Pakistan is in negotiations with the U.S. to get more Lockheed Martin F-16s beyond those it has on order, while at the same time it is developing its defense manufacturing capability to reduce its reliance on the U.S.
Pakistan air force Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman disclosed this, though no firm numbers were given. Qamar spoke to Aviation Week in Melbourne, Australia, where he was attending an air chiefs’ conference.
In 2006 the U.S. Congress agreed to give Pakistan 28 F-16C/Ds under an excess defense articles initiative. The first 14 aircraft were recently delivered. Qamar says negotiations are ongoing for the remaining 14.
Pakistan has a total of 63 F-16s—45 A/Bs and 18 C/Ds. Qamar says all the A/Bs are to undergo a mid-life upgrade and become C/D aircraft “close to Block 50” standard by 2013-14. The first three A/Bs are being upgraded at Turkish Aerospace Industries.
Pakistan is also an ally of China, and the countries are jointly developing the JF-17 fighter, which is being produced at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra. Qamar says the second squadron of JF-17s will go into operation in late March, and at that time the Chinese Nanchang A-5, a ground attack aircraft, will begin to be phased out.
Qamar says he has made a concerted effort to increase the manufacturing capability of Pakistan’s defense industry because the country has, in the past, been subject to sanctions and embargoes.
Chengdu F-7s and Dassault Mirages will be phased out as we get JF-17s,” says Qamar. “Some of our Mirages are the oldest in the world,” dating back to 1967. Phasing these out is a top priority because they are difficult and costly to maintain; no one is producing spare parts for them anymore. “We are getting second-hand parts, but we don’t know” their provenance. “It’s a flight-safety issue and a nightmare for me,” he adds.
When asked about data links to tie F-16s to JF-17s, Qamar says Pakistan is working to develop its own solution. “We have Link 16 on the F-16s. We will not fiddle with Link 16 and not have direct linkages [between the JF-17s] with the F-16” He says an indigenous tactical data link is being worked on. It will send information from the JF-17 to a ground station where there will be an interface, he says, adding there will be a short delay, and then the information will be sent to the F-16s.
Pakistan also has different types of airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft. Pakistan has three Saab Erieyes and will receive its fourth mid-year, says Qamar. This is its last Saab Erieye on order. Pakistan is also due to receive mid-year its first Shaanxi ZDK-03. Four are on order and the first rolled out of the Shaanxi Aircraft factory last November.
Besides AEW&C aircraft, Qamar says, “we are talking to some Western companies about tankers.” The country now has four Ilyushin Il-78s.
And UAVs are eagerly sought. They already have Selex Galileo Falco UAVs, and Qamar says an agreement has been reached with the Italian company to allow some Falco UAVs to be made in Pakistan both for the local market and for export. Production will start this year, he says. In the past, Pakistan reportedly wanted to have the Falco armed, a request that Italy rejected. Qamar says the Falco UAVs made in Pakistan will carry no weapons and will be used for reconnaissance and surveillance, mostly of areas where terrorists may be entrenched.
A longer-term issue is whether Pakistan needs a fifth-generation fighter. Rival India, is teaming up with Russia to develop a fifth-generation fighter based on Russia’s T-50. When asked if Pakistan would like to be part of the Chengdu J-20, fifth-generation fighter program, Qamar says: “We don’t have any involvement in this development so far. This seems to be an indigenous effort and we will keenly watch it. Obviously, China is a very good friend.” But it will be years before the J-20 becomes operational in the Chinese air force, he adds.
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