China Mentors Pak Military Aviation Industry

Issues Details: 
Vol 10 Issue 2 May - June 2016
Page No.: 
Sub Title: 
A detailed analysis of the Sino-Pak defence cooperation in Aerospace sector
Air Marshal Anil Chopra, PVSM, AVSM, VM, VSM (Retd)
Tuesday, June 21, 2016

 The JF-17 Thunder is a third generation fighter aircraft jointly developed by Pakistan and China. It can be considered a show-case of Sino-Pak defence cooperation. Pakistan continues to be China’s strongest ally. Their relationship became very close after Sino-Indian war of 1962. Pakistan ceded to China, 5,180 Sq. Km of land in Karakoram region of north Kashmir. In return, China began providing economic and military assistance. After being dismembered in 1971 Pakistan forged a formal strategic alliance with China in 1972. In 1978 Chinese operationalized the Karakorum highway linking northern Pakistan with western China. China later became Pakistan’s largest arms supplier and third largest trading partner.

While China supports Pakistan on Kashmir, Pakistan in turn supports China on Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang. Pakistan also acts as a link between China and the Muslim world. China’s national strategic interest to get port facilities and a highway close to the oil rich middle-east made it commit US$ 46 Billion in the Gwadar deep-water port and the road and rail corridor leading to it. Long term plan is to lay an oil/gas pipeline from Gwadar to central China. For Pakistan, China is a low-cost-high-value deterrent against India. In spite getting huge military and financial aid from USA, Pakistan President Musharraf once called China their “time-tested all-weather friend”. China is today a major arms exporter and for long helped Pakistan build its military-industrial complex.

Chinese Military Aircraft Industry

PLA is the world’s largest standing military. China Aviation Industry employs over 4,00,000 engineers and workers. China has state-of-the-art aircraft programs include two stealth fighters (J-20 and J-31), large military transport aircraft Y-20, and AWACS KJ-2000.H-8 is a secret Chinese Strategic bomber started flight trials in 2007..J-11 is a Chinese version of Sukhoi Su-27 SK air-superiority fighter. J-11B is an upgraded airframe with Chinese radar, avionics and weapons. J-15 is carrier version of Su-33. J-16 was the Chinese version of Su-30MKK sold to them by Russia earlier. J-20 first flew in January 2011.

China thus became the third nation in the world to develop and fly a full-size stealth combat aircraft, after the United States and Russia. J-31 first flew in October 2012. This aircraft featured a different radome, speculated to house AESA radar.The Chinese are touting it to be an equivalent of the Lockheed Martin F-35 and are offering to those who cannot get/afford the expensive F-35. China’s indigenous Y-20 transport aircraft can carry pay load 66 tons. China also has two attack helicopter programs in Z-10 and a smaller Z-19 attack helicopter. China has an aggressive UAV production program with over 1500 of 40 different types. ‘Anjian’ (Dark Sword) is a Global Hawk class HALE UAV. WZ-2000 is a twin-jet powered delta winged high-altitude long-endurance UAV similar in size to the U.S. General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. China is also near world leader in Cyber-warfare

Sino-Pak Military Aviation Ties

China initially helped Pakistan set up munitions factories and upgrading the ordnance factory at Wah near Rawalpindi. China also allowed license production of MBT-2000 (Al-Khalid) tank which was essentially a Chinese variant of Russian T-90. China has also built a turnkey ballistic missile manufacturing facility near Rawalpindi. China will also construct four submarines for Pakistan Navy. Significant, all these involve transfer of technology to Pakistan. China reportedly supplied Pakistan with nuclear technology including perhaps the blueprint for Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. After India secured a nuclear deal with USA, China agreed to set up two nuclear power stations in Pakistan.

Aerospace cooperation has been the lynch-pin of Sino-Pak relationship. China helped establish Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra in 1973. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is the 7th largest Air Force in the world and the largest in the Islamic world with 400 combat and over 200 other support aircraft. China started supplying PAF F-6 aircraft (Air Defence version of MiG-19) in 1965. A squadron of Harbin H-5, a Chinese version of Russian Illyshin IL-28 was formed in early 70s. In mid 1980s PAF received 55 A-5Cs (Chinese MiG-19 ground attack variants) and 186 Chengdu F-7s (Chinese MiG-21).

After freezing of F-16 deliveries and stoppage of spares for many years as a result of Pressler amendment, Pakistan went whole hog to China for all its aerospace needs. In 2007, as a part of a joint-venture project, China rolled-out a ‘designed for Pakistan’ Fighter JF-17 ‘Thunder’.Currently PAF has 150 aircraft, and numbers will increase to 300 later. 36 Chengdu J-10 ‘Vigorous Dragon’ fighters (PAF designation FC-20) are under supply. This tail-less delta wing with canards is being compared by the Chinese with JAS 39 and Dassault Rafale. J-10 B will one day have the AESA radar, and be equipped with the improved version of the failed Chinese WS-10A engine which is a copy of AL-31FN. Short range Air-to-air missiles PL-8 and PL-9, medium-range radar-guided air-to-air missiles PL-11 and PL-12, precision guided munitions including laser-guided bombs, anti-ship missiles YJ-9K and anti-radiation missiles PJ-9 are part of the package. 6 ZDK-03 Chinese AWACS have been inducted. 60 Chinese designed K-8 Karakorum intermediate jet trainers are currently in service and more are on order. PAF has also received four CH-4 Recce-cum-strike drones which can carry up to 4 PGMs and reportedly have endurance of 30 hours. Chinese SD-10 air-to-air missiles are arming the JF-17 fleet. PAF has bought Chinese SD-10 (ShanDian-10) mid-range homing missiles to equip the JF-17 fighters. The SD-10 is a radar-guided air-to-air missile developed by China. China has transferred 34 M-11 missiles with related technology, and manufacturing capability to Pakistan.

Despite Chinese pledges to the contrary, it has continued to provide Pakistan with specialty steels, guidance systems and technical expertise in the latter’s effort to develop long-range ballistic missiles. Hatf, Shaheen and Anza series of missiles have been built using Chinese assistance. China helped Pakistan develop nuclear warheads that directly contributed to Pakistan having nearly 100 nuclear warheads by 2011. Military related technology, infrastructure and equipment continue to be the major portion of $ 10 billion trade between the two countries.

China’s Pakistan Approach

Pakistan schoolchildren are taught that the China-Pakistan partnership is “as high as the mountains and as deep as the seas”. 90% Pakistanis trust China much more than USA. Pakistan continues to be a key element of China’s ‘string of pearls’ policy to create sphere of influence around India. Mega economic projects like the $46 billion, 2000 km China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) connecting the Pakistani port of Gwadar with Kashgar in Xinjiang region of China to convey Chinese goods to the open seas.Prime Minister Sharif has introduced a ‘China cell’ in his office to speed up development projects in the country. In 2015 Pakistan began circulating the Rs. 20 coin with the Pakistan and China flags to commemorate the countries’ lasting friendship.

A recent survey by the United States-based Pew Research Centre suggests that Pakistan is not only a universally disliked country, but 52 percent of Chinese see Pakistan unfavourably. Sino-US convergence in stopping Islamic terrorism could act as a dampener for Pakistan. China’s much greater economic interest in the large Indian market also acts as a counter balance. China-India trade is now larger than both trade between China and Pakistan and trade between India and the United States.

LCA Vs JF-17

The JF-17 outwardly appears combination of Chinese fighter F-7P and the American F-16 both of which were used as a platform to evolve the JF-17. The costs were kept low by borrowing technologies developed for Chinese J-10 fighter. This fly-by-wire Mach 1.6 fighter is powered by Russian RD-93 turbofan engine which is a variant of RD 33 used on MiG 29. Russia has cleared upto 400 engines to be supplied to Pakistan. Aircraft has Wide angle Head Up Display, aerial refuelling, a data-link,Thales RC-400 multi-mode radar, MICA Air-to-air missiles, and host of air-to-ground weapons and an electronic warfare suite. Aircraft can carry external load of 6,700 lb (3100 Kg). PAF is seeking fifth-generation Close Combat missiles such as IRIS-T and A Darter. China and Pakistan are aggressively trying to find possible export customers. Targeted contenders are Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. Given the reasonable price, no technology-transfer strings attached, attractive offers could be made.

As China and India emerge as global powers, comparisons are being drawn between the JF-17 and India’s Light Combat Aircraft ‘Tejas’ LCA MkI in terms of performance. Both aircraft use a foreign engine and airborne radar. JF-17 will be Pakistan’s main fighter accompanied by their upgraded F-16s, whereas LCA Tejas will be India’s additional aircraft for medium role combat missions after SU-30 MKI, Rafale, Indo-Russian FGFA, and under-development indigenous 5th Gen AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft).The Tejas uses many new technologies including large amounts of composite materials, advanced avionics and a unique aerodynamic configuration. LCA has a good potential to be expanded into variants. A ship-based version of the aircraft has already been released. JF-17 is a third-generation aircraft designed for international market. It can be summed up that JF-17 is the aircraft of today and the Tejas the aircraft of tomorrow. JF-17 is ideal for classic Russian MiG-21, budget militaries with unit cost around US$15-20 million.

Sino-Pak Air Exercises

PAF and Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) began Shaheen series of Exercises in 2011to improve inter-operable synergy to be able to respond to ‘mutual threat’. The missions have included air combat, surface attack,

air-refuelling and logistic support missions. Shaheen-I was held in Pakistan. Shaheen-II was held in September 2013 in Hotan in Western China. PAF had then sent Mirage III EA and F-7G aircraft. PLAAF fielded J-10 multi-role fighters and J-7C aircraft on airframe of which the JF-17 was based. The more manoeuvrable J-10s acted as the aggressors. The three week-long Shaheen-III exercise held in May 2014 was at PAF Rafiqi airbase in Western Punjab. This exercise was important to PAF as it gave them exposure to fly against Chinese Sukhoi Su-27/Su-30MKK aircraft which are similar to Indian Air Force frontline SU-30 MKI aircraft. Pakistani Navy and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) have concluded their first-ever exercise in the East China Sea. Pakistani naval taskforce consisting of a frigate and a supply ship participated. The exercise underlines growing naval cooperation between China and Pakistan.

Aerospace Implications for India

China-Pak tie-up gives India a potential two-front theatre in the event of war with either country. India thus needs to re-look at the force structure. PLAAF is the world’s second largest Air Force, with 330,000 active personnel and 2500-plus aircraft. PLAAF has been under aggressive modernisation. Combined with 450 aircraft of the Chinese Navy, and the soon to be inducted state-of-the art aircraft carriers, makes it a great air power for IAF to contend. IAF, the world’s fourth largest Air Force is down to 34 squadrons, and it is reportedly the bottom of the numbers curve. PAF has plans to increase from 22 towards its target of 28 squadrons. Current IAF: PAF ratio of 1.5:1 is a far cry from the once 3:1 dominance. The Force ratio edge of IAF over PAF is thus at an all-time low.

The IAF immediately requires advanced fighters, sophisticated support platforms and smart long-range weapons.   IAF has also been trying to convince the Indian government that there was a need to eventually increase combat squadrons from currently targeted 42, to around 50 squadrons. To achieve this, the defence budget must be increased to at least 3.0% of GDP from current 1.67%. Also we need to hasten procurement processes. The Defence R&D and Indian aircraft industry too would have to get their act right. IAF’s long list of acquisitions Rafale, LCA, FGFA, additional Boeing Globemaster III C-17s and Lockheed Martin Super Hercules C-130Js, Boeing CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift, Boeing AH-64D Apache attack helicopter, and the various other force multipliers need to unfold quickly. With new DPP 2016 and make-in-India drive India’s private industry may find some encouragement to enter in a bigger way. FDI needs increase. India needs to have at least two more operational airfields in the Assam valley; deploy more Surface-to-Air missiles of S-400 class; accelerate induction of mountain radars; and create an independent Cyber Command. There is a need for IAF to build up force levels quickly lest IAF gets left too far behind PLAAF and PAF bridges the gap. National security cannot be left open-ended.