China has been consistently providing cutting-edge military equipment to its closest ally and iron brother, Pakistan. This military cooperation is seen by many as a Chinese ploy aimed at counterbalancing India’s military power in the region.
Chinese analysts recently lauded the defense cooperation between Beijing and Islamabad after images of J-10C aircraft with markings of the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) emerged on social media, reported the Global Times.
The first squadron of 25 J-10Cs, China’s latest J-10 variant, is expected to arrive shortly, according to previous reports, with the aircraft set to perform a fly-past at the Pakistan Day parade on March 23, 2022.
The Chinese commentators stated that the move is significant for both countries in terms of improving Pakistan’s combat capabilities, promoting China’s aviation equipment, and responding to both countries’ regional security objectives.
The photographs, which were first shared on social media on February 15, featured two J-10Cs equipped with China’s domestically manufactured WS-10B Taihang turbofan engines conducting test flights at an unidentified location, according to Janes. The serial numbers 22-102 and 22-106 were also visible in the close-ups, implying that at least two aircraft were being tested.
— AEROSINT Division PSF (@PSFAERO) February 15, 2022
The assertion of Chinese analysts about J-10C responding to “regional security objectives” could be seen as a veiled reference to the common adversary of both states in the region i.e. India.
Previous reports had indicated that Pakistan wanted to acquire the Chengdu J-10 to counter the Indian 4.5th generation Rafales. In December last year, Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed had stated that the J-10C fighters would counter the 36 Rafales that India is receiving from France.
India recently received its batch of Rafales with customized, India-specific enhancements that are to fly to India soon, as previously reported by the EurAsian Times. As the delivery of Rafales nears completion, there could be a strong India factor involved in Pakistan’s acquisition of the aircraft.
“If confirmed, this could be the first time China has exported the J-10 series fighter and also the first time it has exported the WS-10 series engine,” observers told Global Times.
Can J-10C Boost Pak’s Combat Capability?
“The J-10C is a 4.5-generation medium-sized fighter jet and is more powerful than the China-Pakistan jointly developed lightweight fighter jet, the JF-17, which is currently in service with the Pakistan Air Force,” Shi Hong, Executive Chief Editor of the Chinese magazine, Shipborne Weapons, told the Global Times.
There have been speculations about why the Pakistani Air Force felt the need to buy additional fighters from China when it already has a large fleet of JF-17s. According to some reports, Pakistan has been disenchanted with the existing JF-17s because of engine inefficiencies that China is yet to address.
The Russian-built RD-93 engines of the JF-17 fighters generate black smoke, which makes it an easy target for the opponent in case of a close aerial battle. Some analysts believe the JF-17 would be easily shot down by Indian jets in any potential conflict.
Despite the fact that China has acknowledged the engine-related difficulties and attempted to upgrade it, spare parts and other support from Russian manufacturers have remained unavailable. However, Pakistan is also in the process of acquiring the Block III variant of JF-17s.
“The J-10C is larger and can be equipped with bigger active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar than the one used by the JF-17 Block 3,” Shi said, noting that the J-10C can carry more advanced, fourth-generation air-to-air missiles including the short-range PL-10 and the beyond-visual-range PL-15.
“The J-10C is also significantly more powerful than the old US-made F-16 fighter jet of the Pakistan Air Force and can rival the Rafale fighter jet that recently entered service with the Indian Air Force,” Shi said, adding, “Pakistan’s J-10C will not replace the JF-17, but form a combination, leading to higher combat capabilities.”
China’s Growing Weapon Exports
In October last year, the Pakistan Army commissioned a variant of the Chinese-made HQ-9 surface-to-air missile system. It was then speculated that Pakistan would deploy the system along the Line of Control (LOC), the facto border with India in the Kashmir region.
State of the art Chinese origin HQ-9P HIMADS High to Medium Air Defence System inducted into Pakistan Army Air Defence
Induction of HIMADS will significantly enhance Comprehensive Layered Integrated Air Defence CLIAD shield of aerial frontiers of Pakistan. pic.twitter.com/dEcCwds1hh
— Developing Pakistan (@developingpak) October 15, 2021
Further, last month, the Pakistan Navy inducted the PNS Tughril, which is the lead ship of the Type 054A/P. It is the largest warship in China’s arsenal and Pakistan became its first customer in its bid to enhance the capability of its navy.
“This demonstrates that China and Pakistan’s defense cooperation is expanding and deepening, and the widespread adoption of Chinese equipment by all Pakistani military services will significantly improve their combat capabilities,” Shi said, adding that a simple system based on most Chinese hardware can also be supply chain friendly.
President Dr. Arif Alvi, during the induction ceremony of PNS TUGHRIL and Sea King helicopters at Pakistan Navy Dockyard. pic.twitter.com/Gd6hN6F7EV
— The President of Pakistan (@PresOfPakistan) January 24, 2022
The first successful sale of the J-10 series fighter and the WS-10 series engine to China will further open the international market, and other countries will show serious interest in Chinese aviation equipment, state-owned Global Times claimed.
Beijing has stepped up efforts to arm the Pakistan military with advanced weaponry since a conflict broke out between China and India at the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
After the 2020 Galwan conflict, India has also doubled its efforts to modernize its military. Several deals were signed and weapons were acquired through the emergency procurement route. At the same time, China intensified its military cooperation with Pakistan. The current sale of J-10C fighters could also be perceived as another step in that direction.