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Updates to Pakistan’s Drone Fleet
February 4, 2023

Updates to Pakistan’s Drone Fleet

 

This is a guest post explaining the current status of Pakistan’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) inventory. The author leverages open-source research and material.

By Farooq B.

CH-4B

Pakistan Army Aviation CH-4B

The Pakistan Army Aviation Corps acquired the CH-4B UCAV in 2021.  The first batch of four CH-4B UCAVs arrived in Pakistan in early 2021 and was subsequently deployed to Bhawalpur Airport which also housed a Pakistan Army Aviation segment. 

Using Google Earth imagery, it was possible to identify four ISO 40 ft-sized containers which acted as UAV transports at the airbase. All 4 CH-4Bs were also visible in satellite imagery at the airbase. The setup at Bhawalpur consisted of two sets of line-of-sight (LOS) ground control stations (GCS) and 1 SATCOM dish module for beyond line-of-sight (BLOS) operations.

In early 2022, however, two f the four UAV containers, along with 1 set of GCS (2 modules per set) disappeared, from the airbase. Around the same time the same equipment then popped up at Pakistan Navy’s Air station at Turbat. 

While the UAVs were not visible in newer imagery, the GCS vehicles were clearly deployed along the runway. So it was clear that the UAVs were being used in active operations. 

Coincidently, around that tims, verified sources reported that the CH-4Bs were conducting strikes in Balochistan. This indicated that PAA had deployed its CH-4Bs on their first combat deployment. 

Later on, it was likely due to the successful use of these drones that various Pakistani branches later began sending combat UAVs to Balochistan, seeing how much useful they were in counterinsurgency (COIN) oeprations. 

Furthermore, this hinted towards increased joint interoperability between PN & PA.

A video taken over Bolan,  Pakistan featured a very clear view of a CH-4B UAV conducting an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission. It was likely the CH-4B UAV was conducting BLOS-based operation from a GCS at Bhawalpur airport.

Pakistan Navy CH-4B

In addition to the PAA, the Pakistani Navy (PN) was also known to be in the process of acquiring armed drones, as the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) had reportedly said in his farewell speech that the PN would acquire armed UAVs for maritime roles.[1] The CNS confirmed that the UAVs were CH-4Bs in 2022. [2]

In September 2022, at Turbat Airbase, an additional GCS setup was found alongside the PAA’s CH-4B GCS. This new GCS set was accompanied by three ISO 40 ft-sized containers for UAV transport as well as additional 20 ft-sized containers (likely holding spare parts) at Turbat. 

While there are no images of the UAVs thus far, a tender released by the PN (around the same time as the containers appeared) called for the construction of support facilities for the CH-4 at Turbat. [3] Thus, these indicators confirm that the new arrivals at Turbat are indeed CH-4Bs, i.e., the batch the PN ordered for its requirements.

These PN CH-4Bs are likely equipped with a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) for maritime ISR, supplementing the PN’s P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

Burraq

There are additional signs of joint-interoperability between the PN and PAA. For example, a number of PAA Burraq UAVs were deployed at Turbat alongside CH-4Bs. This was likely the first time the Burraq was deployed in Baluchistan.

Four UAV transport containers were visible alongside two GCS modules (i.e., one set), thus indicating that there could be four Burraq UAVs operational at Turbat.

Bayraktar TB-2

Pakistan Air Force Bayraktar TB-2

In a major shift in policy, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) opted to supplement its Chinese UAVs with Turkish drones. In early 2022, the PAF received its first Bayraktar TB-2 UAVs and, as of April 2022, the PAF had deployed them at Murid Airbase. 

The PAF is said to have received at least 20 Bayraktar TB-2s, with a larger number still on order.

Based on an imagery analysis of Murid Airbase, in April 2022, the PAF had deployed four TB-2s. There were four ISO 20 ft-sized UAV transport containers visible at the base.

Furthermore, two sets of GCS, along with towed power generators (one for each GCS), were also visible at the base. This indicates that the TB-2 system was fully functional. In fact, a single TB-2 was also spotted on the taxiway. In one image, it was undergoing ground checks before a flight. TB-2s were later seen conducting flights from the air base, as noticed on FR24 by the following Twitter user.

Pakistan Navy Bayraktar TB-2

In 2022, the PN CNS gave an interview to Defence Turkey, in which he revealed that the PN acquired the CH-4 and was in the process of inducting the Bayraktar TB-2 as well. This will make the PN the second Pakistani operator of the TB-2, following the PAF.

The PN is likely acquiring the Bayraktar TB-2 to replace its Uqab-2 UAVs in the ISR role. The PN had phased out the Uqab-2-series several years ago.

Bayraktar Akinci

The PAF also ordered the Bayraktar Akinci, purportedly in sizable numbers, and with the model being the Akinci-B. Deliveries could start from early 2023. However, the PAF also acquired a single Akinci-A for testing and integration purposes.

On 19 October 2022, the PAF released a video in which a PAF UAV operator (wearing a TB-2 patch) was seen inspecting an Akinci. [4] This Akinci was equipped with four “National Small Diameter Bombs” on its underbelly hardpoint. The video was taken at what appeared to be a training facility in Turkey.[5] This was also confirmation that Turkey successfully integrated its domestic SDB-type precision-guided bomb (PGB) to the Akinci. Previously, there was only news reporting the integration of the SDB to the Akinci.

Shahpar-2

The Shahpar-2 was a major step forward for the Pakistani UAV industry. It was the country’s second indigenous armed UAV design. It has also entered joint service with the PA and the PAF, as indicated at recent defence exhibitions, such as IDEAS 2022.

It seems that the PAA will operate the Shahpar-2 while using PAF facilities, as it had done before with the Burraq. The first batch of Shahpar-2 UAVs have been deployed to Murid Airbase, where they are both flying and carrying out weapon tests.

 

Learn More About Pakistan’s Drone Fleet:

References

[1] https://www.defenceturkey.com/en/content/deputy-chief-of-the-naval-staff-projects-dcns-projects-pakistan-navy-vice-admiral-vadm-imran-ahmed-4976

[2] https://www.defenceturkey.com/en/content/chief-of-the-naval-staff-cns-pakistan-navy-admiral-muhammad-amjad-khan-niazi-bayraktar-tb2-ucav-is-being-evaluated-for-induction-in-the-pn-5346

[3] Reference to the Pakistan Navy’s tender

[4] Reference to Pakistani operators training on the Akinci

[5] Reference to the Akinci gaining SDB integration