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Pakistan Defence Review: Updates

Is Pakistan Buying Wing Loong II UAVs from China?

There are reports of Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) co-producing 48 Wing Loong II unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in collaboration with Chengdu Aircraft Industries Group (CAIG).

The news originally came from a Facebook Page purporting to be an official account of the Sherdils, which are the PAF’s aerial display team.[1] However, Quwa was unable to verify the authenticity of the account or whether it was associated with the PAF. In fact, the account does not even list the official PAF website (or that of the PAF Media Directorate); rather, it directs to a news website called “PAF Falcons.”

In effect, this news – despite being widely picked-up – cannot be verified. In fact, each and every source that reported this news had pointed to this specific Facebook Page, which is not even linked to the PAF.

Besides this, there have been no official statements by the PAF, PAC or Ministry of Defence Production or any quotes attributed to Pakistani officials. Thus, the news is, until proven otherwise, a rumour.

That said, Pakistan had been test-flying a Wing Loong UAV as recently as November 2017. Considering the PAF’s longstanding relationship with CAIG (via the JF-17), seeing the PAF procure the Wing Loong II is also plausible. However, the PAF has its own medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV program running through Project Azm. The Project Azm UAV is reportedly due to materialize in some form in 2019.

One might draw a link between Project Azm and the Wing Loong II, but this too is uncertain.

Firstly, PAC’s mock-ups show a MALE UAV design that, while broadly similar to other MALE UAV designs (i.e. inspiration from the Predator), has several design differences from the Wing Loong II. These include an engine intake underneath the fuselage (as opposed to the Wing Loong II, which has it above).

Secondly, in May PAC signed a memorandum-of-understanding (MoU) with the Turkish electronics vendor Havelsan to co-develop various subsystems for UAVs. These systems include mission computers, ground control stations, sensor integration and weapon control computers. Considering the scope, it is likely that the MoU is geared towards a major UAV program, i.e. Project Azm.

In theory, one could look at merging the Wing Loong II with domestic and third-party technologies. While plausible, it would depend on Turkey’s comfort with its technology being in close proximity to China (and vice-versa). Yes, China and Turkey bear no animosity towards each other, but they are competitors in the international drone market. In fact, Turkey has been marketing its Anka to China’s existing UAV customers.

Finally, it would be disappointing if Pakistan does opt for an off-the-shelf solution via Chengdu (or for that matter, Turkey) rather than develop an original solution. Going off-the-shelf might seem prudent in terms of near-term needs, but it would likely disincentivize Pakistan from continuing with Azm (there are limited funds and human as well as technical resources). The impact of this should not be understated.

Firstly, it would perpetuate reliance on an overseas party. Pakistan must never assume that it will benefit from unrestricted access, not even from China (which is trying to adhere to the Missile Technology Control Regime by limiting the flight control range of its UAVs, including the Wing Loong II).

Secondly, it could risk funding for growing domestic development and engineering capabilities, which could – if built – be utilized for high-value commercial exports (via owning intellectual property, supplying subsystems, aerostructures or services, etc). Collaborating with China – alongside Turkey, Poland, Ukraine, South Africa and/or Brazil – is a prudent method of learning, but that must not cross into dependence.

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Concludes Exercise ACES Meet 2018

On 12 October, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) concluded ACES MEET 2018, a multi-national air exercise held at Mushaf Air Base in Sargodha. This is the second iteration of ACES MEET, which was launched in 2017.

The Turkish Air Force (TuAF) – through three F-16s – participated in ACES MEET 2018, just as it had in the previous year.[2] It is unclear if the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF), which had participated in 2017, took part in the exercise this past week. In contrast to Indus Viper, which was a bilateral exercise held by Pakistan and Turkey, ACES MEET is a multi-lateral effort open to various countries.

Though termed a counterinsurgency (COIN) and counter-terrorism (CT)-focused exercise, ACES MEET does offer the PAF a means to keep abreast of contemporary combat aircraft.

However, the opportunity to see the Eurofighter Typhoon or Rafale depends on the willingness of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and others to deploy the aircraft. In another sense, the PAF can use ACES MEET to invite prospective JF-17 customers to examine the Thunder in operational conditions.

The Pakistan Navy Receives a Decommissioned Mine Countermeasures Vessel (MCMV) from Belgium

The Pakistan Navy received a decommissioned Flower-class mine countermeasures vessel (MCMV) from Belgium through Peters & May Limited, a UK-based shipping company.[3] The delivery had occurred in June; it involves a 540-ton ship, seemingly a Flower-class MCMV (i.e. similar to the Munsif-class MCMV Pakistan already operates). It is unclear if the MCMV will be recommissioned or used for spare parts.

Pakistan Test Fires Ghauri Ballistic Missile

On 08 October, the Pakistan Army’s Strategic Forces Command test-fired a KRL Hatf-V Ghauri ballistic missile.[4] According to the ISPR, the range of the recently tested Ghauri was 1,300 km.

Unlike the well-established Shaheen-line, which are solid-fuelled ballistic missiles, the Ghauri relies on liquid fuel. The Ghauri requires a longer pre-launch preparation phase (to load fuel) compared to solid-fueled missiles. The range of the Ghauri has not been changed since its earlier launches in 2012 and 2015.

Analysts – such as former Australian defence attache to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley – noted that the test of earlier generation ballistic missiles, such as the Ghauri, offers valuable training.[5] However, it also begs the question: is Pakistan still committed to developing (and/or procuring) liquid-fuel rocket technology?

While solid fuel rockets are simpler – and as a result, cheaper and quicker – to produce and deploy, they are not as fuel efficient as their liquid-fuel counterparts. However, the ability to regulate fuel consumption in liquid-fuel rockets is an advantage for long-range flight.

Continued development in this area would have signalled an intent on Pakistan’s part to develop long-range rockets. On account of its deterrence posture (and the fact that its primary foe is in immediate proximity), Pakistan does not have a formal (nor implied) need for intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM), much less inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM).

However, are military applications the only incentive? In May 2018, the Pakistani government established the Pakistan Space Centre (PSC). The PSC’s mandate is to domestically manufacture space satellites, which would be necessary as satellites have limited lifespans and, on a relatively frequent basis, require replacing – this would not be feasible if done through imports alone.

Could Pakistan seek a domestic satellite launch vehicle (SLV) be as well? The answer is not known. It would make sense to match a domestic satellite production effort with a domestic SLV.

Firstly, it would lower the cost. Yes, there would be a research and development (R&D) overhead that must be distributed, but the space program is a permanent program (as Pakistan will always need to swap-out aging satellites). Thus, the R&D can be scaled over the long-term through many launches and, once amortized, would be cheaper to sustain than solely relying on a foreign SLV service.

Secondly, SLVs will guarantee Pakistan’s access to space. Programs such as the Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite (PRSS), the Pakistan Navigation Satellite System and satellite communications (SATCOM) are each strategic assets. It would follow that Pakistan would not risk its strategic interests on a foreign dependency such as an external SLV service, even that of China. Thus, liquid fuel research is plausible.

Pakistan Commits to Support the Modernization of Nigeria’s Air Force

According to a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) press release, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Nigeria, Maj. Gen. (retired) Ahmad Kingravi, assured the NAF that Pakistan will support the NAF’s development.[6]

The NAF’s Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal (AM) Sadique Abubakar called on the NAF and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to ‘fast-track’ the induction of JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighters. Nigeria has three JF-17s on order from Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC). Abuja has allocated its final two payments to PAC in its most recent budget (i.e. $47 million US, adding to the $14 million US paid in 2016).

According to the NAF, AM Abubakar also called on the PAF “to develop a special programme for the conduct of basic fighter training of NAF pilots.”[7] Seeing that the PAF is the only full-scale operator of the JF-17, having it lead the NAF’s conversion process to the platform makes sense.

However, AM Abubakar’s statements imply that the NAF wishes to see the PAF take-on a deeper role, one that could see it influence the NAF’s overall fighter training program. This could be an opportunity (if not an expectation) for bringing the twin-seat JF-17B to Nigeria. Speaking to Quwa (in January 2018), retired PAF Air Commodore (AC), Historian and Analyst Kaiser Tufail said he expects follow-on orders by the NAF.

[1] Facebook Post. PAF Sherdils. 06 October 2018. URL: https://www.facebook.com/PAFSherdilsAerobaticTeam/photos/a.648841788626643/1083887038455447/?type=3&theater (Last Accessed: 10 October 2018).

[2] “ACES Meet Drill.” Memleket. 06 October 2018. URL: http://www.memleket.com.tr/aces-meet-tatbikati-1518750h.htm (Last Accessed: 09 October 2018).

[3] Press Release “540 tone decommissioned Minehunter transported from Belgium to Pakistan.” Peters & May Ltd.  June 2018. URL: https://www.petersandmay.com/en/news/540-tone-decommissioned-minehunter-transported-from-belgium-to-pakistan/ (Last Accessed: 10 October 2018).

[4] Press Release. “Pakistan today successfully conducted Training Launch of Ghauri Missile System.” Inter Services Public elations (ISPR). 08 October 2018. URL: https://www.ispr.gov.pk/press-release-detail.php?id=4974 (Last Accessed: 10 October 2018).

[5] Usman Ansari. “Pakistan tests its Hatf-V ballistic missile — but why bother when more capable alternatives exist?” Defense News. 10 October 2018. URL: https://www.defensenews.com/global/asia-pacific/2018/10/10/pakistan-tests-its-hatf-v-ballistic-missile-but-why-bother-when-more-capable-missiles-exist/ (Last Accessed: 10 October 2018).

[6] Press Release. “Pakistan Assures NAF of Increased Strategic Partnership in Equipment Acquisition, Training, Others.” Nigerian Air Force. 04 October 2018. URL: http://www.airforce.mil.ng/post-pakistan_assures_naf_of_increased_strategic_partnership_in_equipment_acquisition__training__others (Last Accessed: 10 October 2018).

[7] Ibid.

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