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NASTP: Birthing an Industry

Author Profile: Syed Aseem Ul Islam is a Research Scholar at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, specializing in adaptive and model-predictive flight control systems. He received his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Institute of Space Technology, Islamabad, and his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in flight dynamics and control from the University of Michigan.

The National Aerospace Science and Technology Park (NASTP) is a project under the Aviation City Initiative. The goal is the establishment of an aerospace technology cluster that is physically collocated in order to accrue the many benefits of having related industrial and research centers in close proximity.


Starting in 2017, coming off the successful manufacture of a fourth-generation JF-17 in Pakistan, PAF planners felt the need to take the next logical step and indigenize aerospace R&D.

One may hypothesize that the benefits of such an endeavor may have been considered – like any industry, an aerospace industry would create jobs, new avenues of export, and lead to import substitution. There is also a certain prestige associated with having a vibrant aerospace industry. Most importantly, the evolving and uncertain nature of geopolitics may have pushed planners to reduce reliance on foreign sources for military defense of the country.

Even though NASTP was officially launched in 2017, it was unclear what this really was as there was no physical location and no documentation on what this was supposed to be. All we knew was that this was a technology park – one of many being set up under CPEC.

On the other hand, we saw the establishment of, what may be called in hindsight, technology centers. In particular, we saw the establishment of places like Aviation Research, Indigenization and Development (AvRID) and Centre of Artificial Intelligence and Computing (CENTAIC). AvRID was a particularly large endeavor for Pakistan and included Project Azm, which was a quest to develop a Pakistani fifth-generation fighter aircraft, and Aviation Design Institute (AvDI), which was primarily responsible for the development of the PAC UCAV.

Project Azm

After a promising start Project Azm has all but stalled. It was evident to most observers that Project Azm was overambitious and a country like Pakistan, that had never designed and built any type of aircraft from scratch, could do so for conceptualize, design, and manufacture a fifth-generation fighter aircraft., which is arguably a task magnitudes more difficult than the development of nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, the financial and human resource allocated to this project was meager in comparison to other contemporary and more established aircraft development programs. Additionally, Project Azm was operating in a vacuum with little to know sharing of knowledge even with the manufacturing factories of PAC, let alone with other organizations like AWC and NESCOM that have decades of experience in aerospace R&D.

There are also reports of human resource mismanagement where key technical leadership was transferred out of the program due to office politics and a five-year service bond, which is the source of much disdain in SPD organizations, was introduced for Project Azm employees. As a result, a lot of talented individuals left and were driven away preemptively. Azm, it turns out is an unfortunately apt name.


AvDI suffered from many of the same problems as Project Azm, however, it’s lack of results is especially unfortunate. AWC and NESCOM have both developed UAV’s that are in service with the armed forces of Pakistan and it is unfortunate that their input was not sought for this project and an “AvDI will do it!” approach was followed instead.

It is unreasonable to expect the first UCAV designed by mostly inexperienced engineers to compete in any meaningful way with the competition. The unfortunate result of this siloed development approach is a UAV with lackluster specifications.

For example, the fuel fraction for this MALE UCAV is approximately 0.28 and for comparison a UCAV like the MQ-1 Reaper has a fuel fraction of 0.45. This points to a poorly designed and heavy aerostructure. This UCAV was spotted at PAC on January 1st, 2021 and no news of its development has come out since. It has been learned that this program, like Project Azm, is also stalled due to the PAF, which is the primary funding agency, losing faith in the project.

NASTP: A Fresh Start

In the shadow of the missteps taken under AvRID it appears that NASTP is being given a new life. New positions for NASTP started to appear in 2021 and many more are continuously being advertised. Additionally, it was learned that AvRID and CENTAIC would be moved in their entirety to NASTP.

That is NASTP will become Pakistan’s aerospace company. Even though NASTP is supposed to be a technology park, it is operating as a company by hiring directly and absorbing technology centers. Satellite imagery dated September 28, 2021 shows a large 6 story complex under construction just outside PAC Kamra. This is presumably the location of NASTP headquarters.

NASTP’s Potential

On face value NASTP is doing several things right. Most importantly, it is bringing a lot of technology centers under a single roof. Siloed research has been one of the biggest problems facing Pakistani aerospace R&D. Projects like Azm and PAC MALE UCAV could have benefited from the existing aerospace expertise in other Pakistani organizations, but this was not allowed. This approach of pooling resources in a single location is bound to produce never-before-seen results for Pakistani aerospace R&D.

Moreover, there appears to be a conscious effort to loosen the military’s grip on the day-to-day R&D efforts and set NASTP up as a private company that is run for profits without a suffocating security and secrecy curtain. Even though NASTP’s building is near a PAF base, importantly, it is outside the PAC’s premises. Additionally, the large number of positions advertised hint towards a civilian-heavy research establishment. This is an extremely welcome change to avoid the problems that exist in current state-owned defense establishments.

There is also a conscious effort to involve international partnerships in productive ways. Currently, Turkish Aerospace is taking the lead in investment into the Pakistani aerospace sector. In particular, TAI has signed agreements with NESCOM, SUPARCO, and NUST, for UAV development, satellite development, and collaboration on TFX, respectively. Of particular note is the MoU signed between NESCOM and TAI, which is likely to lead to a joint Turkish-Pakistani private venture specializing in UAV design, development, and production.

Interestingly, a very large academic setup in the shape of Air University Kamra Campus is also envisioned to be an integral part of the Aviation City. This new campus is being built next to the NASTP headquarters located outside of PAC Kamra. Although rapid construction was carried out initially on both the Air University Kamra Campus, work has remained stopped after the construction of 2 out of the planned 19 buildings. This is believed to be a result of issues with land acquisition and funding. However, such teething issues are to be expected in a project of this scale.


The steps taken by Pakistani planners to start a real aerospace industry are admirable and after some initial missteps, it appears that lessons are being learned. Getting things right the first time is nowhere as important as having the ability to learn and course-correct. All that is needed now is for the Pakistani economy to stabilize and grow enough to fund NASTP through its initial no-profit-making phase that will likely last five to ten years. The scale of the project suggests that Pakistani planners are in this for the long run. It remains to be seen if the economy will allow them to execute their plans.


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