By Rana Athar Javed
Under effective airpower, the field in front of a modern military provides perfect opportunity to counter and defend any invasion or aggression, and thereby acquires tremendous boost for further military gains. Plus a professional and self-sufficient air force can better support national policy, which in turn implements the planning of concerted operations that the sea, air, and land forces mount against any opposition. In modern military terms, determining the appropriate military response correlates the national policy, level and scope of military involvement in a given situation, and thus, clearing the way to utilize the most suitable weapon of choice.
To the Air force & military leadership in Pakistan, it is clear that serving the national objectives in twenty-first century would directly impact how Pakistan defines the strategic & political framework within which military power will be used in future. Ostensibly, achieving these goals would strengthen the territorial integrity and the terms of success or victory in fourth generation of asymmetrical warfare. Hence, the key military variables are not only dependent upon the stable economic-political environment, but they also include the way military strategists balance the level of force with duration of the conflict. This policy-planning also encapsulates the degree of freedom for the military forces on the basis of which the forces to be used.
Returning to the need to possess effective airpower in the twenty-first century, the PAF displayed a very incisive and well-planned program to develop Pakistan’s Aviation industry. Conceived by a Pakistan Air Forces (PAF) team in 1999, JF-17 Thunder aircraft is the Co-production of China and Pakistan. The JF-17 Thunder project has now become the most crucial element of “Made in Pakistan” phenomenon. In the service of national objectives in twenty-first century, PAF yet again shown at Zhuhai Air Show (November 13-18, 2012) in China that JF-17 Thunder has been the “Star of the Show”. The Zhuhai Air Show attracted thousands of visitors from across the globe.
The Thunders flew more than 3000 Nautical Miles (5500 Kilometers) and cross the snow-covered Himalayas en-route to Zhuhai, China. Pakistan Air Force has not only been holding joint exercises with Air Forces of the friendly countries but also regularly participating in various Air Shows of the world. This is the second consecutive occasion that PAF has participated in Zhuhai Air Show. It is pertinent to emphasize that JF-17 Thunder had also taken part in Farnborough Air Show, UK (June 2010), Zhuhai Air Show, China (Nov 2010), Turkish Air Show (Hundred years celebration of Turkish Air Force) at Izmir, Turkey (May 2011) and Dubai Air Show, UAE (Nov 2011). The co-produced JF-17 Thunder is a true depiction of Pak-China friendship and is rightly termed as Pakistan’s pride.
The impressive JF-17 (Thunder) jointly co-developed (by PAF & CATIC), and co-produced by PAC (Pakistan Aeronautical Complex) and CATIC (China Aero-technology Import Export Corporation) has been put up for static as well as aerial display in the Air Show.
Currently, JF-17 aircraft stands prominent in its own class of fighters. In the present environment, when defence budgets are shrinking and Air Forces face difficulties in affording modern combat aircraft, JF-17 offers a highly cost effective solution with cutting edge capabilities. In the shape of JF-17 aircraft, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and CATIC offer a cost- effective, highly potent, multi-role combat aircraft which is capable of meeting the challenges of present and future Air Power employment.
China is commonly known as all-weather friend of Pakistan. The JF-17 Thunder is also an all-weather, multi-role, light combat aircraft that has the potential to be the main stay & work horse of any Air Force. The design of JF-17 aircraft is based on modern concepts of aerodynamics. The aircraft is equipped with a digital fly-by-wire flight control system that gives it the agility in all regimes of the operational flight envelope. The JF-17 has a complete glass cockpit, excellent man-machine interface and modern self–protection suite, which enhance combat potential and survivability of the aircraft. The JF-17 is equipped with fourth generation avionics systems, wide range of conventional & smart weapons, long range glide bombs, Beyond Visual Range & short range Air-to-Air missiles, Anti-Ship missile and Air-to-Surface missiles. The aircraft requires remarkably short lengths of runway for take-off & landing, which offers flexibility of aircraft operations at short air strips. Shortly, the aircraft will also have Air-to-Air refueling capability, which will further enhance its combat potential and employment options.
Pakistan Air Force has inducted JF-17 in its fleet and with the co-production in full swing the aircraft are rolling out from Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra. The JF-17 Program has been a success story since its inception in 1998. Developmental work on the aircraft commenced in the year-1999 and detailed design was finalized in September, 2001. After flight testing, a Small Batch of 08 aircraft was produced in year-2007 and finally serial co-production of the aircraft started in Pakistan in the Year-2009. To date, PAF’s two Squadrons have been equipped with JF-17s, while the third is planned to be raised by the beginning of next year.
To be concluded, it is then a fair assessment that despite a lot of variables, risks and unknowns, the decision took on March, 2009 by PAF leadership has now proven that production of JF-17 Thunder is the most practical and feasible vision for securing Pakistan’s national interests from conventional and unconventional threats.
Academically, the decision hints at the existence of hardcore professionals both in PAF Chinese quarters. This reflection is the result our Chinese friends who are rich in experience of aircraft manufacturing. Furthermore, the availability of technological base in China comprehensively serves the purpose of launching the co-production of a third generation fighter aircraft. By all accounts, embarking on “co-production” with our Chinese friends , rather than taking the easy solution of purchasing the aircraft in and itself is the proof that the PAF is fully aware of its requirement of future. Most importantly, two key points of professionalism have emerged out of this ultimate decision: that is, translating the vision into development of 21st century style Aviation Industry in Pakistan and strengthening the principle of self-reliance for the ever growing need & importance of Pakistan Air Force. Thus, branding PAF with “Made in Pakistan” is not only making Pakistanis proud, but also safer from any misadventure of unfriendly states.