Induction of Swedish AWACS, JF-17 fighter jets: Air force set on path to becoming battle-ready

ISLAMABAD: The introduction of sophisticated electronic equipment and new fighter aircraft, including the Swedish Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and JF-17 Thunder aircraft, into the combat fleet of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) promises to dramatically increase its existing operational capabilities.

Last week, the federal cabinet approved a $1 billion deal with Sweden for the purchase of AWACS, while the joint Sino-Pak venture for developing the multi-role fighter JF-17 Thunder is on its way to serial production after its test flights proved successful.

"Pakistan can no longer afford to neglect the enlargement of its air force and the AWACS will prove to be the mainstay for maintaining the regional arms balance," experts said.

Last year, India signed an agreement with Israel for purchasing three Phalcon airborne surveillance radars for the Indian Air Force. The radars have the capability to monitor the country's airspace and have seriously threatened the existing air defence balance in the region. "Pakistan's decision to buy AWACS from Sweden will counter the recent Indian acquisitions," the experts said.

The government is trying to keep up with modern developments in air defence to enable the PAF to provide the most effective air defence to the country.

"In order to safeguard the airspace of Pakistan, it was necessary to have the latest airborne early warning system called Erieye for the PAF, equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance technology," defence analysts said.

The move shows the government's commitment to making the air arm of its armed forces effective and capable of thwarting any aggressive action and that the government attaches high priority to acquiring the latest defence equipment, the analysts said.

The defence sources said that the new surveillance systems would be fitted in the SAAB 2000 aircraft. The SAAB 2000, with a cruise speed of over 665 kilometres per hour, is one of the world's fastest turboprop aircrafts. It combines near jet speeds, including near jet climb and descent rates, with turboprop fuel economy.

As far as the operational capabilities of the Erieye are concerned, it is going to provide all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications facilities to the PAF. It can also be used as a surveillance asset in support of other law enforcement agencies besides providing surveillance assistance in the maritime sector. The aircraft fitted with the Erieye can also be used in missions to detect smuggling activities on the country's borders and for collecting weather data. Erieye - developed by Ericsson Microwave Systems - is the first long-range, high-performance AWE&C system that can be installed in relatively small commercial and military turboprop aircraft. The system consists of an active phased-array pulse-Doppler radar, an integrated secondary surveillance radar, the ability to distinguish between friend or foe (SSR/IFF), a comprehensive, modular command-and-control system, electronic warfare support measures (ESM) and communications and data links. Instead of using the conventional rotodome antennas, Erieye has a fixed, dual-sided and electronically scanned antenna mounted on top of the fuselage, which enables it to be installed on commuter-type aircraft. The Erieye is capable of 360-degree surveillance, detection and tracking of airborne and sea targets and has a range of 450 kilometres and its detection range against a fighter aircraft size target is 350 kilometres. These radars are already in service with the Swedish Air Force and also in serial production for Brazil and other customers. Germany has also recently placed an order for purchasing the system. The JF-17 fighter aircraft (Thunder) project is also another ambitious project that would increase the striking capability of the PAF.

The infrastructure development project for producing JF-17 aircraft at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra has already started and production on a small scale is expected to begin shortly. "The small batch production of JF-17 would begin in the second half of this year," said a senior military official. The first consignment of four aircraft would be delivered by March 2007. Initially Pakistan has placed an order of 150 aircraft and China 250 aircraft and production capacity of PAC Kamra would be over 20 aircraft annually. The JF-17 is planned to be a replacement of the aging fighter fleet of the PAF. The aircraft will be capable of carrying short range and beyond visual range air-to-air missiles and anti-ship as well as anti-radiation missiles. It will also have the capability of using laser guided, runway cratering and cluster bombs. It will be equipped with a state-of-the-art avionics package to provide all-weather navigation and attack capability. The on-board multimode radar will have the capability to simultaneously track multiple targets and its advanced electronic warfare suite will provide it with its own electronic countermeasure protection and jamming capabilities. The PAF has also recently completed avionics upgrade of its Mirage aircraft in collaboration with the French company Sagem. The modification has substantially increased the air-to-air and air-to-ground precision weapons release capability of the aircraft. Similarly, engines of the F-16 aircraft have been upgraded to increase their operational life and performance. The country is also going to purchase more F-16 aircraft from the US that will include the "A and B" type and "C and D" modern variants of the aircraft. With the induction of the batch of Fighting Falcons, the air defence of the country would be further enhanced. app