Western media has been abuzz with news for the past few days that China has delivered the first batch of J-10C Vigorous Dragon fighter jets to Pakistan. But the Financial Times negated such reports on February 18, saying Pakistan could receive 25 new jets as soon as end of February.
These jets delivery will bolster Islamabad’s military capabilities and bring the number of its aging fleet of fighter jets to about 417. JF-17 Thunder has emerged as the country’s frontline jet. The Thunder is an advanced, light-weight, all weather, multi-role fighter aircraft with air-to-air and air-to-surface combat capabilities. It was developed as a joint venture between Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC) in China’s Sichuan province.
But J-10 is considered much advanced in technology and capabilities. It is a single-engine tactical fighter, also built by the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation. Developed in the 1980s and 90s, it is considered similar in concept to the lightweight but high-performing F-16 jet fighter, and reportedly incorporates DNA from Israel’s cancelled Lavi fighter as well.
The J-10’s induction almost coincides with the induction of the first batch of JF-17 Block 3 into PAF by the end of March.
“Beijing’s first export of the advanced jets marks a big step-up in its decades-old arms relationship with Islamabad and entails providing its ally with some of the latest equipment that China’s own armed forces are using,” FT said in the report.
The newspaper quoted a journalist at a Chinese military publication saying that the first batch of the combat aircraft is being tested in Chengdu.
“They will be transferred to Pakistan once Pakistan air force pilots and technicians have completed an introduction to the aircraft,” he said. It quoted senior Pakistani officials in Islamabad as saying that the jets would be delivered before the end of the month.
Last week, Chinese and foreign military watchers posted photos and a video showing several J-10C aircraft flying the colours of the Pakistan air force on social media.
On December 29, Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed announced at a public event in Rawalpindi that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) would perform a fly-over using 25 “JS-10” jet fighters newly purchased from China for the Republic Day parade on March 23. These jets, he added, would counter the 36 Dassault Rafael jet fighters India was receiving from France. It is widely believed that the minister was referring to the J-10s.
More Chinese Weapons for Pakistan:
China will also reportedly broaden its support to Pakistan Navy. It is also selling Pakistan four Type 054A frigates, the first of which began service in November, and is expected to begin delivery of up to eight Type 041 submarines, its quietest attack submarine, this year.
The Chinese warships would boost Pakistan’s capabilities in the Indian Ocean, which is of strategic importance for Beijing. “They want Pakistan to have naval bases ready that China could also use, and to be able to protect them,” FT quoted Siemon Wezeman, an arms trade expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “The Chinese have shown that they will sell to Pakistan when others won’t. I suspect that China is very easy to persuade [to sell], not only for commercial but also for political reasons,” he said.
India and Pakistan are bolstering their conventional submarine fleets with French and Chinese assistance respectively.
India is also planning a naval expansion. The navy’s deputy chief said late last year that it aimed to increase the size of its fleet from 130 vessels to 170 by 2027, including four frigates being developed in partnership with Russia.
India began sea trials of its fifth Kalvari-class sub, the soon-to-be INS Vagir, this month. The Kalvari-class is India’s designation for the French Scorpene-class conventional sub, which have been built at India’s Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited in Mumbai under a technology transfer program with France that started in 2005. The boats feature French and Indian subsystems. The program is slated to modernize India’s sub fleet with six Kalvari-class boats in 2024.
Like India, Pakistan last year started construction of its fifth Hangor-class sub, which is a derivative of China’s Type 39A Yuan-class. Under an agreement Pakistan signed with China, four out of eight submarines will be built at Pakistan’s Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works (KSEW), while the rest will be made by China’s state-run China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC).
“The Type 39A-class develop on the preceding Song-class boats, which in turn feature technologies derived from China’s Russian-built Kilo-class subs. The boats are also the first Chinese subs to feature AIP technology, featuring closed-cycle Stirling engines. Key measurements of the class include an overall length of 77 meters, 8.4-meter beam and a submerged displacement of 3,600 tons,” said Asia Times in a detailed report on Pakistan-India race for submarine induction.
The fifth Hangor sub, the soon-to-be PNS Tasnim, will be the first submarine to be indigenously built in Pakistan. This may reflect an indigenization program between Pakistan and China, similar to the one between France and India. The new boats are scheduled to enter Pakistani service from 2022 to 2028, replacing Pakistan’s outdated French-built Agosta 90B subs.
While information about the Type 39A is scarce despite the design being more than a decade old, it is thought to be as quiet as other contemporary sub designs and feature similar stealth technologies and sensors. The class is said to be capable of deploying Chinese copies of Russian torpedoes and missiles as well as indigenously developed Chinese weapons.
Scant details are available about other subsystems on the new Hangor-class, as the Pakistani Navy has not offered any details about the subsystems or specific weapons of the class. However, it can be expected to be capable of deploying Chinese weapons and indigenous Pakistani weapons such as the Babur cruise missile.
Turkey is emerging another important weapons supplier for Pakistan in recent years. It recently upgraded Pakistan’s French-built Agosta-90B subs and is building four MILGEM corvettes for Islamabad.
Pakistan may also consider purchasing Turkey’s ST500 mini subs. Despite being smaller and with less range than larger vessels, mini subs are considered very effective in littoral operations because of their smaller magnetic signatures, which can be further masked by background noise such as shipping traffic.
Pakistan Navy’s Special Service Group has been using the Cosmos MG110 midget for overt and covert operations. These boats have been in service from the early 1990s and are nearing the end of their service lives.
Sections of media have been reporting, based on satellite imagery, that Pakistan might have indigenously developed a new midget submarine. The X-class, as these midget submarines are known, are in fact of Italian origin. The now-defunct manufacturer Cos.Mo.S sold the submarine design to Pakistan in the early 1990s, and they manufactured domestically in Pakistan in the early- to mid-1990s.
The Italo-Pakistani design is similar to the US Navy’s Dry Combat Submersible, which was designed in the United Kingdom for the U.S. Special Operations Command. Both the Dry Combat Submersible and the X-class have the advantage of a fully-enclosed crew compartment, keeping sailors inside the small submarines high and dry.
Pakistan Navy has been using these subs for many years now. The development of these boats not only showcases Pakistan’s indigenous capability, but also shows it is prepping its underwater warfare capability.
There have also been reports that China could offer Pakistan hypersonic weapons in order to counter India’s induction of the Russian S-400 air defense system.