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Monthly Defense News Recap: February 2022

In February 2022, more of Pakistan’s marque defence programs have come to light, including the J-10CE and JF-17 Block-3. Moreover, the Pakistan Navy again confirmed that it will induct a new shallow-water attack submarine (SWATS) and continue its offshore patrol vessel (OPV) program.

Photos Emerge of Pakistan’s New Fighter Aircraft

The first photos of the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) forthcoming J-10CE and JF-17 Block-3 multirole fighters have emerged on social media. These two aircraft models are the focus of the PAF’s fighter modernization efforts through the 2020s. The aircraft will introduce a range of new capabilities to the PAF fleet, including active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars and high off-boresight air-to-air missiles (HOBS AAM).

In terms of the J-10CE, observers have spotted aircraft with the serial numbers 22-106, 22-103, 22-102, and 22-101. Given that these aircraft are sporting the PAF’s livery, it appears that Pakistan could receive a relatively large batch of fighters in the coming weeks, if not earlier.

One clear image of the PAF J-10CE (22-106) confirms that Pakistan is also inducting an infrared search and track (IRST) capability. IRST is a ‘passive’ sensor that tracks targets based on their heat signatures. It offers fighter crews the option to build or retain situational awareness without relying on radar. This could be a useful capability if the pilot must switch off their radars (e.g. to negate the effects of enemy jamming).

IRST is a standard feature of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s (PLAAF) J-10C fighters. However, since the PAF retained IRST for its own fighters, it seems that it is interested in adding this capability. It will be interesting to see how the PAF tunes its doctrine to incorporate IRST and how the feature fares in the PAF’s usage. Interestingly, the PAF had floated the idea of using IRST in the JF-17 Block-3. It is possible that the J-10CE could serve as a pilot to analyze, operationalize, and train upon IRST. If successful, the PAF could potentially add IRST to the JF-17 Block-3 and JF-17B.

The PAF likely retained the stock J-10CE configuration in terms of the radar and most of the avionics. There is a chance the PAF may have opted for some custom equipment, like the helmet mounted display (HMD). However, even in this scenario, the PAF likely sourced the hardware from the Chinese industry. In fact, the Pakistan Navy (PN) took a similar approach with the Type 054A/P. Though it customized those ships, the PN sourced the new subsystems, sensors, and weapons from Chinese suppliers.

Regarding the Block-3, a report on Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) by state-owned PTV showed that PAC built at least seven aircraft. PAC is also in the process of completing the 12th aircraft. Thus far, the PAF has ordered 30 Block-3s, but it is retaining the option to procure the remaining 20 (of the originally slated batch of 50 aircraft). However, with growing reports (albeit unverified) of more countries showing interest in the Block-3, the PAF may have decided to keep its orders low to allocate space for export orders.

Together, the J-10CE and the JF-17B/Block-3 will add credible 4+/4.5-generation capabilities to the PAF’s fighter fleet. Though it has a next-generation fighter aircraft (NGFA) on its roadmap, the PAF will probably lean on the J-10CE and JF-17B/Block-3 to drive its fleet modernization through the 2020s.

In other words, Quwa is confident that the PAF will order additional J-10CEs and JF-17B/Block-3s through this decade. As Quwa stated in a previous analysis, the PAF has never added a new fighter type to its fleet without committing to procuring at least 90 aircraft. It may not be able to order 90 aircraft in one go, but it could (and previously has) built its fleet through incremental batch orders.

Likewise, while the J-10CE order may have pulled resources from the JF-17 Block-3, the PAF will probably order additional Block-3s later in this decade. The PAF will still need to replace older fighters, such as the JF-17 Block-1 in the late 2020s and early 2030s, and JF-17 Block-2s in the mid-to-late 2030s. In terms of controlling cost and mitigating the complexity of inducting new platforms, adding more JF-17B and Block-3-based aircraft would make the most sense to replacing the older JF-17s.

For the PAF, a feasible NGFA option seems distant. Yes, both China and Turkey are actively working on suitable options, but neither one appears to be a factor for the PAF in the 2020s. Moreover, these NGFA designs are fundamentally different from the PAF’s prototypical ASR (Air Staff Requirement) of a single-engine multi-role fighter. So, as Quwa noted in an earlier analysis, the NGFA likely feeds into a more niche requirement for a deep-strike-capable aircraft rather than a workhorse multirole asset. The workhorse multirole assets will be the J-10CE and JF-17B/Block-3.

Pakistan Navy Confirms New Procurement Programs

In a recent interview, the Pakistan Navy (PN) Chief of Naval Staff for Projects, Vice Admiral Imran Ahmed, revealed that the PN is working on several new procurement programs. These include the induction of a new shallow-water attack submarine (SWATS) and four off-shore patrol vessels (OPV).

The OPV is likely a continuation of the Yarmouk-class corvette the PN procured from Netherlands-based Damen Shipyards Group. The PN signed a deal with Damen Shipyards Group to supply two OPVs in 2017. Vice Adm. Ahmed’s statements seem to confirm that the PN OPV program had involved four ships in total, but in two equal batches. It appears that the PN is activating the follow-on option.

Based on the Damen OPV 1900, the Yarmouk-class has a displacement of 2,300 tons and length of 90 m. The PN will use the Yarmouk-class as a multi-mission asset capable of ‘anti-surface operations’, ‘anti-air operations’, ‘surveillance and intelligence gathering,’ and combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) operations.

It seems that the Yarmouk-class’ primary function is to support the PN’s policing and peacetime security operations. However, the Yarmouk-class will be capable of deploying anti-ship cruising missiles (ASCM) in wartime situations. The Yarmouk-class also has space for two special mission modules. The PN could use those modules for a variety of roles, such as humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR), among others.

Vice Adm. Ahmed also confirmed the existence of the PN’s SWATS program. However, the PN did not yet disclose the make, model, or origin of the SWATS. Quwa was told that the PN had originally wanted a 700-ton design with air-independent propulsion (AIP), electronic intelligence (ELINT) systems, and capacity to carry heavyweight torpedoes. Turkey’s STM and Italy’s DRASS Group had competed for the PN’s tender, but Quwa could not confirm which of these vendors won the bid.

Finally, Vice Adm. Ahmed also confirmed that the PN inducted the CH-4 drone. Sources told Quwa that the CH-4 won the PN’s drone requirement in 2021. The Pakistan Army is also a CH-4 operator.

In 2018, a Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) representative told Quwa that the PN was interested in the Anka-S. It is worth noting that the CH-4 order does not necessarily preclude the possibility of the PN also buying the Anka-S. Pakistan’s National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM) is working with TAI to continue the development of the Anka. Hence, the Anka-S now involves a local dynamic (which may be as modest as partial domestic production or as significant the development of custom variants based on Pakistani requirements).


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