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Discussion: Pakistan’s options for addressing India’s air warfare lead (Part 2)


A general idea of the challenge posed by the Dassault Rafale in the use with India and the issues Pakistan would have to begin examining were outlined in part one of this series.

Hypothetically, should the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) manage to respond with an off-the-shelf acquisition of two or even three import squadrons without a clear methodology as to how that platform – in light of all of its strengths as well as all of its limitations – would decisively address the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s capabilities, it would be a waste of precious resources. Granted, one should not expect the PAF to undertake a grossly ill-informed approach, but the pressure to “match India” is entering the discourse.

To argue against a match acquisition may seem disingenuous at first, but it is vital that one acknowledge certain realities:

First, European platforms are expensive –  i.e. $100-250 million U.S. a unit with the requisite maintenance and logistics infrastructure as well as a finite support package.

Second, an import of its nature – while credible from a peacetime deterrence standpoint – will have limited utility in time of war.

Unless Pakistan manages to secure a measure of domestic parts production or a large stockpile of spare parts and even attrition reserves, heavy wartime use will stress the import unit very quickly. If one is to assume the presence of arms sanctions, the utility available with that import unit will decrease with every passing day in wartime.

It is crucial to understand that in war, the fighter platform is not an independent factor. Fighter aircraft are dependent on a supply and maintenance network, which in turn is dependent on labour, materials, and funding, which then is dependent on a state’s industry capacity. An importer such as Pakistan will not have access to the support network in wartime, not unless it actually spends the money to acquire a portion of that network (e.g. production of frequently worn replaceable parts).

However, valuable transfer-of-technology gains are generally not easy to secure. For example, a supplier such as Russia, which may sell the Su-35 for $80-100 million U.S. a unit may simply choose to retain as much of the after-sale support base as possible. The country is in a precarious economic situation and it suits Moscow’s interests to guarantee as much long-term work for Russians as possible.

In fact, even India – which had procured over 200 Su-30MKIs with in-house assembly rights – is only now in the process of setting up a truly dependable support base for the Flanker. In August, Moscow had agreed to establish a logistics hub to stockpile spare parts in a manner that is in line with the IAF’s operational needs, thereby raising the operational availability of the IAF Flanker fleet. Negotiations are reportedly underway for parts manufacturing in India, but it is not known when this will come to fruition.

One can imagine then the difficulty Pakistan could go through as not only a first time buyer of any Russian fighter, but also as one that is disadvantaged on the negotiating table as a result of having limited funds, limited commercial influence (especially relative to India), and in a position of need. Of course, if Pakistan is able and willing to spend more, it could request a larger support package, though Moscow’s economic incentives and overall leverage may be difficult to overcome.

A Typhoon order from the United Kingdom and/or Italy would likely come into the same general price range as India’s Rafale order – i.e. $250 million U.S. (or more) per unit. To put this into perspective, the PAF had bought four Karakoram Eagle airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) for $278 million U.S. from China. Granted, Rafale and Typhoon unit cost includes more than just the fighter, but it is difficult to fathom Pakistan spending that much per fighter – even with a measure of domestic production and offsets – when there are other major priorities, even within the armed forces (much less the country).

The Saab JAS-39E/F Gripen Next Generation (NG) is a relatively more achievable option. Brazil had inked a $4.8 billion U.S. order for 36 JAS-39E/Fs with transfer-of-technology and commercial offsets. It would appear that Brazil will at least assemble 29 of the 36 aircraft in-house, though it may also manufacture certain components. Overall, the Gripen NG program is expected to generate over 2,000 jobs in Brazil.

The Gripen NG has much of the same technology as the Rafale (e.g. active electronically-scanned array radar, compatibility with next-generation air-to-air munitions, etc), and the unit cost of $130 million U.S. (with apparently a decent domestic support package) is attractive. However, with Sweden also looking to enter the Indian defence market, it is unclear if Stockholm would be interested in exploring its market potential in Pakistan (even though the PAF is already a Saab AB customer via the Erieye AEW&C).

Unfortunately, none of the options above solve a critical issue – the need to distribute cutting-edge subsystems into the mainstream fleet. The PAF’s principal objective (in terms of acquisitions) would be to acquire cutting-edge air warfare technology and to diffuse or distribute it within the entirety of its fighter fleet. There is limited value in having contemporary air warfare capabilities concentrated in a small fleet of top-tier fighters. Rather, the capabilities that make those fighters (such as the Typhoon) valuable ought to be embraced and then extended to the PAF’s mainstay fighter platform – the JF-17 Thunder.

This is not to suggest that the JF-17 Thunder is a superior platform to the above, far from it. Rather, what is being suggested is that the JF-17 Thunder – especially one equipped with much of the same technology (albeit at varying or lesser performance) – is the means to build a credible defensive layer against any IAF threat. For example, the provision of an excellent electronic warfare (EW) and electronic countermeasures (ECM) suite would enable the JF-17 to have a meaningful means to defend against an incoming active-radar guided air-to-air missile, including the MBDA Meteor. Yes, the Meteor will certainly raise the bar in terms the performance and quality expected from the EW/ECM suite, and that will add to the cost of the JF-17, but fleet-wide distribution may not be any costlier than procuring fewer imports.

Whereas the PAF does not benefit from the support network of any import (be it the Typhoon, Su-35, F-16, or Gripen), it does have a measure of control over the JF-17’s support base.

First, a proportion of the fighter’s airframe is manufactured at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC)’s facilities.

Second, spare parts are sourced locally, thereby assuring a constant stream of support for the fighter, even in wartime.

Third, the gradually expanding domestic support and participation in the Thunder enables Pakistan to accrue valuable cost savings, which it would not benefit from should it buy an import. These cost savings include the utilization of local currency (thereby saving on foreign exchange outflows), local labour and to an extent material costs, and in the case of imported materials, it can access a comparatively affordable market in China. Combined, these factors provide the PAF with considerable space in terms of configuring the JF-17 whilst still being in the realm of relative affordability.

Unfortunately, there are technical and other challenges with solely banking on the JF-17 Block-III. These relate to the reality of the JF-17’s airframe itself, which is a lightweight design that may require significant work – and thus time – in order to properly configure next-generation subsystems. In turn, this could drive the need for another platform, but as a means to introduce these technologies into the fleet earlier and to help build quantitative strength ahead of the Block-III, which would come later. This will be explored in greater detail in part three.

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  • by SP
    Posted September 26, 2016 3:11 am 0Likes

    If you are worried about spare parts then the safest stop gap option may be J11 or J16. There is no point in buying Gripen or F16 or J10 which are more or less in the same class as JF17.

    In the long run Pakistan needs a stealthy fighter which has deep strike ability and endurance in line with Pakistans doctorine of Offensive Defence.

    The new aircrafts no only need to improve Pakistans offensive and defensive capability but will go some way in retiring older aircrafts.

    When JF17 was envisaged PAF leadership lacked vision and set low goals. The arrival of SU30 forced them to revise the requirements for JF17. Now the requirement for JF17 will have to be adjusted again to make it more capable. The production of Tejas will put further pressure on PAF. Many of the events could have been predicted a long time ago and PAF leadership would have had plenty of time to think through the various options and how to counter India.

    The only way to match India is to match or exceed them it terms of equipment and professionalism. There is a need for PAF to involve private sector and academia in its decision making.

  • by SP
    Posted September 26, 2016 3:53 am 0Likes

    PAF also needs to proactive rather than reactive. PAF should lead and innovate with IAF being forced to react and follow. PAF needs innovative, dynamic and visionary leadership rather than paper pushers which is so common in bureaucracy.

  • by SP
    Posted September 26, 2016 7:51 am 0Likes

    I agree Pakistan is paying a high price to maintain some parity with India, therefore the economy should be Pakistans primary focus in the long run.

    Population of Pakistan is 1/6 of India the economy needs to be at least one sixth of Indias.

    There is no reason why Pakistans economy cannot keep pace with Indias. Reducing electricity shortfall will add 2% to the economic growth of Pakistan. Ending of WOT will further boost the economy. Moves to document the economy will further boost the economy. Many of Pakistans richest pay little or no taxes and furthermore park their money in switzerland, offshore islands, uae, europe or us. Once these loopholes have been removed Pakistans economy will get a further boost.

  • by MT
    Posted September 26, 2016 8:20 am 0Likes

    Its not simple as you speak

    1. Lack of local manufacturing for railway,thermal,hydel,wind & nuclear reactors.China have completely monopoly in Pakistan!

    2. Pak is buying CPEC energy from china which is 2-3 times costlier than Indian electric grid companies selling to indian electric service providers

    I read about chinese thermal/gas plant in pak punjab which turned out to be totally substandard.Same case with railway engine

    3. Brand Image associated by affiliation with regional proxies, hurting pak service industries & FDI

    Brand value is the biggest impediment to Pak economy. If India were pakistan then it would not behave expansionist on kashmir.It will keep quiet & focus on internals.

    But Pak is diverting public interest from corruption,power issues to 24X7 rant on Kashmir which is forcing India to slander Pak in payback

    Honest leader like Imran khan will nver make it to power. Corrupt civilian govt is need of military as they can show themself as biggest savior of pak wazood by showing failures of corrupt govt

    Pak economy needs good civilian leadership which controls all policies of pak.Not seem to be happening for near future

  • by Muhammad Khurram Bhatti
    Posted September 26, 2016 8:44 am 0Likes

    Would be surprised/anguished if the work has not already been underway, since 2007, to modify the air frame of Thunder to provision for better performance and also to make room for better subsystems. This “Block” approach was designed to evolve the fighter overtime and not have the same everything in 2017 like we had in 2007.

  • by Manju
    Posted September 26, 2016 9:13 am 0Likes

    Long story in short “Pakistan has no money, hence they need to stay happy with their JF-17”.

  • by SP
    Posted September 26, 2016 11:10 am 0Likes

    I disagree that the thermal and gas plants being built by China are substandard. The gas plants are some of the most efficient in the world using latest GE turbines.

    I also disagree that Imran Khan is an honest leader. Someone that had offshore company, lives beyonds his means, pays hardly any tax, has dishonestly taken advantage of tax amnesty in the past, is surrounded by corrupt people having companies and assets abroad and wants power by any means fair or unfair does not fall under my definition of honest. He fooled people for too long but now people are realising him for what he is a power hungry hypocrite without morals and ethics who cannot delivers anything other than empty slogans phrases.

  • by Fireball
    Posted September 26, 2016 11:51 am 0Likes

    Well written piece Bilal
    I would suggest that Pakistan take a leaf out of China’s aerospace and aircraft manufacturing play-book and keep developing the JF17 program to enhance local expertise and self reliance for all the reasons you have highlighted above. In the long run it will pay dividends in spades. Just remember how rudimentary Chinese platforms were with the J5, J6 and more recently the J7. But they have now evolved to the J10, J31 and J20. We need adequate fighters to defend ourselves and invest in force multipliers such as BVR and the like. We have time on our side. Let the Indians learn how unreliable western suppliers can be especially when national interests will diverge as they will when India starts to flex its muscles on the global stage and in the Indian Ocean in particular.

  • by MT
    Posted September 26, 2016 12:39 pm 0Likes

    India is on cusp of aeronautical high jump. I ll simply put Pak15-20yrs behind India given India have been investing bill $ on local r&d.
    In fact Pak doesn’t have any significant r&d portfolio in aeronautics.

    So it’s matter of 8-10yrs before India reach today’s China status in most defence technologies.

    A decade of time ll pass by nd Indian native r&d budget ll shoot from current 5bill$ tob20-25 bill $ sufficient to innovate in standalone.

    But I agree with your approach on jf17 upgradation strategy which is slow but best way to create the aeronautics industrial capacity

  • by Thinker
    Posted September 26, 2016 2:56 pm 0Likes

    IMHO –
    Seeking parity with India is not achievable in the near term. India is 10 times larger and
    Pakistan’s economy is just not capable of sustaining a large air warfare
    infrastructure needed to thwart India. As India increases in strength, you will
    see it become more aggressive and serious transgressions into Pakistani
    airspace are inevitable.
    Instead of focusing on matching Indian air power, the PAF
    needs to look at making Indian adventurism a more painful affair for the IAF
    leadership. For this, it needs asymmetrical thinking and a heavy investment in
    force multipliers. It needs to not focus on platforms such as SU-35, Typhon and
    Gripen and look at developing a robust and homegrown force-multiplier systems that are second to none, like surface-to-air missiles. Only then will the PAF achieve its goals of making the Indians think twice before attacking.

    Posted September 26, 2016 9:49 pm 0Likes

    take a suggestion from your sworn enemy for your air defence.
    purchase 5-6 batteries of hq-9 from china, get an aesa radar and better engines for jf-17 blockIII. these two steps are suited for your weak economic condition. and be happy.

  • by AMAN
    Posted September 27, 2016 1:39 am 0Likes

    PAYLOAD—- 8000-12000 K.G.
    SPEED——- 2000KMH APPROX.
    RANGE ———– 4000 K.M.
    G LOAD ——— 9G


  • by AMAN
    Posted September 27, 2016 1:42 am 0Likes

    I assure you bilal Su-34 heavy fighter bomber will eat Rafael alive.

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted September 27, 2016 6:21 am 0Likes

    Aman, I just had to up-vote your comment, just HAD to!

  • by nob hamid gul
    Posted September 27, 2016 9:30 am 0Likes

    In this given situation. Pakistan should now invest in Long range air defence System.

  • by Salman Khan
    Posted September 27, 2016 10:36 am 0Likes

    It feels like he was marketing the plane to Bilal ahahaha

  • by Salman Khan
    Posted September 27, 2016 10:39 am 0Likes

    Lord Harsh, our sworn enemy with a fine British lordly sword in his hand in a neat tight navy suit lol. You are not our enemy as long as you aren’t involved in destabilizing Pakistan.

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted September 27, 2016 11:23 am 0Likes

    Well he’s sold it to me! Nothing less than Su-34 will do for PAF now after that heartfelt plea!


  • by Bilal Khan - Quwa
    Posted September 27, 2016 11:54 am 0Likes

    Let us hope that Pakistan can make sufficient inroads with Russia.

    Posted September 28, 2016 7:18 am 0Likes

    we are not interested in pakistan. got other works to do. let us live peacefully. accept Loc as border and end dispute. and get in writing from Indian government that no Indian will even look towards pakistan, we will cutoff ourselves completely from each other because we are problems for each other. respect status quo and all will be fine.
    and the day pakistan agrees for status quo….let there be a great wall built on the international border completely alienating these two countries from each other. thereafter both can progress well towards their destinies.

  • by Mohammad Umer
    Posted September 28, 2016 7:41 am 0Likes

    Completely agree with your point of view. I have the same point of view.

  • by Thinker
    Posted September 28, 2016 9:41 am 0Likes

    I salute your optimism however, history shows that Pakistan has always been a smaller scale player on the world economic stage. Unfortunately, economic growth and big ticket defense acquisitions go hand in hand. I do hope that in the near future Pakistan achieves a superbly robust economy, capable of sustaining both social and defense needs that will allow it to achieve parity with not just India but other regional powers. In the mean time the Pakistani defense thinkers need to focus on force-multipliers and not be distracted with some of these bigger ticket items. For the most part, the Soviet Union crumbled because their economy could not sustain their defense expenditures. This should be a lesson for astute defense planners.

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted September 28, 2016 10:25 am 0Likes

    My dear friend Aman!

    I don’t know why, I can’t quite put my finger on it but somehow I feel PAF ACM Sahib is a little too preoccupied, especially these days to listen to any of my advice! But don’t lose heart just yet. It is entirely possible he looks on the Internet to see what’s being said about PAF so there is a possibility, even if a remote one, he might be reading this so just for you Aman, here is the request:

    Dear ACM Sohail Aman Sahib, please kindly consider the Su-34 for PAF. Just look at the specs and cost, and compare with the competition. Sir, it is the quite simply the BEST!!!!!

    There you go Aman, aap ki baat maan li, request made!

  • by Quraishi
    Posted September 28, 2016 11:03 am 0Likes

    Before partition, the country had in fact been one of the richest in the world, thats why there is so much population now, as so many people from all over came to the rich country, and many people survived and mortality rate was much lower as compared to other regions in the world.

    True, another thing that can be done is financial optimization.
    For example y does an army have such a huge public relations department ISPR, it even make movies, things such as this should go.
    You can see the Saudi war in Yemen and there is just a spokesman giving out the relevant information not a whole department etc, y does an army need ISPR department costing so much, and excesses such as this.

  • by MT
    Posted September 28, 2016 6:18 pm 0Likes

    It’s simple bcoz we r proportional population nd third world economy with similar problems.

    Anyway just want to know Where are Pakistani Pvt section giants.why Pak ranks bottom 10 in innovation nd bottom 20 in global competitive index( India China ranked 66:25 ,in innovation and 39;28 in global competitive index) India China ranked 7;2 ,,in patent and 2;5 in papers published)
    Where are Pakistani Infosys TCS Flipkart Paytm.

    Pak is lying at bottom of most index in South Asia.

    I agree that India itself is third world country with overpopulation nd it has many more problems but it has vibrant start up ecosystem with base of solid Pvt sector driven by decent r&d nd avg plus skill power
    —That is differentiating factor …
    Pak is long long away from development of basic Steel plant petrochemicals nd other basic core heavy industries to develop machine tools.

    Why is pak nt able to build thermal plant hydro turbine generators nuclear plants wind turbine.

    India making these stuffs for more than2-3 decades.

    So this puts pk 2 generation behind as Pak HV to import these stuffs at 50%higher price which puts you steps behind other countries in region

    Bangladesh also lacks these sophisticated industrial complex but they r slowly making them or allowing and to do it for them.

    Now they r among top5 textile exporters and they ll soon rise up the ladder

  • by Quraishi
    Posted September 28, 2016 7:31 pm 0Likes

    These are all facts that u listed, but u have to realize that they (these facts) are a product and result of something, u (pakistan) change those somethings, and these numbers will change.
    They r not static, and I do not fully agree with innovation rankings, as it takes into consideration the registered patents if I’m not mistaken. More important is the amount of value creation in an economy.
    Another important point to note is that often people in pakistan assume government is to setup such and other industry, whereas in reality the government job is to provide systems, justice system and infrastructure for the private sector to produce optimum industries and production.
    Anyhow what pakistan is now is due to the decisions and actions of he past, and future will be determined by the decisions and actions of today, so consoder these facts as a result of decisions and actions of Pakistan as a nation in the past.

  • by Zeeshan Khan
    Posted October 4, 2016 1:52 pm 0Likes

    the main point for Pakistan is not whether Imran Khan is immature in politics or does not the dynamics of it.. A non corrupt leader would in layman terms mean ample funds to utilize in various sectors. Even if they are not used, it would still mean room for improvement in coming years as budgets would lapse and would carry forward. This is exactly what happened in KPK in first 2 years. If I remember correctly over 40% to 60% of KPK development budget was utilized and lapsed at 30 June. But the pace was picked up in 3rd year. This is a far better situation than the money being laundered by corrupt leaders which will never be available for utilization in future. To cut it short. We should not expect miracles from PTI, but our economy and global image is for sure to improve if IK comes to power.

  • by SP
    Posted October 4, 2016 2:50 pm 0Likes

    I disagree that Imran Khan is not corrupt. There are different types of corruption. A person claiming that he has homeless and asking CM Punjab for a free plot to build house, which never was built or is sold later is corruption. A person that does not want to pay taxes on earnings and forms an offshore company to avoid paying taxes is moral corruption and Imran Khan seems to be the pioneer of offshore companies. A person that has no known source of income but is living a lavish lifestyle making about 20 annual business class flights and travelling in convoys needs to explain his source of income or who is financing him. A person that has ATM’s by his side that have offshore companies abroad and associates with people of ill repute should be judged by the company he keeps. I have done some research and found that generally those that pretend to be the cleanest are often the most corrupt and are even worse as they are hypocrites. Clean people like Justice Wajihuddin have left PTI as the party has just become a personality cult following.
    If he was sincere he would have hit the ground running in KP instead of holding dhernas in Punjab, which suggests that he is more interested in power than to serve the public. He wanted Musharraf to make him PM but they fell out over the number of seats Musharraf was prepared to offer him in NA. When Gen Raheel Sharif called him during the dherna he was smiling and could not contain his happiness as he thought the army was going to install him as PM. These aren’t the acts of a democrat.

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