PARIS: Pakistan wants to upgrade its ageing fleet of fighter jets in anticipation of a prolonged battle against militants, the second-in-command of the country’s air force told Reuters in an interview
In 2014, the military launched a crackdown in North Waziristan and has managed to push back militants into a few pockets. But its air force lacks the latest technology and relies heavily on a fleet of about 70 F-16s, which are solely capable of carrying out precision targeting.
“Our concern is that we don’t know how long these anti-terrorist operations will continue,” Air Marshal Muhammad Ashfaque Arain said. “We have weakened them (militants) to a great extent, but I don’t see an end in the very near future, so all the burden is being shared by the F-16s and its pilots.”
The Pakistan Air Force also operates hundreds of French-made Mirage jets that are over 40 years old and Chinese F7 warplanes that are over 25 years old. It plans to retire both types over the next few years.
To fill the void, Islamabad has decided to bet on the JF-17 fighter, jointly developed by China and Pakistan. However, Arain acknowledged that JF-17’s usefulness in current operations was limited because it lacks precision targeting.
“Operationally, the aircraft are working pretty well so if we had a targeting pod on the JF-17, the burden would be shared,” Arain said. He said his visit to Paris was in part aimed at assessing from French officials the prospects of supplying the Thales-made Damocles, a third-generation targeting pod.
“It’s a much cheaper fighter jet, but buying more F-16s is economically not feasible for us and then there is a lot of human outcry,” he said. Arain countered any suggestion that Pakistan might want greater air power to target India by saying that New Delhi itself was expanding its fleet.
“We get eight aircraft and there are people who start to say that it will tilt the balance of power in South Asia. But when somebody across the border buys 36 aircraft and has plans to buy 126, that doesn’t change the balance of power,” he said, referring to India.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2016.