J-10: The New Cornerstone of Sino-Pakistani Defense Cooperation

China and Pakistan have forged a formidable partnership in high-techdefense production. This partnership is born of their ever-deepeningmilitary and strategic cooperation that is also reflective of theburgeoning capacity of China's defense industries and the buddingSino-Pakistani defense relationship. The epitome of this bilateralismis the recent revelation that the Chinese have agreed to the sale of 36J-10B fighter jets to Pakistan (Financial Times, November 10). The J-10aircrafts are known to be one of the most advanced weapon systems inChina’s arsenal, of which Pakistan will be the first recipient. Withthe delivery of 36 fighter jets, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) willraise two fighting squadrons that will further sharpen itscombativeness. The J-10 deal was reportedly sealed for a whopping $1.4billion, which accounts for 70 percent of Chinese average arms sales of$2 billion a year (China Brief, July 9).

The J-10 Sale Epitomizes Strategic Alliance

Thedeal marks the depth of a strategic alliance between Beijing andIslamabad. Some reports suggest that Pakistan is actually seeking 150J-10 fighter jets, which go by Chengdu Jian-10 in China and F-10 inPakistan, for a sum of $6 billion (The Hindu, November 11). ThePakistani government, however, dismisses such reports as inflated(Financial Times, November 10). Although Pakistan has not yet made thedeal public, its prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, on November 23,confirmed that “his country is in talks with China for securing theJ-10s” [1]. Pakistan turned to China for these aircraft in 2006 afterit failed to secure the F-16s from the United States (Dawn, May 1,2006). General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military ruler, whonegotiated the deal during his visit to China in 2006, is the realarchitect of this grand sale (The Hindu, November 11).

TheJ-10s are China’s third generation fighter aircraft that it hasindigenously developed (The Hindu, November 11) and manufactured at theChengdu Aircraft Industry (CAI). Some observers, however, believe thatJ-10s are China’s fourth generation aircraft. “This aircraft is acousin to the Israeli Lavi (upon which it is based) and roughlyequivalent in capabilities to the U.S. F-16C flown by several airforces around the world” (See "China’s Re-emergence as an Arms Dealer:The Return of the King?" China Brief, July 9). The J-10s starteddevelopment in the mid-1980s and finally entered production for thePeople’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) about three or four yearsago. Aviation experts rank them below the F-16s, the Swedish Gripen andother smaller combat aircraft (China Brief, July 9). According to areport in The Hindu (November 11), China is working on developing itsfourth generation fighter jets as well. The United States, The Hindureport further claims, is the only country that possesses a fourthgeneration combat aircraft—the F-22s. Yet aviation experts believe theF-22s are fifth generation fighter jets. Chinese Deputy Commander ofthe PLAAF General He Weirong claimed that “China would operationalizeits very own fourth generation aircraft in the next eight or ten years”(The Hindu, November 11). The Chinese official further claimed that thefourth generation planes would “match or exceed the capacity of similarjets in existence today” (The Hindu, November 11).

Inanticipation, China is also training Pakistani fighter pilots forflying the fourth generation combat aircraft. On January 16, itdelivered eight Karakoram K-8P trainer jets to Pakistan for thispurpose. According to an official statement, the K-8P jets had enhancedthe basic training of PAF pilots and provided a “potent platform fortheir smooth transition to more challenging fourth generation fighteraircraft” (The Asian Defence, January 16). The K-8P is an advancedtrainer jet that has been jointly developed by China and Pakistan. Itis already in service at the PAF Academy. At the handing-over ceremonyfor the K-8Ps, a visiting Chinese delegation as well as high-rankingPAF officers were in attendance. 

China’s sale of the J-10fighters to Pakistan, however, signals the depth of its strategicalliance with Pakistan. Pakistan will be the first country to receivethe most advanced Chinese aircraft, which speaks volumes to Chinesefaith in its strategic partnership with Pakistan. Defense analysts,however, believe that the sale sends an important message to the worldthat China’s “defense capability is growing rapidly” (Financial Times,November 10). China-Pakistan military relations spanned over 43 years,starting in 1966 when China provided Pakistan with F-6s, which werefollowed by the successive supply of such aircraft as FT5, A5, F-7P,F-7PG and K-8 (Jang, November 22).

These relations continue togrow with high-level exchanges in the defense sector. As recently asOctober of this year, Chinese Vice-Minister Chen Qiufa, administratorof China’s State Administration for Science, Technology & Industryfor National Defense (SASTIND), led a delegation of Chinesedefense-companies to Pakistan. He called on Prime Minister Gilani anddiscussed cooperation in the JF-17 Thunder Project, Al Khalid tank,F-22 frigates, Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), andaircraft and naval ships (APP, October 17). The Chinese delegationincluded representatives from China's missile technology firm PolyTechnologies as well as Aviation Industries Corp. of China, ChinaShipbuilding Industry Corporation, China Electronics Technology Groupand China North Industry Corporation.

Although there is aproliferation of joint defense projects between China and Pakistan,their collaboration in aviation industry has peaked at the turn of themillennium. The mainstay of their joint defense production is thePakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) in Kamra (Punjab), which services,assembles and manufactures fighter and trainer aircraft. The PAC israted as the world’s third largest assembly plant. Initially, it wasfounded with Chinese assistance to rebuild Chinese aircraft in the PAFfleet, which included Shenyang F-6 (now retired), Nanchang A-5, F-7combat aircraft, Shenyang FT-5 and FT-6 Jet trainer aircraft. The PACalso houses the Kamra Radar and Avionics Factory (KARF), which is meantto assemble and overhaul airborne as well as ground-based radarsystems, electronics, and avionics. The KARF, which is ISO-9002certified, has upgraded the PAF Chengdu F-7P interceptor fleet. Overtime, the PAC has expanded its operation into aircraft manufacturing,and built a specialized manufacturing unit in the 1980s: The AircraftManufacturing Factory (AMF). The AMF got noticed in the region when itpartnered with the Hongdu Aviation Industry Group of China to design,develop and coproduce the K-8 Karakoram (Hongdu JL-8), which is anadvanced jet trainer. The AMF’s flagship project, however, is theSino-Pakistani joint production and manufacture of the JF-17 Thunderaircraft, which it is producing with the Chengdu Aircraft Industry(CAI). 

JF-17 Thunder Makes Over the PAF

In recenthistory, China and Pakistan set out for the joint production of JF-17combat aircraft that both countries consider a substitute for U.S.F-16s. Pakistan’s indigenous manufacture of the first JF-17 (which goesby FC-1 in China) came to fruition on November 23, when PakistanAeronautical Complex (PAC), an arm of the Pakistan Air Force, turned itover to the PAF to the chants of “Long Live Pak-China Friendship” (TheNews International, November 24).

Pakistan’s Prime Minister,Pakistan Chief of Army Staff and Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, LouZhaohui, were among the dignitaries who attended the handing-overceremony. Chinese Ambassador Zhaohui, speaking on the occasion, toldhis audience: “China wants to further broaden the defense cooperationwith Pakistan” (Jang, November 23). The PAF already has 10 JF-17s,which were produced in China, in its fleet. The JF-17 project began in1992, under which China agreed to transfer technology for theaircraft’s joint production. The project was hampered in 1999, whenPakistan came under proliferation sanctions. It gained momentum in2001.

On September 3, 2003, its prototype, which wasmanufactured in China, conducted the first test flight. The PAF claimsthat the JF-17s, with a glass cockpit and modern avionics, arecomparable to any fighter plane (Jang, November 23). It is alightweight combat jet, fitted with turbofan engine, advanced flightcontrol, and the most advanced weapons delivery system. As a supersonicplane, its speed is 1.6 times the speed of its sound, and its abilityto refuel midair makes it a “stand-out” (Jang, November 23). Pakistanintends to raise a squadron of JF-17s by 2010. The Chief of Air Staffof the PAF told a newspaper that JF-17s would help “replace theexisting fleet of the PAF comprising F-7s, A-5s and all Mirageaircraft” (The News International, November 8). Eventually, Pakistanwill have 350 JF-17s that will completely replace its ageing fleet.

Pakistanalso plans to export these aircraft to developing countries for which,it says, orders have already started pouring in (Jang, November 22).China and Pakistan anticipate an annual export of 40 JF-17s to Asian,African and Middle Eastern nations [2]. At $25 million apiece, theexport of 40 aircraft will fetch them $1 billion per year. There areestimates that Asia will purchase 1,000 to 1,500 aircraft over the next15 years. In this Sino-Pakistani joint venture, Pakistan will have 58percent of shares, while China will have 42 percent (The NewsInternational, November 25). Besides defense aviation, China andPakistan are closely collaborating on the joint production of navalships as well.

Chinese Frigates for the Pakistan Navy

Chinaand Pakistan worked out a $750 million loan to help Pakistan build fourF-22P frigates (The News International, September 16, 2004). In 2004,Pakistan negotiated this non-commercial (i.e. low-cost) loan with Chinafor the joint manufacture of naval ships. China and Pakistan have sincemoved fast to begin work on this project. They have now expanded theoriginal deal to build eight F22P frigates respectively at HudongZhonghua shipyard in Shanghai, China, and Karachi shipyard andEngineering Works (KSEW), Pakistan. The manufacturing cost of each F22PFrigate, which is an improved version of China’s original Type 053H3Frigate, is $175 million. At this rate, the cost of eight frigates willrun at about $1.4 billion.

The first Chinese-built F-22frigate, named PNS Zulfiqar (Arabic for sword), was delivered toPakistan on July 30 (The Nation, July 31). A month later, the ship wasformally commissioned in the Pakistan Navy fleet in September. Soonafter its arrival in July, the ship participated in the Pakistan Navy’sSeaSpark exercises. Of the original four frigates, three were to bebuilt in China and one in Pakistan (Asia Times, July 11, 2007). Afterthe delivery of PNS Zulfiqar, the remaining two ships that are beingbuilt in China are expected to be commissioned in the Pakistan Navyfleet by 2010. The fourth ship being built in Pakistan’s Karachishipyard will be ready by 2013 (Asia Times, July 11, 2007).

ThePakistan Navy describes the F-22P frigate as a Sword Class ship that isequipped with long-range surface-to-surface missiles (SSM) andsurface-to-air missiles (SAM), depth charges, torpedoes, the latest76mm guns, a close-in-weapons system (CIWS), sensors, electronicwarfare and an advanced command and control system (The Nation, July31). The ship has a displacement of 3,000 tons and carriesanti-submarine Z9EC helicopters. China has already delivered the firstbatch of two such helicopters to Pakistan. Although the Pakistan Navyhas Sea-King helicopters for anti-submarine operations, it is nowacquiring Chinese Z9ECs to enhance its operational capabilities (TheNation, July 31). In addition to building eight frigates, theSino-Pakistan defense deal includes the upgrading of the Karachidockyard for indigenous production of a modern surface fleet. Thefrigates deal is the first of its kind between China and Pakistan,which forges their two navies into a high-level collaboration forboosting their surface fleet.


At the turn ofthe millennium, China and Pakistan have diversified their defense tradeinto joint defense production. They have since been collaborating onthe production of most advanced weapons systems, such as the JF-17scombat aircraft and F-22P Frigates. Pakistan will receive the transferof technology for the J-10s as well. China recognizes that Pakistan isrich with human capital in the high-tech defense industry, which servesas a magnet for its investment. Both China and Pakistan look to capturewider defense export markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Atthe same time, their growing cooperation in aviation and naval defensesystems signals an important shift in Pakistan’s military doctrine thattraditionally favored Army (especially ground forces) over its sisterservices—Navy and Air Force. In the region’s changing strategicenvironment, in which China has growing stakes, Pakistan has come torecognize the critical importance of air and naval defense. TheChina-Pakistan collaboration in aviation and naval defense amplyembodies this recognition. 
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