On September 7, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) began their bilateral air exercise – Shaheen VI – China. The annually-held exercise, which will conclude on September 27, involves as many as 19 PAF fighter and support aircraft.
Pakistan’s state-owned Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reports that the PLAAF contingent for Shaheen VI includes the Shenyang J-11 (i.e. license-built Chinese Su-27 Flanker), Xian JH-7/JH-7A strike aircraft, and KJ-200 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft. A PLAAF spokesperson told APP that Chinese ground forces and air defence units are also participating. Photos of the exercise, published by Xinhua, show that the Shenyang J-8II interceptor is also participating with the PLAAF.
The PAF appears to be participating with the JF-17 Thunder, which is jointly produced by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG) and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), CAIG F-7P and the Karakoram Eagle ZDK03-based AEW&C.
Pakistan and China rotate the responsibility of hosting the Shaheen exercise, with Shaheen V being held in Pakistan in 2016. That year, the PAF also participated in Anatolian Eagle and Red Flag in Turkey and the U.S., respectively. The PAF also conducted its force-wide exercise, Tempest II, in 2016.
Besides benchmarking operational practices and performance with partnering air forces, exercises of this nature also enable the PAF to engage in dissimilar air combat training (DACT). Of particular interest would be the Shenyang J-11, which is a Flanker variant like the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Su-30MKI.
During Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s visit to the PAF’s No. 9 Squadron (“Griffins”), the PAF had announced (via APP) a multi-national exercise in October. This will be Pakistan’s domestically-hosted first multi-national air exercise. In addition, the PAF’s Airpower Centre of Excellence (ACE) will be hosting bilateral and multilateral training exercises on a regular basis.