As China Equips Pakistan With ‘Stealth Technology’, Should India Be Concerned With Sino-Pak Military Alliance?

China and Pakistan have had a long history of friendship dating back to the 1960s. Their “all-weather” relationship is thought to have flourished because of their shared perceptions of India as a major rival.

Amid border tensions with India, China has exported many of its advanced weapons including fighter jets, tanks, ships, and drones to Pakistan. Recently, Pakistan received China’s largest and most advanced stealth warship which many experts called a game-changer for Islamabad.

PNS Tughril is a Type 054A/P frigate designed and engineered by China State Shipbuilding Corporation Limited (CSSC). With this deal, Pakistan became the ship’s first international customer.

PNS Tughril, a Type 054 A/P frigates (Photo: Pakistan Navy)

The vessel’s deployment also signals growing defense cooperation between China and Pakistan. According to a statement released by the company, the ship will deepen the two countries’ all-weather strategic cooperative partnership.

Pakistani ambassador to China, Moin Ul-Haq, echoed similar thoughts, saying that “the commissioning of the PNS Tughril ushers in a new chapter in Pakistan-China friendship that has evolved through time and remained steady in all sectors”.

In recent years, Beijing has surpassed the US as Pakistan’s largest arms supplier. Aside from the ship, China has collaborated with Pakistan’s Air Force in the production of the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet. Furthermore, all three services of Pakistan have procured Chinese weapons and are now operating them.

The strategic cooperation has relied heavily on China’s aid in Pakistan’s defense build-up. Despite having diverse cultures, political systems, and social ideals, the two countries have a special strategic partnership in which they meet each other’s strategic requirements.

The following are some of the most powerful weapons that China has delivered to Pakistan:

PNS Tughril

The ship is technologically superior, and it is outfitted with a new combat management system. It’s the first of four frigates China is constructing for the Pakistan Navy as part of a 2017 agreement. 

The frigate is also equipped with modern sensors and armaments, including the SR2410C long-range and Type 517/SUR17B air-surveillance radars.

The warship is armed with HQ-16 medium-range air-defense missiles that can reach up to 50 km. The Type 054A also has some stealth capabilities because of a sloped hull design, radar-absorbent materials, and a clean profile.

The ship can also be armed with anti-aircraft missiles, ship and land-attack cruise missiles owing to its vertical launching system. The Pakistan Navy tweeted that the new frigate has massive weaponry and surveillance capabilities and that its production in China was “testimony of Pakistan-China all-weather friendship”. 

Other armaments include eight C-803 anti-ship / land-attack cruise missiles, one PJ26 76 mm dual-purpose naval gun, two Type 730 7-barrel 30 mm CIWS guns or Type 1130, six 324mm Yu-7 ASW torpedo launchers, two Type 87 240mm anti-submarine rocket launcher (36 rockets carried) and two Type 726-4 18-tube decoy rocket launchers, Daily Pakistan reported. 

The Type 054A/P frigates are fueled by four Shaanxi 16 PA6 STC diesel engines, each developing 5700 kW. The ship can carry a crew of 165 people on board and can sail at a top speed of 27 knots, with a cruising range of 8,025 nautical miles (14,862 km), according to the report. 

VT-4 Battle Tanks

The Pakistan Army officially received the first batch of Chinese-made VT-4 battle tanks into its arsenal earlier this year.

The VT-4 tanks were manufactured by Norinco, a Chinese state-owned armored vehicle company. After Thailand and Nigeria, Pakistan became the third country to purchase these tanks from China.

Pakistan Army inducts China-made VT-4 battle tanks
Pakistan Army inducts China-made VT-4 battle tanks

The VT-4 is interoperable with any current tank in the world, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the Pakistan Armed Forces’ media and public relations department. It incorporates advanced armor protection, maneuverability, firepower capabilities, and state-of-the-art technology.

Formerly known as the MBT-3000, it is a three-person crew fighting vehicle with a top speed of 70 km per hour. The tank features improved armory and fire control capabilities. The MBT-3000 was first shown at a defense exhibition in Paris in 2012, while the improved version, VT-4, debuted in 2014 at an exhibition in Zhuhai, China.

The Pakistan Army further stated that these third-generation tanks will be utilized in an offensive role in strike formations.   

The JF-17 Thunder

The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) cooperated to build the JF-17 Thunder, also known as the FC-1 Xiaolong, a lightweight, single-engine, multi-role combat aircraft. 

The JF-17 can carry out multiple roles, including interception, ground attack, anti-ship, and aerial reconnaissance. Pakistan labels it the “JF-17,” which stands for “Joint Fighter-17,” while China labels it the “FC-1 Xiaolong,” which means “Fighter China-1 Fierce Dragon.”

File:Pakistan JF-17 (modified).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
A Pakistani JF-17. (Wikipedia)

The JF-17 is now a backbone of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), a position previously held by American-made F-16Cs.

The JF-17, although being a “budget” aircraft, has a lot of modern capabilities. It can integrate a broad variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, featuring active radar air-to-air missiles and air-launched cruise missiles. The Pakistan Air Force also inducted a JF-17B twin-seater version for increased operational capability and training.

The Block III variant of the JF-17 is currently being developed and will be ready for use in the near future. A second Block III prototype of the JF-17 Thunder has been developed, as shown in a photograph posted on social media.

The prototype was spotted flying with the number ‘3001’. It was armed with seemed to be two PL-10E short-range air-to-air missiles (AAMs).

HQ-9 SAM System

Ahead of the delivery of the Russian-made S-400 SAM systems to India, the Pakistan Army has already inducted the China-made HQ-9 / P HIMADS air defense system.

Pakistan claims that the Chinese air defense system comprises surface-to-air missiles, capable of destroying fighter jets, cruise missiles, and other weaponry up to 100 kilometers in a single strike. 

Induction of HQ/9P Air Defence System by Pakistan
Pakistan’s HQ/9P Air Defence System

There are four types of radars used in this system — Type 120 low-altitude acquisition radar, Type 305A 3D acquisition radar, Type 305B 3D acquisition radar, and H-200 mobile engagement radar. The HQ-9 air defense system can be comparable with the Russian S-300 and the American Patriot air defense missiles in terms of capability.

The HQ-9/P is regarded as a strategic long-range SAM with remarkable precision and adaptability. According to Pakistani experts, this air defense system covers practically the whole of India’s Jammu and Kashmir.

It can also be used to protect coastal areas and has been compared with the S-400 air defense system but with a lower range.