expand its operational capabilities. For example, not only will the Rafale acquisition double the QEAF’s fighter fleet (after replacing the Mirage 2000-5s), but it will also equip the QEAF with long-range strike capabilities via the MBDA SCALP cruise missile.
Within the context of the Alpha Jet, the JF-17 could offer a relatively similar capability upgrade. The JF-17 could embrace a number of important roles in the QEAF, such as advanced or lead-in fighter-trainer (LIFT), air defence fighter, and light attack and CAS fighter (in the vein of the Alpha Jet).
That said, there is no official confirmation that the QEAF is indeed interested in the JF-17. In any case, seeing the JF-17 make such high-profile visits at all is a promising sight, especially for a relatively new entrant to the fighter market.
More trouble in Congress for Pakistan’s F-16 hopes
It appears that Congress is still not willing to move in the White House’s direction in regards to the sale of eight new F-16s to the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
The main issue at hand is not the sale of F-16s per se, but the prospect of them being sold to the PAF on generous financial terms, such as those involving subsidies or installment plans via the Foreign Military Financing or FMF program.
According to a blog post on the Wall Street Journal, Republican senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, informed Secretary of State John Kerry that he could not approve of “U.S. taxpayer dollars” going to a “duplicitous partner” who prefers “moving sideways rather forward in resolving regional challenges.” The senator’s statements were drawn from the belief that Pakistan still supports specific factions of the Taliban, particularly those still engaged in fighting the U.S. in Afghanistan.
According to Dawn News, the White House submitted to Congress an FMF-based package that would confer Pakistan with improved “precision strike; air mobility and combat search and rescue; counter-improvised explosive device and survivability; battlefield communications; night operations; and maritime security/counter-narcotics in support of counter-terrorism aims.” Military aid to the tune of $265 million U.S. would have gone into supporting the package, which included the sale of eight new F-16s.
With this information available, it is clear that the sale of F-16s is not in straits at all, but that Pakistan would basically have to pay the full price if Congress does not approve the FMF component. Note, Pakistan paid for the entirety of the PAF’s current fleet of Block-52+ fighters. It is almost certain that the prospect of paying for the F-16s in their entirety will draw sharp criticism from within Pakistan, so it will be worth seeing how the PAF reacts to Congress’ final decision.
Besides the F-16s, it would be interesting to see what else in that assistance package. Could it include helicopters, such as the much desired UH-60 Blackhawk and SH-60 Seahawk? Perhaps additional Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles?