The receipt of the first batch of five ex-Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16s by the PAF is significant development for the PAF and gives it a much needed boost in its capabilities. The aircraft have joined No.19 Squadron ‘Sherdils’ (Lion Heart) that relinquish their Chengdu F-7P/FT-7 at PAF Air Base Mushaf Sargodha, which they flew for 24 years. This is the longest the squadron has ever flown a particular type, having previously flown Shenyang F-6 and North American F-86F Sabre fighters respectively. The induction of the F-16s therefore continues the long process of replacing the PAF’s obsolete F-7P fleet.
Much of the PAF’s inventory still comprises of the F-7P (which is still the most numerous type in service), and variants of the Mirage III/V. Though the latter may have at least some capability as strike aircraft, the F-7Ps are now no longer viable even in the South Asian military environment. Their retirement indicates the PAF still intends to replace its F-7Ps as soon as it is able to do so, and it is to be expected that any further F-16s acquired will replace more F-7Ps in PAF service.
Though old (having been built for the USAF in the early 1980s, before being upgraded and transferred to Jordan where they served with No.2 Squadron), the aircraft have been rebuilt and upgraded under the Mid-Life Upgrade Programme, and should be good to see service for another 20 years. In terms of avionics they are comparable to the F-16 Block 52 variants, and should be able to operate with the rest of the PAF’s F-16 inventory without issue. Another eight aircraft should soon be delivered, bringing the total number of aircraft in this transfer to the allocated 13. The PAF has approximately doubled the number of F-16s in service since 2005, and once this transfer is complete should have 76 in service. The PAF has the infrastructure in place to operate a fleet of approximately one hundred F-16s however, and further surplus F-16 acquisitions are to be expected.
The aircraft in question have been provided via the US Excess Defense Articles (EDA) process via Jordan, which is an important conduit for the transfer of US defense equipment to Pakistan, with additional AH-1F Cobra helicopter gunships having also been previously supplied via this method. It remains a way of overcoming certain obstacles that would otherwise hinder the transfer of surplus US defense equipment to Pakistan, and is a sign of the continuing strong fraternal bond between Jordan and Pakistan, and the strong working relationship with the US military.
PAF is trying its level best to replace its large inventory of Chinese F-7 and French Mirage III/V fighter aircrafts. With financial constrains it has done a very good job in procuring aircrafts. With USA sponsored EDA there is good possibility that PAF might receive more surplus USAF F-16. PAF still has 15 MLU kits available.
After the completion delivery of 13 Ex-Jordanian inventories of F-16s in PAF will be as follows:
58 A/B Block 15 MLU assigned to Squadron No. 9, 11 & 19 based at Mushaf (OPSR) air base, Sargodha.
18 C/D Block 52+ assigned to Squadron No. 5 based at Shahbaz (OPJA) air base, Jacobabad.
The sale of 20 MFI-17 Super Mushak basic trainers to Iraq is a welcome development and a reflection of the high quality of Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) products and services. That Pakistan also signed a training and development assistance programme for the Iraqi Air force to give basic training to Iraqi pilots, and will also evaluate and survey other areas of the Iraq’s air power and air defence capability for improvement, lays the foundation for possible future deals.
The Super Mushak is a superb aircraft and well-suited to Iraq’s requirements. However, in monetary terms the deals signed during the visit of the nine-strong Iraqi defence delegation (which included commander of Iraq’s Air Force, Gen. Anwer Hamad Amen Ahmed, and commander of Iraqi air defense, Gen. Jabbar Ubaid Kedhum) is not very much. The aircraft (plus spares, support, and training) will apparently cost US$94 million. The sale is nevertheless welcome, and considering Iraq could have procured nearly any other aircraft in the same class as the Super Mushak it will hopefully strengthen the case for the aircraft to also be selected by Turkey for its basic trainer/screener programme.
The delegation also visited a range of training and defence systems production facilities, and they were offered the full range of training aircraft up to intermediate/advanced jet trainers, namely the Karakorum K-8. In terms of training aircraft the Iraqis have already acquired the Lasta-95 intermediate trainer, Hawker Beechcraft Texan II turboprop trainer, and the KAI T-50IQ Golden Eagle advanced jet trainer. It is unlikely therefore they could require further training aircraft unless it is a follow on order for more Super Mushaks.
The training deal is reportedly worth some US$90 million, and is probably of more importance even though Iraqi personnel are already undergoing training by Jordan, South Korea, and the US. The PAF has however helped train Iraqi pilots in the past and hopefully the new arrangement will be no less fruitful. Until Iraq establishes a wholesale training programme of its own it will be reliant to a degree on other parties to help it in this regard. Training deals with other parties are either equipment/procurement-related or otherwise for a limited duration. If Pakistan can therefore aid Iraq over the long term the training deal will be more lucrative than the Super Mushak sale.
Coupled with development assistance for Iraq’s air force and air defence system, there is potential for further sales such as a C4I system (as sold to Bangladesh), UAVs, and perhaps even air defence systems. Seeing as Pakistan only produces AAA and MANPAD SHORAD systems and not larger SAMs, these will probably be limited in financial value, but will be vital in helping Iraq regenerate its air defence capabilities.
The big question for Pakistan however would be if a sale of the JF-17 Thunder was possible. The Iraqi purchase of the T-50IQs could lead the way to the purchase of the FA-50 attack/light fighter variant, which is roughly comparable in some ways to the JF-17. Though it would be a good option to make up a high/low mix in support of the F-6IQs on order, it is apparently however more expensive than the JF-17, and not as capable. A JF-17 sale to Iraq therefore cannot be ruled out especially if the price of oil declines further and drains Iraq’s purchasing power, but it is perhaps more realistic to expect further sales to be in areas besides aircraft for the time being.
Recent reports of Saudi interest into a JF-17 purchase appear to be wide of the mark. Though such a sale is certainly not impossible (and there is strong pressure on Pakistan to secure an export order), it is likely improbable.
The Saudi air force is currently retiring or has already retired a large number of aircraft as part of its modernisation efforts. The F-5E/F and Tornado ADV fleet have been retired or have been relegated to the training role, and more F-15s and Typhoons ordered in their place as the well funded RSAF can afford such high tech aircraft. Though the JF-17 was designed to replace aircraft such the F-5, of which over a hundred at one time flew in Saudi service, the purchase of advanced western aircraft points to efforts by the Saudis to make a wholesale improvement in their airpower by phasing out lightweight fighters. Even in the training role further Hawk trainers as LIFT and light strike aircraft could easily fill in the second line fighter requirement if there was one. Coupled with upgrades being made to existing F-15S and Tornado IDS strike aircraft, the chances of there being a role for the JF-17 to fill are reduced.
The purchase of advanced western weaponry also buys the Saudis a degree of influence as its multi-billion dollar deals have been instrumental in ensuring the profitability of western arms firms during periods of uncertainty. As was seen with the ending of the British investigations surrounding the Anglo-Saudi Al-Yamamah arms deal in 2006, Saudi influence can be substantial.
A possible JF-17 sale however, could eventuate if negotiations for further Typhoon aircraft for example are not fruitful. With 72 Typhoons on order the negotiations for a further batch of 72 are ongoing. However, the Saudis could at least explore the option of a JF-17 purchase if only to pressure the British into accepting more favourable terms. Considering the strategic logic the Saudis operate by in which they effectively buy influence a possible purchase may also rest on how they view the growing power of China. China has made some progress in penetrating the Saudi market with its commercial goods and has even built a public transit system in Mecca. China was also the country the Saudis turned to when it decided to purchase ballistic missiles in the 1980s. The Chinese could therefore pick up a sale as a vendor of last resort, or as a country that the Saudis believe is now important enough to view as a potentially strong influence in the region. This could be linked to the Saudi view of needing to contain Iran. Therefore purchasing the Sino-Pakistani FC-1/JF-17 could be part of such thinking. However, this is purely speculation and a Saudi purchase is, for the best part, unlikely.
The reports may be yet another example of Pakistani officials feeding such speculation to the local media, which has then reported them as fact. Unnamed US journal that has been quoted in recent reports aside, the likelihood remains slim. This is especially when considering past examples of large scale arms sales to Saudi Arabia. When Saudi Arabia was reportedly interested in purchasing the HIT Saad APC there was considerable speculation a sale would also include the Al-Khalid MBT. Though a Saad sale was a reasonable enough belief, the Al-Khalid sale was unrealistic as the Saudis have the ability to purchase better armoured and armed tanks than the Al-Khalid even in that class of medium MBT.
A Saudi JF-17 purchase therefore is most likely unrealistic.