Pakistan joins prestigious club
Courtesy: Malik M Ashraf
During the visit to Sri Lanka by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif an agreement for the sale of eight combat JF-17 Thunder aircraft to Sri Lanka was signed between the two countries, with a delivery time line of 2017. With the conclusion of this agreement, Pakistan has joined the prestigious club of the countries who produce and export combat aircraft, with Sri Lanka being the first buyer of this modern fighting machine; which reflects the strength of defence ties between the two countries. Pakistan along with China helped Sri Lanka in fighting and putting down the Tamil insurgency.
JF-17 aircraft is based on modern concepts of aerodynamics and the hybrid fly-by-wire control system which makes it highlyagile in all regimes of the operational fighting. It is an all-weather, multi-role and light control combat aircraft. It is equipped with fourth generation avionic systems that keep it beyond the visual range, short range missiles and air-to-surface missiles. So far PAF has equipped 3 squadrons with JF-17 aircraft. The induction of this aircraft in the PAF has made our air defence impregnable and enhanced its operational readiness manifold, making our skis safer than before. It could well prove to be the major stride towards self-reliance in meeting the needs of our Air force as well as catalyst to the development of defence industry in Pakistan
It is pertinent to mention that it was during the Nawaz regime in 1999 that Pakistan and China agreed for co-development and co-production of JF-17 Thunder aircraft at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra in collaboration with the ChineseAviation Industry (CATIC) to replace the aging, medium-tech fleet of mirages, F-7 and A-5 aircraft that would progressively retire from service. It was undoubtedly a big step toward attaining self-sufficiency in the field of aircraft production dictated by the turn of the events and the gravity of threats to our territorial integrity, rightly perceived and responded by the political leadership. According to the agreement, in the first phase known as Block-I, 50 aircraft were to be produced for induction in the Pakistan Air Force. After flight testing a small batch of 8 aircraft was produced in the year 2007 followed by serial production in 2009. The PAC has completed the production of 50 aircraft under the Block-I project.
The fiftieth aircraft was rolled out on December 18, 2013 marking the completion of the first phase. The aircraft was handed over to the Air Force at a simple but impressive ceremony at the PAC which was also attended by the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It is noteworthy that the PAC has acquired the capability to produce 16-25 aircraft per year. On the eve of the rolling out ceremony of the 50th JF-17, the PAC and CATIC signed an agreement for the production of another 50 aircraft for Block-II batch. The JF-17s being produced under Block-II are an upgraded version of the aircraft produced under Block-I with improved versions of avionic sub-systems, air-to-air refueling capability, additional weapons carriage facility, optimised maintenance facilitation and some additional operational capabilities.
Pakistan Aeronautical Complex within a short span of its establishment, has achieved the milestones like acquiring the capability of overhauling F-7P planes, aircraft engine maintenance, co-production of K-8 and Super Mashaq training aircraft and the establishment of quality standards in Avionic and Radar technology. The JF-17 project represents eternal and ever growing ties between Pakistan and China, which have withstood the vicissitudes of time, belying the maxim that there are no permanent friends or enemies in the conduct of international relations.