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New JF-17 Thunder fighter jets enhance PAF’s strike capabilities

The introduction of the advanced version of JF-17 Thunders boosts Pakistan’s confidence in its air force capability, because this is a battle-tested aircraft, and will increase Pakistan's nuclear and conventional striking capability while reducing the IAF and PAF's technological imbalance. 

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Pakistan Air Force (PAF) offensive and defensive proficiency has been supplemented with the induction of 14 new JF-17 Thunder Block-III fighter jets. The timing of these fighter jets’ introduction is crucial for Pakistan’s defensive fence. Recently, the Pakistani leadership expressed its concerns over the Modi government’s plans for surgical strikes. Indeed, it’s a strategic move to balance the Indian Air Force (IAF), which received five French Rafale fighter jets in July last year.

For two decades, India and Pakistan have been engaged in devising military doctrines to fight a conventional limited war without it escalating into a full-scale war, due to the fear of nuclear strike exchanges. They have been refurbishing their military doctrines and nuclear postures and equipping their armed forces, especially air forces, with advanced weaponry. 

India’s Cold Start Doctrine

India adopted a Cold Start Doctrine in 2004. It aimed at finding space for a limited conventional war under the nuclear umbrella. It brought a conceptual, structural, and organizational transformation in the Indian armed forces. The Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces-2017 (JDIAF-2017), released in April 2017 stated: “Conflict would be determined or prevented through a process of credible deterrence, coercive diplomacy and conclusively by punitive destruction, disruption and constraint in a nuclear environment across the spectrum of conflict.” 

Read more: Is Indo-Pak nuclear war imminent?

The JDIAF-2017 manifests that the Indian strategic enclave uses coercive diplomacy, punitive, and destructive air force strikes to pursue external pursuits. The induction of the five dual-capable Rafale fighter jets into Squadron 17 of the IAF accentuated India’s punishing surgical strike strategy.

Pakistan’s counterstrategy

Pakistan devised a response to the Indian limited war-fighting strategy grounded on the offensive-defense theory. From 2010, PAF has started air combat exercises High Mark, which synchronize the Air Force’s response with army maneuvers to defend against cross-border aerial strikes like the one conducted by the IAF in February 2019.

PAF conducted High Mark every five years involving F-16, JF-17, and Mirage-3 fighters. Besides, the Pakistan Army conducted a series of military exercises codenamed Azm-e-Nau to formalize and operationalize a conventional response. These exercises introduced a ‘new concept of war-fighting’, having improved troops’ mobilization time and increased inter-services coordination. 

Pakistan has been struggling to ensure the credibility of its Full Spectrum Deterrence nuclear doctrine and ‘Quid pro-Quo Plus’ strategy against India’s preemptive warfighting doctrine and nuclear compellence strategy.

Modernizing airforce striking capabilities

Conversely, India has been seeking capabilities for achieving full-spectrum dominance during a full spectrum conflict with Pakistan. These military doctrines compelled India and Pakistan to overhaul their defensive and offensive warfighting strategies entailing procurement and development of new modernized military hardware to reinforce their air force striking capabilities.

Read more: Indo-Pak: Polished guns but impoverished humans

Although India has been improving its air force punch with military purchases from technologically advanced nations, Pakistan relies more on its indigenous production.

Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) has been developing state-of-the-art fighter jets—JF-Thunders—indigenously with the support of Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation of China for a decade.  These aircraft are built mainly to meet the needs of PAF and will replace its current ageing fleet.

The first JF-17 Thunder squadron was added to PAF in February 2010. Since then, the PAC has continuously been working on JF-17 to bring incremental additions and improvements of avionics and new weapons and increase production capacity.

On December 30, PAC handed over the newest JF-17 Thunders to PAF. The service is reportedly looking to procure at least 50 aircraft by 2024. Hence, these jets will be the mainstay of PAF, complementing the F-16 fighter jets. They are dual carrier advanced fighter jets equipped with a long-range superior radar system and advanced firing capability.

Read more: The future of Indo-Pak hybrid wars

They have advanced defensive aids system, including a radar warning system (RWS), an imaging infrared-based missile approach and a warning system, a countermeasure dispensing system, and a self-protection radar-jamming pod. The RWS collects the direction and proximity of the enemy radar and transmits the data to the pilot.

The introduction of the advanced version of JF-17 Thunders boosts Pakistan’s confidence in its air force capability, because this is a battle-tested aircraft, and will increase Pakistan’s nuclear and conventional striking capability while reducing the IAF and PAF’s technological imbalance. 

Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. Author of India’s Surgical Strike Stratagem: Brinksmanship and Response, (2019). He is also an advisor on Non-Proliferation to SASSI, London and a course coordinator at Foreign Services Academy for the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Email: jaspal_99@hotmail.com. This piece was first published in Arab News. It has been republished with permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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