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After Inducting the J-10CE, Pakistan Hints at More Acquisitions

On 11 March 2022, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) officially inducted the J-10CE “Dragon” ‘omni-role’ fighter. The initial batch comprised of six aircraft and joined the PAF’s No. 15 Squadron. The PAF held the induction ceremony of the fighter aircraft at Minhas Air Base in Kamra.

The PAF revealed that it signed the contract for the J-10CE – alongside training, ground support equipment (GSE), and munitions – with the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) in June 2021.

Furthermore, the PAF added that the entire process from finalizing the deal to training to delivery took only eight months. This was a notable feat considering most modern fighter acquisitions take at least two years to materialize.

From the induction ceremony footage, one can confirm several key details about the PAF’s J-10CEs. First, the fighters are capable of deploying the PL-15E long-range air-to-air missile (LRAAM). Second, the J-10CEs can deploy the PL-15E using dual-ejector racks. The fighters are also configured with infrared search and track (IRST), the PL-10E high-off-boresight air-to-air missile (HOBS AAM), and in-flight refueling.

In his speech, the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Zaheer Ahmad Babar, outlined the PAF’s J-10CE configuration. The fighters are equipped with active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, an integrated electronic warfare (EW) suite, and network-centric warfare and sensor-fusion capabilities. The CAS also stated that the J-10CE was capable of deploying stand-off range weapons (SOW).

The PAF also highlighted several aspects of the J-10CE acquisition.

First, expediency was a key requirement of the order. The PAF had emphasized the need to receive these aircraft as early as possible, hence it lauded the eight-month timeframe. The PAF’s focus on expediency is also interesting in that it suggests the PAF wanted these aircraft as early as possible. It is unclear if this is in response to an impending threat from India, or the need to ‘catch up’ with an older requirement. In fact, the PAF wanted an off-the-shelf fighter for some time, but the lack of funding had shelved original plans.

Second, the PAF wanted to maintain a “first-shot” capability via new, longer-ranged LRAAMs. The PAF said that it inducted the PL-15. It is unclear if this is the export-grade PL-15E or the domestic variant of the PL-15 in use by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The conservative view is that the PAF is using the PL-15E, which offers a range of over 145 km. In any case, the J-10CE’s air-to-air missile range must be long enough for the PAF to consider it a “first-shot” capability.

Third, the PAF wanted the J-10CEs to enhance its ability to deploy a network-enabled warfare capability. This statement may suggest that the J-10CEs have a robust-enough bandwidth/data-transfer capacity for secure voice communications, video feeds, and radar/situational awareness sharing.

Fourth, the PAF termed the J-10CE as an “omni-role” fighter; this point indicate that the J-10CE is capable of undertaking both air-to-air and air-to-surface missions from within a single sortie.

Additional Procurements on the Roadmap?

On the same day as the J-10CE’s induction ceremony, the PAF also released a promotional video about its future acquisition roadmap. In the video, the PAF hinted at both previously rumoured and new programs, especially in terms of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems.

MALE UAVs: Bayraktar TB2 and Wing Loong 2

The PAF seemingly confirmed reports/rumours that it ordered the Bayraktar TB2 and AVIC Wing Loong 2 from Turkey and China, respectively. Both are popular medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAVs on the world market, especially in the Middle East and, in the TB2’s case, Europe.

The Bayraktar TB2 has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 700 kg and a payload of 150 kg. Thus far, the Turks and Ukrainians have used the TB2 in a precision air-to-ground strike role. The user can optionally deploy the TB2 with various ISTAR systems, including radars and electro-optical (EO) equipment.

The Wing Loong 2 reportedly has a MTOW of 4,200 kg and a payload of 480 kg. Like the TB2, the user can configure the Wing Loong 2 with guided air-to-surface munitions and ISTAR equipment.

Interestingly, the TB2 and Wing Loong 2 occupy different places in terms of size and payload capacity. If reports of the PAF acquiring both systems are accurate, then there may be a complementary approach at play. In addition to being larger, the Wing Loong 2 also has a higher top speed and flight ceiling compared to the TB2. Thus, the two systems could deliver on different operational requirements.

Bayraktar Akıncı

In the video, the PAF showed footage of the Turkish Bayraktar Akıncı high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) UAV. The Akıncı is a twin-engine UAV with a MTOW of 6,000 kg and payload of 1,500 kg. The payload can support sensors and weapons alike. The Akıncı offers an endurance of 24 hours and flight ceiling of 30,000 ft to 40,000 ft.

The OEM, Baykar Makina, announced on 03 March 2022 that it secured two export orders for the Akıncı. Baykar Makina is aiming to start delivering the Akıncı from 2023.

If the PAF is indeed a launch customer of the Akıncı, then this UAV would be the largest UAV in service in not only Pakistan, but in South Asia. The end-user can use its 1,500 kg payload for a wide range of missions, including long-range air strikes, electronic intelligence (ELINT), and ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance).

Given its focus on growing its network-enabled warfare capabilities, EW, and situational awareness, the PAF would likely use the Akıncı for ELINT and ISTAR. These roles would be an efficient use of this type of platform. It would allow the PAF to carry out long-haul flights without dealing with challenges like aircrew fatigue or the risks of using high-cost manned aircraft.

Extended Air Defence Reach?

Finally, the PAF showed footage of the YLC-8E radar and a variant of the HQ-9 surface-to-air-missile (SAM) system. Collectively, the two systems indicate the PAF’s intention to build a credible long-range, high-altitude air surveillance and ground-based air defence system (GBADS) capability.

The YLC-8E is a mobile ultra-high-frequency (UHF) radar. Its manufacturer, China Electronics Technology Group (CETC), is marketing it as an “anti-stealth” radar. The YLC-8E can also offer medium-to-high-altitude and medium-to-long-range coverage.

The HQ-9 is a long-range SAM system. Its latest iteration (available for export), the HQ-9BE, offers a range of 260 km plus limited anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capabilities. Currently, the Army is the sole operator of the HQ-9 within Pakistan. According to the Pakistan Army, its HQ-9/P systems can engage targets at over 100 km. However, if it is acquiring the HQ-9, the PAF could opt for the newer, longer-ranged HQ-9BE.




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