Pakistan’s financial woes leave the country stripped of an advanced air defence system, however, its old friend China can lend a helping hand to the Pakistan Air Force to somewhat counter the Indian capabilities.
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Experts write that Pakistan’s close relationship with China coupled with the economic problems that the Islamic Republic is encountering, getting hold of the JH-7 heavy strike fighter from Beijing can equip the Pakistan Air Force with the much needed, offensive and defensive capabilities.
It is reported that China also intends to sell a large part of their JH-7 fleet to Pakistan as it has repeatedly been showcasing the fighter bomber at air shows such as the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition.
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With a relatively old frame, the JH-7 is still one of the most successful aircraft for deep strike operations. Along with a longer combat range and heavy payload capacity, the aircraft’s ability to fly under the enemy radar can allow it to target many coastal regions of its neighbours.
Built with technological superiority, the JH-7 can launch long-range anti-ship missiles from as far as 100 miles from their targets, therefore adding to the strategic aura of the aircraft. This characteristic was best-made use of by the Argentine Air Force during the 1982 Falklands War, as French Super Etendard strike aircraft armed with Exocet missiles sank two British warships.
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Apart from its other mechanical specializations, since Pakistan already has experience in successfully operating and maintaining Chinese-built aircrafts such as the H-5, J-6, and F-7, the JH-7 presents itself as “an ideal “stop-gap” solution for the PAF until sufficient numbers of the JF-17 Block 3 are inducted,” believes Ammad Malik, a defence and security analyst from Lahore.
PAF against IAF
Post the independence from the British rule, India and Pakistan have engaged in four bloody wars and many conflicts including few military standoffs and one publically known airstrike.
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Both the nuclear-armed nations continue strengthening their defence systems. The global defence experts believe that the Indian Air Force (IAF) is equipped with aircraft that are both qualitatively and numerically superior to much of the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) inventory.
According to the latest numbers from Global Firepower Index 2019, PAF has airpower of 1,342 aircraft as compared to IAF’s 2,082. While the IAF includes superior-quality aircrafts such as the Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKI and upcoming Rafale Jets, Pakistan still depends largely on its limited fleet of US’s F-16 Fighting Falcons.
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With the possession of about 75 F-16 jets that were delivered way back in the 1980s, PAF also includes over 100 JF-17s of the Block 1 and Block 2 variants, along with a huge operational fleet of the 1960s-era Mirage 3 fighter jets.
India even wins the brownie points as the Indian Navy is also capable of operating a significant and independent air arm of its own which can effectively target Pakistan’s coastal hub of Karachi. Pakistan’s Navy, on the other hand, is relatively much smaller than India’s and does not have capabilities to deploy fighter jets and depends flat out on the PAF for aerial maritime strike operations.
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Meanwhile, critics from Pakistan often point out that the PAF enjoys far greater serviceability of its jets than that of IAF due to maintenance-friendly nature of its aircraft. The expert writers that “India’s present Russian/Soviet technology is generally less reliable and less effective and a large part of their fleet of MiG-21s and MiG-27s are outdated,” while calling the MiGs as ‘flying coffins’.
However, just recently, the Indian Air Force (IAF) had announced that it will receive the first 4 of the total 36 Rafale fighter jets from France by the end of July 2020 and the full delivery by May 2022.
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The twin-engine, canard-delta wing, multirole fighter aircraft is categorized as a 4.5 generation aircraft that can perform numerous roles including Air dominance, interdiction, aerial recce, precision long-range strikes including in the maritime environment.
India’s retired Air Marshal M Matheswaran had said that “Pakistan has the multi-role F-16 in its inventory. But it is only as good as the Mirage 2000 of India. There is nothing equivalent to the Rafale in Pakistan.”
Penned by Ammad Malik, Edited by Vipasha Kaushal