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Pakistan invigorates its fighter fleet

6th January 2022 - 02:09 GMT | by Gordon Arthur in Christchurch


If public announcements ring true, Pakistan will be the first country outside China to operate the J-10 fighter. (Gordon Arthur)

JF-17 Block III and J-10C fighters are joining the PAF this year.

Changes are afoot for the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), with the first JF-17 Block III single-seat fighters set to be handed over and the J-10C fighter to be obtained from China.

Images of the first batch of JF-17 Block IIIs at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) were circulating on the internet, apparently taken during an unofficial ceremony on 31 December 2021. This date marked the beginning of production of the upgraded JF-17 at PAC Kamra a year earlier.

The pictured fighters powered by Russian RD-93 engines are still in their yellow-coloured primer but construction numbers witnessed up to ‘3P11’ indicate at least eleven have been produced to date.

The images showed six aircraft lined up at PAC Kamra, these possessing numbers ‘3P06’ up to ‘3P11’. An earlier video clip showed at least ten JF-17 Block IIIs on the production line.

The first fighters will be added to the ranks of the PAF, presumably in time for the Pakistan Day parade on 23 March. The PAF will procure 50 JF-17 Block IIIs, with a dozen to be produced annually from 2021-24.

The JF-17 Block III achieved its maiden flight in Chengdu-Huangtianba in Sichuan on 15 December 2019. Although the airframe is largely unchanged on the Block III, visible changes include a longer nose to house a KLJ-7A AESA radar. This sensor has a purported 150-170km range and can assist the firing of PL-15 long-range air-to-air missiles.

The JF-17 Block III achieved its maiden flight in Chengdu on 15 December 2019. (Chinese Internet)

In terms of other fighter types, there has long been speculation that Pakistan was interested in the J-10 fighter. Those rumours reached fruition when Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said in a press conference on 29 December that 25 would be inducted by March in time for the Pakistan Day parade.

However, by calling the aircraft a ‘JS-10’ and equating a squadron to 25 aircraft, some questions remain about the veracity of his comments. Indeed, so little is known that it remains unclear whether Pakistan is buying or leasing the fighters from China.

Satellite imagery of the factory in Chengdu indicates that completed J-10Cs are lined up and may be ready for transfer. If correct, Pakistan must have secretly placed its order some time ago, and in fact there were media reports that high-level Sino-Pakistan military talks were held from 2020 to discuss the acquisition of the J-10C.

Before Ahmed made his remarks in late December, Pakistan was thought to be seeking 36 J-10s. Such a number would have given the PAF something more capable to counter India’s 36 Rafale fighters. Indeed, the interior minister referred to ‘countering the Rafale’ as a factor.

The J-10C features an AESA radar and it is probably similar in capability to an F-16 Block 60 or 70. However, the J-10C is probably still not quite a match for the Rafale. In Exercise Shaheen IX last year, Pakistani pilots were able to rehearse fighting Indian Rafales and Su-30MKIs whilst flying against Chinese J-10C and J-11B aircraft.

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