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J-10: The New Cornerstone of Sino-Pakistani Defense Cooperation


China and Pakistan have forged a formidable partnership in high-tech
defense production. This partnership is born of their ever-deepening
military and strategic cooperation that is also reflective of the
burgeoning capacity of China’s defense industries and the budding
Sino-Pakistani defense relationship. The epitome of this bilateralism
is the recent revelation that the Chinese have agreed to the sale of 36
J-10B fighter jets to Pakistan (Financial Times, November 10). The J-10
aircrafts are known to be one of the most advanced weapon systems in
China’s arsenal, of which Pakistan will be the first recipient. With
the delivery of 36 fighter jets, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) will
raise two fighting squadrons that will further sharpen its
combativeness. The J-10 deal was reportedly sealed for a whopping $1.4
billion, which accounts for 70 percent of Chinese average arms sales of
$2 billion a year (China Brief, July 9).

The J-10 Sale Epitomizes Strategic Alliance

The
deal marks the depth of a strategic alliance between Beijing and
Islamabad. Some reports suggest that Pakistan is actually seeking 150
J-10 fighter jets, which go by Chengdu Jian-10 in China and F-10 in
Pakistan, for a sum of $6 billion (The Hindu, November 11). The
Pakistani government, however, dismisses such reports as inflated
(Financial Times, November 10). Although Pakistan has not yet made the
deal public, its prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, on November 23,
confirmed that “his country is in talks with China for securing the
J-10s” [1]. Pakistan turned to China for these aircraft in 2006 after
it failed to secure the F-16s from the United States (Dawn, May 1,
2006). General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military ruler, who
negotiated the deal during his visit to China in 2006, is the real
architect of this grand sale (The Hindu, November 11).

The
J-10s are China’s third generation fighter aircraft that it has
indigenously developed (The Hindu, November 11) and manufactured at the
Chengdu Aircraft Industry (CAI). Some observers, however, believe that
J-10s are China’s fourth generation aircraft. “This aircraft is a
cousin to the Israeli Lavi (upon which it is based) and roughly
equivalent in capabilities to the U.S. F-16C flown by several air
forces around the world” (See “China’s Re-emergence as an Arms Dealer:
The Return of the King?” China Brief, July 9). The J-10s started
development in the mid-1980s and finally entered production for the
People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) about three or four years
ago. Aviation experts rank them below the F-16s, the Swedish Gripen and
other smaller combat aircraft (China Brief, July 9). According to a
report in The Hindu (November 11), China is working on developing its
fourth generation fighter jets as well. The United States, The Hindu
report further claims, is the only country that possesses a fourth
generation combat aircraft—the F-22s. Yet aviation experts believe the
F-22s are fifth generation fighter jets. Chinese Deputy Commander of
the PLAAF General He Weirong claimed that “China would operationalize
its very own fourth generation aircraft in the next eight or ten years”
(The Hindu, November 11). The Chinese official further claimed that the
fourth generation planes would “match or exceed the capacity of similar
jets in existence today” (The Hindu, November 11).

In
anticipation, China is also training Pakistani fighter pilots for
flying the fourth generation combat aircraft. On January 16, it
delivered eight Karakoram K-8P trainer jets to Pakistan for this
purpose. According to an official statement, the K-8P jets had enhanced
the basic training of PAF pilots and provided a “potent platform for
their smooth transition to more challenging fourth generation fighter
aircraft” (The Asian Defence, January 16). The K-8P is an advanced
trainer jet that has been jointly developed by China and Pakistan. It
is already in service at the PAF Academy. At the handing-over ceremony
for the K-8Ps, a visiting Chinese delegation as well as high-ranking
PAF officers were in attendance. 

China’s sale of the J-10
fighters to Pakistan, however, signals the depth of its strategic
alliance with Pakistan. Pakistan will be the first country to receive
the most advanced Chinese aircraft, which speaks volumes to Chinese
faith in its strategic partnership with Pakistan. Defense analysts,
however, believe that the sale sends an important message to the world
that China’s “defense capability is growing rapidly” (Financial Times,
November 10). China-Pakistan military relations spanned over 43 years,
starting in 1966 when China provided Pakistan with F-6s, which were
followed by the successive supply of such aircraft as FT5, A5, F-7P,
F-7PG and K-8 (Jang, November 22).

These relations continue to
grow with high-level exchanges in the defense sector. As recently as
October of this year, Chinese Vice-Minister Chen Qiufa, administrator
of China’s State Administration for Science, Technology & Industry
for National Defense (SASTIND), led a delegation of Chinese
defense-companies to Pakistan. He called on Prime Minister Gilani and
discussed cooperation in the JF-17 Thunder Project, Al Khalid tank,
F-22 frigates, Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), and
aircraft and naval ships (APP, October 17). The Chinese delegation
included representatives from China’s missile technology firm Poly
Technologies as well as Aviation Industries Corp. of China, China
Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, China Electronics Technology Group
and China North Industry Corporation.

Although there is a
proliferation of joint defense projects between China and Pakistan,
their collaboration in aviation industry has peaked at the turn of the
millennium. The mainstay of their joint defense production is the
Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) in Kamra (Punjab), which services,
assembles and manufactures fighter and trainer aircraft. The PAC is
rated as the world’s third largest assembly plant. Initially, it was
founded with Chinese assistance to rebuild Chinese aircraft in the PAF
fleet, which included Shenyang F-6 (now retired), Nanchang A-5, F-7
combat aircraft, Shenyang FT-5 and FT-6 Jet trainer aircraft. The PAC
also houses the Kamra Radar and Avionics Factory (KARF), which is meant
to assemble and overhaul airborne as well as ground-based radar
systems, electronics, and avionics. The KARF, which is ISO-9002
certified, has upgraded the PAF Chengdu F-7P interceptor fleet. Over
time, the PAC has expanded its operation into aircraft manufacturing,
and built a specialized manufacturing unit in the 1980s: The Aircraft
Manufacturing Factory (AMF). The AMF got noticed in the region when it
partnered with the Hongdu Aviation Industry Group of China to design,
develop and coproduce the K-8 Karakoram (Hongdu JL-8), which is an
advanced jet trainer. The AMF’s flagship project, however, is the
Sino-Pakistani joint production and manufacture of the JF-17 Thunder
aircraft, which it is producing with the Chengdu Aircraft Industry
(CAI). 

JF-17 Thunder Makes Over the PAF

In recent
history, China and Pakistan set out for the joint production of JF-17
combat aircraft that both countries consider a substitute for U.S.
F-16s. Pakistan’s indigenous manufacture of the first JF-17 (which goes
by FC-1 in China) came to fruition on November 23, when Pakistan
Aeronautical Complex (PAC), an arm of the Pakistan Air Force, turned it
over to the PAF to the chants of “Long Live Pak-China Friendship” (The
News International, November 24).

Pakistan’s Prime Minister,
Pakistan Chief of Army Staff and Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Lou
Zhaohui, were among the dignitaries who attended the handing-over
ceremony. Chinese Ambassador Zhaohui, speaking on the occasion, told
his audience: “China wants to further broaden the defense cooperation
with Pakistan” (Jang, November 23). The PAF already has 10 JF-17s,
which were produced in China, in its fleet. The JF-17 project began in
1992, under which China agreed to transfer technology for the
aircraft’s joint production. The project was hampered in 1999, when
Pakistan came under proliferation sanctions. It gained momentum in
2001.

On September 3, 2003, its prototype, which was
manufactured in China, conducted the first test flight. The PAF claims
that the JF-17s, with a glass cockpit and modern avionics, are
comparable to any fighter plane (Jang, November 23). It is a
lightweight combat jet, fitted with turbofan engine, advanced flight
control, and the most advanced weapons delivery system. As a supersonic
plane, its speed is 1.6 times the speed of its sound, and its ability
to refuel midair makes it a “stand-out” (Jang, November 23). Pakistan
intends to raise a squadron of JF-17s by 2010. The Chief of Air Staff
of the PAF told a newspaper that JF-17s would help “replace the
existing fleet of the PAF comprising F-7s, A-5s and all Mirage
aircraft” (The News International, November 8). Eventually, Pakistan
will have 350 JF-17s that will completely replace its ageing fleet.

Pakistan
also plans to export these aircraft to developing countries for which,
it says, orders have already started pouring in (Jang, November 22).
China and Pakistan anticipate an annual export of 40 JF-17s to Asian,
African and Middle Eastern nations [2]. At $25 million apiece, the
export of 40 aircraft will fetch them $1 billion per year. There are
estimates that Asia will purchase 1,000 to 1,500 aircraft over the next
15 years. In this Sino-Pakistani joint venture, Pakistan will have 58
percent of shares, while China will have 42 percent (The News
International, November 25). Besides defense aviation, China and
Pakistan are closely collaborating on the joint production of naval
ships as well.

Chinese Frigates for the Pakistan Navy

China
and Pakistan worked out a $750 million loan to help Pakistan build four
F-22P frigates (The News International, September 16, 2004). In 2004,
Pakistan negotiated this non-commercial (i.e. low-cost) loan with China
for the joint manufacture of naval ships. China and Pakistan have since
moved fast to begin work on this project. They have now expanded the
original deal to build eight F22P frigates respectively at Hudong
Zhonghua shipyard in Shanghai, China, and Karachi shipyard and
Engineering Works (KSEW), Pakistan. The manufacturing cost of each F22P
Frigate, which is an improved version of China’s original Type 053H3
Frigate, is $175 million. At this rate, the cost of eight frigates will
run at about $1.4 billion.

The first Chinese-built F-22
frigate, named PNS Zulfiqar (Arabic for sword), was delivered to
Pakistan on July 30 (The Nation, July 31). A month later, the ship was
formally commissioned in the Pakistan Navy fleet in September. Soon
after its arrival in July, the ship participated in the Pakistan Navy’s
SeaSpark exercises. Of the original four frigates, three were to be
built in China and one in Pakistan (Asia Times, July 11, 2007). After
the delivery of PNS Zulfiqar, the remaining two ships that are being
built in China are expected to be commissioned in the Pakistan Navy
fleet by 2010. The fourth ship being built in Pakistan’s Karachi
shipyard will be ready by 2013 (Asia Times, July 11, 2007).

The
Pakistan Navy describes the F-22P frigate as a Sword Class ship that is
equipped with long-range surface-to-surface missiles (SSM) and
surface-to-air missiles (SAM), depth charges, torpedoes, the latest
76mm guns, a close-in-weapons system (CIWS), sensors, electronic
warfare and an advanced command and control system (The Nation, July
31). The ship has a displacement of 3,000 tons and carries
anti-submarine Z9EC helicopters. China has already delivered the first
batch of two such helicopters to Pakistan. Although the Pakistan Navy
has Sea-King helicopters for anti-submarine operations, it is now
acquiring Chinese Z9ECs to enhance its operational capabilities (The
Nation, July 31). In addition to building eight frigates, the
Sino-Pakistan defense deal includes the upgrading of the Karachi
dockyard for indigenous production of a modern surface fleet. The
frigates deal is the first of its kind between China and Pakistan,
which forges their two navies into a high-level collaboration for
boosting their surface fleet.

Conclusion

At the turn of
the millennium, China and Pakistan have diversified their defense trade
into joint defense production. They have since been collaborating on
the production of most advanced weapons systems, such as the JF-17s
combat aircraft and F-22P Frigates. Pakistan will receive the transfer
of technology for the J-10s as well. China recognizes that Pakistan is
rich with human capital in the high-tech defense industry, which serves
as a magnet for its investment. Both China and Pakistan look to capture
wider defense export markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. At
the same time, their growing cooperation in aviation and naval defense
systems signals an important shift in Pakistan’s military doctrine that
traditionally favored Army (especially ground forces) over its sister
services—Navy and Air Force. In the region’s changing strategic
environment, in which China has growing stakes, Pakistan has come to
recognize the critical importance of air and naval defense. The
China-Pakistan collaboration in aviation and naval defense amply
embodies this recognition.