Pakistan is enhancing its airstrike capability with 50 new fighter jets. Why?

Here's why.

According to media reports, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is replacing its old aircraft with 50 JF-17 fighter jets next month. These jets have been built jointly with China and are being sourced to upgrade PAF’s capability against India’s missile defense system.

Ceremony to commemorate fighter jets

A rollout ceremony was held in December to mark the addition of the new JF-17 jets. Pakistani defense sources state that the fighter jets will now fly at the national day military parade on the 23rd of March.

About JF-17 fighter jets

As per reports, JF-17 production began in the late 1980s in a $500 million China-Pakistan joint venture. The airframes, front fuselage, wings, and vertical stabilizer of the JF-17 were built by the state-owned Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. Other fighter jet components were supplied by China’s Chengdu Aircraft Corporation, a subsidiary of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China. All assembly took place in Pakistan.

The fighter jets flaunt a light composite material that enables the aircraft to carry five beyond-visual-range missiles, significantly improving earlier aircraft versions. Data fusion technology has also been incorporated in the JF-17 to improve communications and decision-making times.

More than 100 aircraft have been commissioned into the PAF since 2007, of which 26 were added in 2020 as part of a so-called second block. The latest 50 jets are included in the third block, featuring improved high off-boresight capability. It means that they do not have to be pointing in any specific direction to target an adversary; the aircraft can fire from whatever position. Its missiles will adjust thrust, speed, and trajectory to hit targets, greatly enhancing PAF operability.

Expert opinion on the new fighter jets addition

Taimur Fahad Khan, a research associate with the Center for Strategic Perspectives at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, said:

The multi-role fighters will improve PAF capability against India’s new S-400 air defense system. S-400 is mainly ineffective against advanced, multi-role fighter jets with near stealth features. These jets possess capabilities that make them the best option to counter S-400. JF-17 block three fighters are near stealth with advanced software and radar capabilities that can be used to deceive the tracking system of S-400 missiles, among other systems.

Khan further stated:

The new fighters can detect enemy jets at long distances and launch attacks preemptively. The liquid-cooled airborne fire control radar system improves detection of adversaries by 65% and can target an enemy aircraft from 170 kilometers. Apart from bolstering the PAF, the JF-17 project has export potential. It has helped Pakistan build its capacity for defense production and create a military-industrial complex — something its archrival India still lacks despite enormous military resources.

Many observers believe the new jets demonstrate Pakistan’s growing self-reliance in weaponry. Tanveer Sultan Awan, chairman of Hajvairy Technologies, an aviation company, told Nikkei:

Pakistan Armed Forces have reasonable capability against any aggression. The Pakistan Air Force, in particular, is working in the direction of self-reliance, and the production of the JF-17 is a demonstration of this policy.

China’s role in Pakistan’s military

Chinese assistance has enabled Pakistan to export military hardware to other countries. Myanmar and Nigeria have already procured JF-17s, and Argentina has recently expressed interest in the new generation. Argentina’s ambassador to China visited China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation in Beijing in January and reportedly discussed a possible order.

Tanveer Sultan Awan explained:

Chinese military hardware is now in the league of Western hi-tech equipment. In years to come, the dependence of Pakistan on Chinese military hardware will be significantly more than on Western equipment. India has the luxury of a diversified group of arms suppliers from Russia and Israel to the U.S. This is why Pakistan won’t be prepared to rest easy anytime soon.

Despite the benefits of Chinese assistance, Pakistan remains concerned about the weapon procurement options available to India. Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at Wilson Center, said:

Islamabad will continue to look at India’s acquisitions with concern, not just because of French Dassault Rafale jets. While the jets are essential and serve a significant need for Pakistan, Islamabad is still not at the point where it views China as a replacement to the U.S. as a security provider. It would be wrong to assume that Pakistan is prepared to shut the door on the U.S. simply because it is getting these jets and other essential defense products from China. If Pakistan were presented with an opportunity to acquire U.S. arms, it certainly wouldn’t dismiss it.

While experts have a lot to say about Pakistan Air Force’s latest weaponry decisions, the authority to take decisions lies with PAF. Only time will tell how these actions impact Pakistan and other relevant defense countries.

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