Skip to content Skip to footer

Update: Pakistan Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Program

On 21 May, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and Turkish defence electronics manufacturer Havelsan signed a memorandum-of-understanding (MoU) to collaborate on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).[1]

Under the MoU, PAC and Havelsan will collaborate in the following domains: (1) mission computers; (2) ground control stations (GCS); (3) sensor-integration; and (4) weapon control computers.[2] They will also co-develop a ‘live, virtual and constructive (LVC) training’ system for combat aircraft.[3]

PAC and Havelsan also agreed to undertake joint-research and development (R&D) activities at the Kamra Aviation City complex, which was inaugurated by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in July 2017.[4]

The MoU joins a line of other defence agreements signed by Turkey and Pakistan, among them a number of big-ticket purchases by Pakistan, notably for 30 T129 attack helicopters and four MILGEM corvettes. In fact, Turkey has booked nearly $3 billion US in defence contracts from Pakistan.

However, this MoU between PAC and Havelsan is the first of development-oriented agreements intended to contribute towards Pakistan’s domestic defence programs. In this case, the MoU is clearly directed at supporting the medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV program under Project Azm.[5]

Project Azm (‘resolve’ or ‘determination’ in Urdu) is the PAF’s long-term initiative to domestically develop a MALE UAV and a fifth-generation fighter (FGF). The design work for both platforms is being undertaken by PAC’s Aviation Design Institute (AvDI), which is also a key piece to the Kamra Aviation City initiative.

According to the previous PAF Chief of Air Staff (CAS) – Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Sohail Aman – the MALE UAV project was in its “final stages of design” and would enter production in 18 months (as of December 2017).[6][7] Considering the time it would take to thoroughly test a UAV, the production element mentioned by the ACM (retired) Sohail Aman likely refers to a prototype. In other words, it will take longer than just 18 months to test, certify and push a MALE UAV design into serial production.

Granted, there will be external skepticism regarding the extent of indigenous input in Project Azm. But it is no secret that Pakistan lacks the necessary industrial inputs to design, develop and manufacture UAVs on a truly turnkey basis. In fact, outside of the United States, France and China, few – if any – countries can claim an entirely turnkey project without any external inputs or overseas collaboration.

However, lacking the inputs for a full turnkey solution need not prevent Pakistan from original design and integration work. As discussed in an earlier Quwa Premium article, Pakistani defence suppliers could build the capacity to understand how to integrate disparate subsystems and materials into original solutions. It would still rely on foreign suppliers, but it could bypass original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and their mark-ups by directly approaching input suppliers (e.g. for composites, propulsion, etc) and achieve more control over the pricing and capabilities of its final product (albeit to lesser degree than turnkey solutions).

The PAC-Havelsan MoU could reflect that approach in Project Azm’s MALE UAV program. In other words, an original solution that combines indigenous development work with overseas subsystems, inputs and, potentially, expertise. However, there is a related possibility as well, and that is the prospect of Pakistan and Turkey sharing in the funding – and ownership – of development programs. This could have different ramifications, though it is unclear how likely they are to come to fruition.

Pakistan Aeronautical Complex’s Past UAV Work

One might be familiar with the UAV work done by Integrated Dynamics, the National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM) and Global Industrial & Defence Solutions (GIDS), but PAC has seemingly maintained its own parallel UAV manufacturing (and now development) stream.

Prior to Project Azm, PAC’s marquee UAV programs were co-producing the Leonardo Falco UAV and sub-assemblies for the Turkish Aerospace (TA) Anka UAV.[8][9] In fact, as part of the Falco program, PAC built the capacity to manufacture composite-based aerostructures.[10] It is possible that the investment was, at least in part, offset through supplying Anka UAV parts to TA. Today, it follows that those same facilities are now being directed to supply aerostructures for PAC’s in-house MALE UAV program.

Moreover, the pursuit of a MALE platform indicates – if not necessitates (for optimal usage) – the purchase of beyond-line-of-sight (BLoS) communication infrastructure. Granted, seeing the intended expansion of Pakistan’s space satellite program, a communication satellite (SATCOM) equipped with Ka-band and/or X-band terminals is plausible in the long-term. However, Pakistan could, at least in theory, begin testing a BLoS suite in the near-term by using the Ku-band transponders onboard PakSat-1R. As discussed in Quwa Premium, the US had used Ku-band to deploy the Predator, so – while Ku-band has its limitations – a test or limited-deployment role for prototype UAVs is plausible.

Prospective Overseas Partners and Suppliers

Despite touting the ‘indigenous’ intent of Project Azm, PAC is being forthright in acknowledging its limits (or Pakistan’s limits as a whole). On its material regarding Project Azm, PAC states (albeit in regard to the FGF, but it applies to the MALE UAV as well), “Development of FGFA (fifth-generation fighter aircraft) would be a major national program that would entail massive amount of work; not all of which may possibly be carried out within PAC, or even within Pakistan.”[11]

This factor is unfolding with PAC’s UAV program, i.e. the Havelsan MoU for UAV GCS, mission computers, weapon control computers and other subsystems. Granted, this MoU does not necessarily indicate that PAC is procuring existing solutions off-the-shelf, it could simply be seeking Havelsan’s expertise to develop original systems in Pakistan. However, the MoU does not preclude the possibility of PAC buying into some of Havelsan’s existing intellectual property (IP) as a means to build those solutions.

In other words, collaborate with Havelsan – and potentially TA, Aselsan, MilSOFT and Roketsan – to co-develop and co-produce UAV technology. Doing so would enable both sides to reduce their potential R&D outlay while scaling their respective overheads across a combined pool of production units. If PAC is fully inclined towards a turnkey capacity in the long-term, leveraging Turkey’s existing work from the Anka – i.e. its aerostructure design and material work, flight control system technology, sensors and electronics – would be a rational outcome (especially in light of the current depth of Turkish-Pakistani defence ties).

Besides Turkey, one should also keep an eye on potential overseas inputs (of varying kinds) from the Czech Republic, South Africa and Poland. For example, the Czech company PBS (První brněnská strojírna Velká Bíteš, a.s.) had supplied Pakistan with TJ100 turbojet engines for use in target drones.[12] PBS’ TP100 turboprop engine could be a candidate for Project Azm. The TP100 offers a power-rating of 180 kW.[13] For reference, the Anka’s engine has a power-rating of 115 kW (enabling a payload of 200 kg)[14]

Likewise, South Africa’s Denel Aeronautics had undertook MALE UAV design and development work in the past – such as its ill-fated Bateleur UAV[15] – which could, potentially, be of value to PAC. This is not to say that PAC would simply adopt the design, but the underlying engineering expertise developed by Denel could be of value to PAC (and accelerate its own work while still contributing to local development). It is worth noting that South Africa is among a handful of countries openly willing to collaborate with Pakistan.

In November 2017, the PAF’s previous CAS headed a delegation to several of Polish Armaments Group’s (PGZ) facilities to discuss bilateral collaboration in aviation technology and production.[16] Granted, the visit need not concern the PAC MALE UAV program specifically, but drawing on PGZ’s human capital and past experience in development, production and integration could of value to PAC. Interestingly, Poland has a MALE UAV requirement of its own, though it intends to procure its solution off-the-shelf.[17] PAC is not a plausible supplier, but bilateral collaboration in specific fields of mutual relevance is possible (PGZ has a number of domestic UAV programs of its own).

What about the Chengdu Wing Loong?

In January, analysts from the Center for Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York had identified the presence of a Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG) Wing Loong UAV stationed at Mianwali.[18] The fact that Pakistan had been testing the Wing Loong since at least 2016, it would follow that the Wing Loong is also a factor in the PAF’s procurement plans and, as per some observers, Project Azm.

However, drawing a link to Project Azm would be premature.

Firstly, the MoU with Havelsan clearly points to a departure from relying on an off-the-shelf Chinese design. PAC is unlikely to take the complicated route of trying to integrate Turkish electronics (especially the weapon control and mission computer) to a Chinese drone when both technology items are sensitive to Ankara and Beijing, respectively. For Ankara, which is the newer and less-entrenched competitor in the drone space, protecting its drone IP from the market-leader, Beijing, is of importance.

Secondly, promotional footage by PAC show a MALE UAV design mock-up (and computer-aided design models) that is distinct from the Wing Loong. As discussed in an earlier Quwa Premium article, PAC’s UAV has top-mounted wings (in contrast to the Wing Loong’s mid-mounted design), a different fuselage design and an engine intake under the fuselage (instead of the Wing Loong’s top-fuselage approach).

CAD Models Disclosed by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (Source)


Mock-up of a MALE UAV design at the Aviation Design Institute (AvDI), Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) (Source).

To its credit, PAC is relatively transparent in terms of the origin of its programs. For example, PAC openly describes the Falco UAV project as a licensed manufacturing effort, with the first eight aircraft being semi-assembled kits.[19] It is easy to cast Pakistan’s entire defence industrial complex with the same narrative of largely relabeling foreign designs as indigenous, NESCOM had seemingly done with the CH-3A in its Burraq armed UAV program.[20] However as of today, PAC is bucking that trend.

[1] Public Statement. Havelsan. 21 May 2018. URL:

[2] “Havelsan and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Shake Hands for UAV Technologies.” MSI Turkish Defence Review. June 2018. Issue 56.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Press Release. “Groundbreaking Ceremony of Aviation City and Air University Aerospace & Aviation Campus held at Kamra.” Pakistan Air Force. 06 July 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 18 January 2018).

[6] Speech (English). Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman. Pakistan Air Force. July 2017. via Abbtak’s YouTube Channel. URL: (Last Accessed: 31 July 2018).

[7] Naveed Siddiqui. “Intruders traced on radar won’t be able to go back, warns air chief.” Dawn News. 07 December 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 30 July 2018).

[8] Press Statement. “Contract Awarding Ceremony in IDEF Turkey.” Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. 2015. URL: (Last Accessed: 31 July 2018).

[9] Promotional Information. “Aircraft Manufacturing Factory” Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 31 July 2018).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Promotional Information. “Aviation Research, Indigenization and Development.” Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 31 July 2018).

[12] Promotional Material. “PBS TJ100 Jet Engine for UAVs and Target Drones.” PBS. URL: (Last Accessed: 31 July 2018).

[13] Promotional Material. “PBS TP100.” PBS. URL: (Last Accessed: 31 July 2018).

[14] Promotional Material. “Anka Multi-Role ISR System.” Turkish Aerospace. URL: (Last Accessed: 31 July 2018).

[15] Peter La Franchi. “South Africa authorities ask Denel to revise Bateleur MALE UAV development costs.” Flight Global. 09 October 2006. URL: (Last Accessed: 31 July 2018).

[16] Public Statement. Polish Armaments Group. 24 November 2017. URL:

[17] Krzysztof Kuska, Poznan. “Poland plans four types of UAVs.” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 12 February 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 31 July 2018).

[18] Dan Gettinger. “Drone Bases Updates.” Center for the Study of the Drone. Bard College. 05 January 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 31 July 2018).

[19] Promotional Information. “Aircraft Manufacturing Factory” Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 31 July 2018).

[20] Neil Gibson. “Analysis: Pakistan’s ‘indigenous’ UAV, missiles may not be as homegrown as claimed.” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 26 March 2015. URL: (Last Accessed: 31 July 2018).

Show CommentsClose Comments

Leave a comment