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Is Azerbaijan’s SOM Cruise Missile a Factor for the JF-17?

On 26 June 2018, Azerbaijan showcased a Roketsan SOM air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) as part of its annual military parade in its capital, Baku.[1] Operational since 2012, the SOM is a near-600 kg ALCM with a range of more than 250 km (but certainly less than the 300 km limit set by the Missile Technology Control Regime or MTCR). Currently, the Turkish Air Force (TuAF) deploys the SOM from its F-16C/Ds and F/A-4s, though a compact variant – i.e. SOM-J – is also being readied for deployment from the F-35 Lightning II.

Azerbaijan had reportedly ordered the SOM from Turkey in November 2017.[2] The Azerbaijani Air and Air Defence Force (AAF) is expected to deploy the SOM from its existing platforms, notably the MiG-29.[3] The SOM will offer the AAF with strong stand-off range strike capabilities against fixed and, potentially, moving targets alike. The SOM-A and SOM-B1/B2 rely on satellite (GPS)-aided inertial navigation systems (INS) for guidance, though the SOM-B1/B2 also have imaging infrared (IIR) seekers (ostensibly for moving targets).[4]

Besides imbuing Azerbaijan with long-range attack capabilities, the AAF’s procurement of the SOM ALCM could be of relevance to Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and the JF-17. In 2016, the AAF reportedly stated that it was interested in procuring the JF-17 from PAC. If PAC is still courting the AAF on the JF-17, then it follows that integrating the SOM to the JF-17 would make sense, at least from a commercial basis.

It would make very limited sense for the AAF to invest in a new fighter platform, only for it to be incapable of using one of the AAF’s marquee munition assets. However, integrating the SOM ALCM to the JF-17 will also have the added impact of providing the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) with another stand-off range weapon (SOW) option for use from its burgeoning JF-17 fleet. Granted, this was possible in theory, but Azerbaijan now possessing the SOM opens the prospect into a plausible scenario from several accounts.

Turkey Can Freely Export the SOM

The SOM sale to Azerbaijan is evidence that Turkey has sufficient control – or sufficiently strong licensing – of the SOM’s subsystems to export the ALCM. In fact, Azerbaijan is a notable case because it is not only a buyer of Russian armaments, but it is not a traditionally close ally of the US and/or Western Europe as the Middle Eastern (especially in the Arabian Peninsula) or Pacific Asian states.

Thus, the sale of sensitive third-party equipment should not be as tenable. However, the SOM sale would suggest that it either has significant local intellectual property (IP) from Turkey or, alternatively, is a sign of Europe (e.g. Safran Group) relaxing its approach to sales of its subsystems to third-parties by Turkey. In either case, Turkey is positioned to export the SOM for use on non-Western fighters (e.g. the JF-17).

In terms of the SOM, the core development work was implemented by TÜBİTAK SAGE, which is the leading defence research and development (R&D) body in Turkey. Likewise, the SOM can draw into a strong local electronics manufacturing base through Aselsan. However, critical inputs, such as the miniature turbojet engine, are still sourced from abroad (i.e. Safran Group Microturbo TRI 40). Turkey has a domestic turbojet program geared to supplant the TRI 40 in the SOM and the forthcoming Atmaca anti-ship missile (AShM).[5]

Pakistan’s Incentives for Integrating the SOM to the JF-17

With the SOM a part of the AAF’s inventory, PAC would be well-advised to integrate and certify the SOM for use from the JF-17. In fact, a key underlying argument for procuring the JF-17 – besides its low upfront and lifecycle cost – is its capacity to offer end-users flexibility in selecting subsystems and munitions. Thus, it would behove PAC to demonstrate that aspect by validating Azerbaijan’s SOM purchase. However, this integration work could also have a feedback effect by benefitting the PAF as well.

Simply, PAC ought to offer SOM integration as part of its JF-17 pitch to the AAF. In other words, build the cost of integration and testing of the SOM (and other subsystems and weapons) into the price. However, to effectively compete, some compromise could be made in regards to the profitability or margin between the actual cost and the price offer to Azerbaijan. Although this will impact how much net foreign or hard-currency PAC will generate from the sale, the deal would spur several other benefits.

First, although the profit is less, Azerbaijan will (via its order) keep PAC’s JF-17 production going, i.e. free the PAF to use resources (that might have been spent keeping the production line warm) in another area until Project Azm begins to materialize. Second, Azerbaijan’s order could subsidize the cost of integrating the SOM (and other munitions and subsystems) on the JF-17, thus enabling the PAF to add these systems to its own fighters without incurring the added non-recurring engineering (NRE) charge.

Why Would the PAF Need the SOM?

The PAF already possess its own line of ALCMs in the Ra’ad-series. The Ra’ad and Ra’ad II have ranges of 350 km and 550 km, respectively.[6] Thus, the SOM would be redundant from a conceptual standpoint. But the Ra’ad-series currently appears to be a primarily strategic asset, i.e. a means for the PAF to deliver its nuclear capability from stand-off range. The Ra’ad is deployed from the PAF’s Mirage III/5s, but the Ra’ad’s core mission (strategic delivery) might not change even if it is integrated to the JF-17.

Interestingly, PAC’s marketing material for the JF-17 show that equipping the JF-17 with ALCMs is on the roadmap. The JF-17 is already capable of carrying two C-802 AShMs, it appears that PAC could extend this capacity for two ALCMs. The keys to achieving this would be munition weight, aerodynamics and stability.

In effect, the SOM could offer the PAF another conventional SOW for use from the JF-17 (complementing the Range Extension Kit and C-802). Granted, Pakistan could look at developing a conventionally-oriented Ra’ad (e.g. lighter, more compact and less costly than the Ra’ad/Ra’ad II), but the SOM will have already undergone the requisite development and qualification process. To date, the PAF’s conventional munition choices for the JF-17 have primarily been off-the-shelf purchases.

In terms of capability, the SOM would offer the JF-17 its longest-range SOW (outside of a potential Ra’ad pairing) for conventional operations. In terms of design, the SOM’s total mass (~600 kg) is lighter than that of the C-802A, though its warhead is comparable at 226 kg. However, the SOM’s functional advantage over the Range Extension Kit (REK) for general-purpose bombs (GPB) would be its range.

Unlike the Ra’ad, which enables the PAF to use its tactical assets for strategic/nuclear delivery, the SOM is constrained by its conventional warhead. This warhead is not inherently greater in terms of damage or area-of-effect than a REK-equipped 250 kg or 500 kg GBP, which the JF-17 is already configured to deploy. The SOM’s gain would be its range, and on the surface, that might not be sufficiently valuable to justify its use by the PAF. However, there are relevant factors that could push the PAF into considering the SOM.

India’s S-400 SAM Purchase Will Force a Re-Examination

In isolation, the utility of the SOM – i.e. a long-range munition with a relatively lightweight warhead (e.g. in contrast to the nuclear-capable Ra’ad) – is limited, but India’s active move to procure the Almaz-Antey S-400 Triumf long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) could force a re-examination.[7] Granted, the S-400’s long-range radar range (400 km) is a significant threat at high-altitude (i.e. the PAF could use the curvature of the Earth to exploit low-level air defence gaps), but that would be a constraint for offensive operations.

The closer the PAF’s fighters operate to India, they will gradually lose low-altitude coverage gaps due to India’s increasingly expansive low-to-medium air defence system (which will plugin those gaps). Thus, the natural course of action would be to push to deployment zone of one’s munitions (which could take-aim at India’s air defence assets, including the S-400) to Pakistan’s western regions.

To achieve this capability, the PAF would need to rapidly build-up its arsenal of SOWs for use from the JF-17. In fact, with the JF-17’s inherent range limitations, a conventional SOM offers another advantage in that it extends the Thunder’s offensive utility (irrespective of the S-400).

In terms of an off-the-shelf solution, the SOM would be a natural fit seeing that it is marketed by Turkey, i.e. a willing supplier, and should be integrated anyways (for Azerbaijan). However, with the S-400 being a fixed reality, the PAF’s offensive utility could be tied to possessing a sizable number of SOM or SOM-like ALCMs for long-range strikes (away from the S-400’s coverage umbrella). Requiring too few missiles would be infeasible for domestic production; yet importing too many would also be cost-prohibitive (or at least a lost opportunity in the way of channeling that expenditure to the local economy).

Building a Sustainable Long-Term Procurement Strategy

Ultimately, Pakistan could be best served by pursuing a conventionally-oriented ALCM as a joint-venture or partnership with Turkey. Yes, it could start with integrating the SOM to the JF-17, but it could develop further with joint-development and joint-production of conventional ALCMs. For example, Turkey is in the process of developing a compact SOM variant for the F-35’s internal weapons bay; an analogous solution could be valuable for the PAF’s own next-generation fighter (being pursued under Project Azm).

There is a potential overlap in requirements, which should push the two sides to lower their respective R&D spending by splitting the overhead and combining scale. Interestingly, in 2009 Pakistan and Turkey had signed a memorandum-of-understanding (MoU) committing to joint weapons development, including (among others) “turbojet motors.”[8] Pakistan has an opportunity to plan for munition recapitalization (in the long-term) through domestic production and standardized inputs.

For example, terrain-hugging ALCMs such as the SOM and subsonic sea-skimming AShMs (e.g. the Exocet, C-802A, etc) can use the same miniature powerplant, guidance suites (e.g. INS/GPS) and, potentially, flight control systems. By collaborating with Turkey, Pakistan could work to indigenize these inputs via a single type (for each) to apply across different applications, e.g. ALCM, AShM, ground-launched cruise missiles, submarine-launched cruise missiles, ship-launched AShM, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), etc.

The developmental work could commence today and through the next 10-15 years, by which point each of Pakistan’s armed forces branches will begin requiring next-generation munitions. The outcome of both standardizing the subsystems and manufacturing them in-house would enable Pakistan to accrue savings in terms of logistics, foreign/hard-currency and maintenance.

[1] Jeremy Binnie. “Azerbaijan parades SOM cruise missile.” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 29 June 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 30 June 2018).

[2] “Azerbaijan starts purchase of cruise missiles.” News Azerbaijan. 22 November 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 30 June 2018).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Promotional Material. SOM Stand-Off Missile. Roketsan. URL: (Last Accessed: 30 June 2018).

[5] “Turkey’s ROKETSAN missiles to use domestic turbojet engine.” Daily Sabah. 12 December 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 30 June 2018).

[6] The Ra’ad II was revealed at the 2017 Pakistan Day Parade. According to the announcers, the Ra’ad II has a range of 550 km. URL: (Last Accessed: 30 June 2018).

[7] Rajat Pandit. “India moves towards acquiring Russian S-400 missile systems despite US opposition.” The Times of India. 01 July 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 01 July 2018).

[8] Lale Sariibrahimoglu. “Pakistan agrees to further defence co-operation with Turkey.” Jane’s Defence Weekly. February 2008.

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