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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 314, 16 March 2022

Pakistan Air Force inducts J-10C: Three Takeaways



The fourth-generation aircraft will add wings to the technological capability of combat aviation and its air warfare

Ankit Singh

On 11 March, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) inducted newly acquired six J-10C multirole fighter aircraft at Minhas Air Base, Kamra. Pakistan became the first country to commission the aircraft; until now, it was used only by China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force.

J-10C is a fourth-generation aircraft, with a multi-role use, manoeuvrability and fly-by-wire flight control system. The PAF Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Babar said: “We have never attempted to match numbers nor wish to be in any arms race. However, we continue to enhance our capability to ensure national security and regional stability.” The aircraft adds to the aerial warfare platform kitty of PAF.

The above is crucial for three important reasons.
First, the upgraded technological platforms. The J-10C is a sequel to a previous collaboration between Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group to jointly develop JF-17 Thunder/FC-1 Xiaolong light fighter aircraft. PAC has a 58 per cent share in the airframe design of JF-17. J-10C is an up-gradation of the previous aircraft platform.

In terms of specification, the maximum speed of JF-17 is 1.6 Mach while that of J-10C is 1.8 Mach; G-limit for JF-17 is +8/-3 while that of J-10C is +9/-3; the empty weight and maximum take-off weight for JF-17 is 7695 kg and 13500 kg respectively and for J-10C; the empty weight and maximum take-off weight is 9750 kg and 19277 kg and ferry range for JF-17 is 1880 Nautical Miles (NMI) while for J-10C it is 1590 NMI.

The canard design is one of the new features to provide enhanced manoeuvrability; the Chinese indigenous turbofan engine Shenyang WS-10, which took 20 years to develop marks another milestone in the collaboration of Pakistan and China.

However, the modern combat aircraft is a complex system and considering most of the technological equipment from carbon composite to radar systems, and jet turbofan is developed in China. Pakistan has little to gain in terms of technical capability and, eventually, lack of domestic support for technological risks will keep Pakistan aligned to China.

Second, the scope of the venture. For Pakistan, the utility will primarily remain limited to its eastern neighbour. PM Imran stated at the induction ceremony: “An imbalance is being created in South Asia. This induction will address that security imbalance.” The economy of scale is not a practical requirement, as the statement explains, Pakistan is opting for advanced air platforms to match the cumulative strength of the Indian Air Force.
Though the details of the total number of aircraft are unknown, a minimum of 25 J10-C are to be exported. This will take the total combat aircraft with PAF to approximately 425 units. China, however, has different plans; it showcased the aircraft on display at its pavilion at the 2019 Dubai Air Show, which was held from 17-21 November 2019. The export proceedings will enhance innovation and economies of scale for China; for Pakistan, it will open up new avenues for access to platform-based technology. Air warfare is offensive in its posture and explains the tactical necessity for Pakistan in deterring any misdemeanour by its adversaries.

Third, Pakistan's defence technology objective. Pakistan is collaborating with Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) to develop a fifth-generation aircraft (TF-X), the operational requirement of a fifth-generation aircraft works on advanced features such as stealth, radar interception and advanced avionics. China operates fifth-generation aircraft, Chengdu J-20 which entered the service in 2017. Pakistan instead of continuing ahead in its partnership and reliance on China, has sought an independent trajectory with Turkey. Even though Pakistan and China are long-time allies, the preference for fifth generation combat aircraft by Pakistan gives a hint about it long term strategic objectives in developing its own niche of defence manufacturing.

The predecessor of J-10C, JF-17 is majorly manufactured in Pakistan, 58 per cent of manufacturing. The ejection seat in JF-17 is sourced from United Kingdom and similar trends might as well be seen in domestic production of J-10C, if and when that happens. The lego approach in designing a combat aircraft is advantageous, as Pakistan does not have to rely on a single industry for array of equipment. It retains the scope and chance to select the best equipment for efficient operationalisation. For example, Turkey before being discarded from F-35 program was manufacturing critical engine parts for F-35 aircraft. F-35 is considered one of the advanced fifth generation aircraft available in the world. The partnership of Pakistan with Turkey on fifth generation platform will enable indirect exchange of expertise and experience from China and USA. The pursuit is to not remain hostage to technological deficiency and Pakistan is attempting to scramble all possible technological equipment required for a combat aircraft. The country has placed its eggs in many baskets and will not subsume to any narrative being framed on it.

References
Marc R. DeVore, “ Looking Realistically at Asia’s Fighter Aircraft Ambitions,” Global Asia, June 2016
Pakistan Navy buying vessels for special operations from US company,” Dawn, 2 November 2017
Bilal Khan, “China Officially Promotes J-10C for Export,” 24 November 2019
Liu Xuanzun, “Pakistan's acquisition of Chinese J-10C fighter jets significant for both sides: analysts,” Global Times, 20 February 2022
Ali Ahmed, “Pakistan, Turkey jointly developing fifth-generation fighter jet TF-X,” Business Recorder, 23 February 2022
Pakistan Air Force,” Global Security
Valius Venckunas, “Fact check: is Argentina buying Pakistani-Chinese JF-17 Thunder fighter jets?,” Aerotime, 21 September 2021
Valerie Insinna, “Turkey’s removal from F-35 program to cause hike in engine price,” Defense News, 23 April 2021

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