15 March 2016
By Bilal Khan
According to Dawn News, an English language news outlet in Pakistan, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is planning to replace as many as 190 of its legacy fighters by 2020.
Following up with senior Pakistani officials about the PAF’s reported interest in acquiring 10 F-16C/D Block-52s (in addition to the eight recently approved by U.S. Congress), Dawn had learned that the PAF slotted 190 of its aged Chengdu F-7 and Dassault Mirage III/5 fighter aircraft for retirement by 2020.
The official who spoke to Dawn News informed it that in addition to new F-16s, the PAF was also studying alternative fighter options from France and Russia, though the official recognized that any French option would be “very expensive.” On the other hand, Russian aircraft were cheaper, but “equally good.”
Notes & Analysis
While it was understood that the PAF was aiming to replace a substantial number of its old fighter aircraft by 2020, this is the first time a specific figure (of outgoing planes) was given.
Previous articles on Quwa identified that the PAF would center its fighter modernization plans on the JF-17 and F-16. Although 190 aircraft constitute a significant proportion of the PAF’s fighter fleet, it is important to note that the PAF’s replacement program will not be done on a 1:1 basis.
The advanced multi-role capabilities of the F-16 and JF-17 enable them to take on the mission roles of a higher number of older generation aircraft. Not only that, but in some respects – such as beyond-visual-range air-to-air warfare and precision-strike – they offer markedly superior performance.
It is possible that moving forward that Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) will increase the production-rate of the JF-17, which presently sits at 16 aircraft per year. The PAF is also pursuing additional new-built F-16C/D Block-52s, with a current plan for eight new aircraft (with an intention to acquire 10 more).
While additional new and used F-16s may be on the drawing board, the Pakistani official’s statement about French and Russian fighters being considered is interesting. A few months ago IHS Jane’s reported that the PAF was in talks with Russia for the purchase of Su-35s, but no additional details were given.
The French angle is less clear. It could be in reference to the Dassault Rafale, mothballed Mirage 2000s, or nothing at all. Though the apparent stall in Dassault’s efforts to finalize a Rafale sale to India could lend some hope to a renewal in ties between the PAF and the French aerospace vendor.
Ultimately, the PAF may be best served by fully focusing its attentions towards bringing the JF-17 Block-III to fruition. By concentrating its limited funding capacity, the PAF could potentially equip the JF-17 Block-III in a manner that brings it closer to contemporary fighters, such as the JAS-39 Gripen. For example, the PAF could perhaps consider a radar and avionics suite from Finmeccanica (formerly Selex ES) modelled on the subsystems being offered with the JAS-39E/F Gripen.