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Pakistan Air Force CAS Outlines Next Procurement Steps

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In an interview with IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Mujahid Anwar Khan, laid-out the PAF’s upcoming procurement plans.[1] These center on the procurement of additional JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighters alongside a new lead-in-fighter trainer (LIFT) as well as defining the PAF’s fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) program.[2]

First, the PAF is in the process of concluding the JF-17 Block-II program, with the last three aircraft (out of an order of 62) slated for June 2019. Second, for the forthcoming JF-17 Block-III, the PAF will choose one of two active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars: the KLJ-7A by the Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology (NRIET) or the LKF601E by Leihua Electronic Technology Research Institute (LETRI).

The PAF is aiming to induct the AESA radar-equipped JF-17 by March 2020.

Originally, the PAF opted to procure 150 JF-17s split across three equally sized tranches (i.e., Block-I, Block-II, and Block-III). However, to keep Pakistan Aeronautical Complex’s (PAC) production line warm, the PAF added 12 Block-IIs to its order. Now as per the CAS’ most recent statements, the PAF will also add 26 twin-seat JF-17Bs to its fleet[3], thus bringing the JF-17 roadmap to 188 fighters.

Having first flown in April 2017, the JF-17B was not only intended as the twin-seat training variant of the JF-17, but it was also the basis of the JF-17 Block-III. It introduced a new three-axis fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system (replacing the hybrid FBW of prior variants) and purportedly longer wingspan.

However, the primary goal of the JF-17B was to meet the needs of certain overseas users, while the PAF was satisfied with using simulators. It now appears that the PAF has pivoted to backing the JF-17B as well. It is likely that the PAF will configure these aircraft along identical lines to the JF-17 Block-III. Thus, the PAF will induct 76 new AESA radar-equipped JF-17s, and it may add more in lieu of an interim off-the-shelf jet.

It is unclear why the PAF is procuring the JF-17B. The CAS stated that the objective was to train new pilots “without first putting them through the F-16, Mirage or F-7P/PG as they are now.”[4] On first glance, one might take it as a sign that the PAF will use the JF-17B for LIFT or as a Fighter Conversion Unit (FCU). However, in the same interview, the CAS listed the LIFT as a separate requirement.[5]

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[1] Alan Warnes. Interview. Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, Chief of the Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force. IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 22 May 2019.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

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