By Abuzar Ilyas
India and France finally inked the Rafale deal of more than 8 billion dollars. French Dassault Aviation will provide 36 Rafale MMRCAs to Indian Air Force. The first aircraft will be delivered after 3 years and all 36 systems will be delivered within a time of 3 years after it. Rafale is no doubt a proven 4.5th generation aircraft which will enhance the capabilities of Indian Air Force but in my humble opinion, the delivery time is so late that it will not create much effect against Pakistan. Our own JF-17 Thunder will introduce its Block 3 within a year or two and its specifications will be enough to counter any 4.5th Generation aircraft.
As expected, JF-17 Thunder Block 3 will be upgraded to an AESA radar with additional IRST features. Its payload and range will also be enhanced due to which it will offer a deterrent against Rafales in Indian colours. Moreover, Thunder will be a more mature platform after 6 years as Rafale will be in a process of integration. Pakistan should invest more into JF-17 Thunder project as it is the destiny of PAF. It can fulfill our defense needs till year 2050. Thunder will be evolved into a much better platform in the coming years as it will be matured.
Current Pakistani Air Force is having almost 80 F-16s in its inventory and these F-16s serves as our mainline fighter. Nearly 100 JF-17s already joined PAF in different squadrons and it will ultimately achieve the desired number of 250 very soon insha’Allah. These 2 aircrafts are categorized in 4th generation fighters due to which their specifications serves the needs of modern times. Apart from these 2 different platforms, PAF also has 3rd generation old Mirages and F-7s which are near to retirement and they will be replaced by upcoming batches of JF-17 Thunder.
My focus is on the comparison of JF-17 Thunder with the future inductions of our adversary. Indians planned to acquire 136 Rafales from France but ended up signing a deal for the purchase of mere 36 systems. First Rafale will arrive India in 2019 and last one from this deal will be delivered after the 3 years of first deliveries if everything goes well for both countries. I am comparing a 4th generation lightweight fighter aircraft of PAF with a 4.5th generation medium-weight fighter aircraft of Indian Air Force but with a reason. The block 3 of JF-17 will have some advance features as discussed above. It will be able to challenge any modern 4.5th generation aircraft and still our Block-52+ and Thunder Block-II are potent to bring down 4.5th generation jets because they are in the hands of PAF professionals. Our Air Force already proved their mettle in international exercises by beating advanced EF-2000s of different Air Forces with their earlier generation F-16s. Technology surely matters but the man behind gun also matters and matters most.
Pakistan formally started JF-17 Thunder project in 1999 with 50:50 shares of both China and Pakistan. The aircraft flew within a record time and took its maiden flight in 2003. Pakistan Air Force is reaping the fruits of the seeds which they planted about 18 years ago. JF-17 Thunder is serving as a major force multiplier for all tri-services of Pakistan. Its 100 units which are produced till now are a strong deterrent against costly aircrafts of our enemy which it purchased in billions of dollars where our homegrown jet is in our budget and we have total control over it. It is evolving and will have the capacity to adjust according to the changing threat spectrum. Its future blocks will be able to protect Pakistani skies against all kinds of medium and heavy-weight 4th, 4.5th and 5th generation jets.
The project of Aviation City in Kamra by Pakistan Air Force is another initiative. It will give its fruits after 15-20 years as Chief of Air Staff himself gave some hints in multiple interviews. Aviation City is going to train the local Human Resource for future projects of Pakistan Air Force. Pakistan will start 5th Generation Aircraft project and I can also predict another completely new platform which PAF will introduce in future, probably after 15-20 years. Threats will evolve with the passage of time and so will our projects. Our adversary will come with new challenges and with the success of China Pakistan Economic Corridor, we will have adversaries from regional to global level so the technological requirements will also increase due to which such projects will show their importance.
Pakistan Air Force’s professionalism, dedication and history are clear examples of what success is. I am very hopeful for our guys in the sky that they will never disappoint us. PAF is currently the sole air force in the world to manufacture its own aircrafts. It is going out of the traditional way to serve the nation and this is why I am extra optimistic about them. The future belongs to PAF as the Air Chief himself has shown resolve time and again that ‘we will make Pakistan Air Force, the number one Air Force in the world’.