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How Pakistan Could Optimize its Air Warfare Capabilities
June 16, 2021

How Pakistan Could Optimize its Air Warfare Capabilities

In its response to the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) attempted air strikes on Balakot, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) response – designated “Swift Retort” – centered on the delivery of long-range situational awareness, long-range air-to-air missile (LRAAM) deployment, electronic countermeasures (ECM), and stand-off weapon (SOW) strikes. For the PAF, preserving – and ultimately, upgrading — these four capabilities are critical for it to demonstrate a conventional deterrence stature. For Pakistan to deter future Balakot-type intrusions in the future, establishing conventional deterrence – especially through air power – is vital.

The PAF certainly has a long-term roadmap for enhancing the aforementioned domains. For example, the PAF wants a fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA). It is hoping for a twin-engine design to ensure that it can deploy heavy payloads at long ranges. The intended outcome is to both replace the Mirage III/5 in the strike role, and greatly improve upon the offensive value currently provided by the Mirages. However, the FGFA is a long-term endeavour. The PAF stated it is looking at a maiden test flight in 2028, which in Quwa’s earlier assessment would be impossible unless Pakistan is rolling its FGFA efforts with those of Turkey or China. In any case, the FGFA will not factor into the PAF’s plans until sometime in the 2030s.

Thus, the PAF still has to look at how to improve its “first shoot” air-to-air capability, SOW inventory, long-range situational awareness, and ECM in the short-term. In this respect, the PAF leadership had signalled an interest in buying another fighter type off-the-shelf. However, the most impactful improvements would occur at a fleet-wide level, i.e., through the JF-17, the PAF’s workhorse multi-role fighter. The PAF is clearly working towards improving the capabilities of its JF-17 fleet across the four key domains.

Long-Range Air-to-Air Capability

With the forthcoming JF-17 Block-III, the PAF is introducing the KLJ-7A active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar to its fleet…

Fleet-Wide ECM Deployment

Onboard the JF-17, ECM deployment would likely emerge in two forms depending on the specific aircraft variant. The Block-III (and presumably the JF-17B) was slated to have integrated ECM…

Additional SOW Integration

In terms of SOW, the JF-17 can deploy the C-802 anti-ship cruising missile (ASCM), the CM-400AKG rocket, and Indigenous Range Extension Kit (IREK)-equipped precision-guided bombs (PGB)…

Situational Awareness

The PAF started improving this domain before Swift Retort. The centerpiece of this program was ordering three additional Saab 2000-based Erieye airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft…

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