“The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) might be outnumbered when it comes to fighter jets but over the years it has built an ability to defend the country’s airspace”, Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt said on Tuesday.
“As you know that our air force has always remained outnumbered vis-à-vis regional air forces but we have adopted strategies to fight with our own strength. Just like we have done in the past,” he said on the sidelines of the four-day defence exhibition IDEAS 2014.
After visiting halls and meeting foreign delegates, he said that many countries have expressed interest in the indigenously developed JF-17 Thunder jet. About the recent revival of diplomatic and military relations between Islamabad and Russia, he said that Pakistan believes in peaceful co-existence.
“If you may recall, I was the first one as air chief to visit Russia and then their government was kind enough to reciprocate that trip,” he said.
“There are a lot of areas where the two countries can cooperate. And soon you will hear good news.”
‘Fix the house to get orders’
Like they have been doing for years, Pakistani defence companies have put on display a broad range of conventional weapons and hi-tech communication, surveillance and transportation equipment.
But the common point which resonates in conversations with military and civilian officials associated with armament firms is that the country must deal with internal political challenges before it can make a mark in international market.
“We need to fix the house first. We have been improving our capabilities slowly, reversing engineering things but it will take a lot more effort to carve a market for our products internationally,” said a senior official of a state-owned manufacturing company.
While Pakistan exports guns, ammunitions, artillery shells and other light weaponry to multiple countries, it has faced setback in selling big machines like the Al-Khalid Tank.
Al-Khalid tank, developed in the 1990s, is equipped with a 125mm gun and has the capability to fire sophisticated ammunition including missiles in both stationary and moving conditions.
A couple of years back, Islamabad had almost succeeded in clinching a multi-million dollar deal with Saudi Arabia but the contract had to be dropped at the last moment because of immense pressure on Riyadh from American firms.
“This is where diplomacy comes into play,” said a military official. “But even before that we have to convince potential buyers that we can make and supply affordable and reliable products.”
Heavy Industries Taxila and China’s Norinco have signed a MoU in 2012 to jointly market the Al-Khalid tank.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2014.