Their cooperation was evident from the aircraft on display at last week's Dubai Airshow.
Pakistan and China prove powerful combination in aviation
KARACHI, PAKISTAN // Last week’s Dubai Airshow showed the extent of Pakistan’s cooperation with China on aviation and defence.
The JF-17 Thunder aircraft put up by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) for display in the air show have been jointly developed by Pakistan and China. With its advanced design and state-of-the-art manufacturing technology, the JF-17 has the combat capability of a third-generation fighter plane and is on a par with the world’s most advanced light fighter jets.
China, which has now emerged as a tough competitor challenging the United States, Russia, France and Britain and other long-time exporters in the international arms market, is Pakistan’s closest ally. China has so far been the strength for the Pakistan defence industry. It continues its support in the modernisation plans of Pakistan’s armed forces.
Islamabad draws heavily on Beijing for its defence needs. Along with US-built F-16s and French Mirages, the PAF has a fleet of Chinese aircraft including F-7PGs and A-5s. PAF also put up its Super Mushshak (Proficient) aircraft for display in Dubai. The Super Mushshak has been designed and manufactured by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) at its Kamra factory in Punjab province. It is a more advanced, upgraded variant of the MFI-17 Mushshak basic trainer. The aircraft may be marketed both for military and commercial use. The MFI-17 Mushshak is still used in its basic trainer role by countries including Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Syria.
Pakistan-China military relations are characterised by joint defence production and development. The two countries agreed to enhance military to military cooperation and collaboration between the defence industries in 2002, the year when strategic talks started between the two countries over security issues.
JF-17 Thunder aircraft has been co-produced by PAC and China Aero-technology Import Export Corporation. The JF-17 is a 1.6-Mach 2 aircraft with advanced avionics and excellent handling capabilities.
JF-17 is the strategic project jointly invested and developed by the two countries. In April 2005, PAC formally opened its JF-17 production facility at Kamra factory and the first four locally-built aircraft were handed over to the PAF in December 2006. The two countries also signed a contract for serial production of the first batch of 42 JF-17 after 10 months of deliberations on the configuration of different parts of the planes.
In 2010, Pakistan decided to buy Chinese radar systems and SD-10 (ShanDian-10) mid-range homing missiles to equip its 250 JF-17 fighters. The SD-10 is a radar-guided air-to-air missile developed by China in 2002. Islamabad has launched the production of avionics for the JF-17 Thunder at PAC Kamra. The country also plans to broaden the scope to include the production of complete JF-17 avionics suite at PAC. It has established generic production and testing facilities at Kamra Avionics and Radar Factory.
Similarly, Chengdu Aircraft Industry, China’s second-largest fighter producer, has been cooperating with Pakistan’s Aviation Integrated Company in the development of the FC-1 (Fighter China 1). It is a lightweight multipurpose fighter based on the design for the MiG-33 and powered by a single Klimov RD-93 turbofan. It is capable of beyond-visual-range air-to-air combat, as well as laser-guided weapons delivery. Although primarily developed for Pakistan, it provides a low-cost replacement for many developing countries that are currently operating the ageing fighter series.
China is Pakistan’s main supplier of military equipment. During the past decade, Islamabad signed many multimillion dollar deals with Beijing, including deals for F-22P frigate, Awacs aircraft, JF-17 Thunder and FC-20 aircraft. PAF also plans to buy new Chinese made J-10 fighters in large number. The acquisition of Chinese airborne warning and control system (Awacs) aircraft will further strengthen the capability of the PAF.
Under a US$750 million deal signed in April 2005, China agreed to further strengthen defence ties by transferring naval shipbuilding technology to Pakistan. China transferred the technology to Pakistan for manufacturing F22P Frigate, which can operate in multi-threat environments and has long-range surface-to-surface missiles that can attack multiple targets simultaneously. In January 2008, China launched the project for manufacturing the first F-22P frigate for the Pakistan Navy at its Hudong shipyard in Shanghai. Under the deal, while three of the four ships will be built in China, the construction of a fourth will complete at the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works by the end of this year.
Three JF-17 Thunder fighter jets represented the co-production of Pakistan and China defence industries at the Dubai Airshow, which opened enormous investment opportunities in the global defence and commercial aerospace industries. China found a golden opportunity in Dubai to display its aerospace and military technology. Chinese defence companies can particularly target cost-conscious customers, as they apply the same low-cost strategy that worked for toys and electronics.
Syed Fazl-e-Haider is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of The Economic Development of Balochistan