In an interview with Pakistan’s state-owned national television network, PTV, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Sohail Aman outlined the PAF’s near and long-term force modernization objectives. (Note: the interview is in Urdu)
Currently, the PAF is phasing out 190 legacy Chengdu F-7P and Dassault Mirage III/5 combat aircraft from its fleet (more than 50 have already been retired). With the aim to supplant these fighters by 2020, ACM Sohail Aman stated that the JF-17 Thunder, which is co-produced by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and Chengdu Aerospace Corporation (CAC), is at the center of these procurement efforts. ACM Aman added that the forthcoming JF-17 Block-III, the Thunder’s first majorly upgraded variant, is projected to enter production in 2019-2020.
With the PAF “very satisfied” with the JF-17, ACM Aman indicated that the Thunder will receive most of the PAF’s investment. Bringing the JF-17 to complete maturity (via the Block-III) is a priority. However, ACM Aman added that the PAF is still engaged with the U.S. about procuring additional F-16s.
The proposed purchase of eight new-built F-16C/D Block-52+ in 2016 fell through as a consequence of the U.S. Congress’ refusal to release Foreign Military Financing support to partly subsidize the deal. However, the PAF is in talks with the U.S. for those (eight) and additional aircraft.
ACM Aman mentioned efforts towards procuring a new off-the-shelf fighter. He stated that the PAF is in talks with several countries in regards to 5th-generation fighter aircraft. These talks are in the advanced stages and will be sought to “plug in” gaps. Interestingly, ACM Aman mentioned this project separately from indigenous efforts, which he said will require PAC to develop a next-generation fighter as well as its internal subsystems, such as its avionics.
The domestic development and manufacturing of a next-generation fighter is a long-term goal. Next month, Kamra Aviation City will enrol its first cohort of post-graduate engineering students, who will study disciplines directly relevant to aircraft manufacturing. Kamra Aviation City’s institutes will closely work with the aviation industry. ACM Aman emphasized the need for the PAF – and the country as a whole – to become as independent as possible in sourcing technology.
ACM Aman also confirmed that the two heavily damaged Saab 2000-based Erieye airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft were domestically repaired. He stated that the price quoted by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) was U.S. $287 million, but the work was domestically undertaken for a much lower cost – $25 million.