F 10C: Which is a better option for PAF?
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The Chengdu J-10 Vigorous Dragon is a single-engine lightweight multirole aircraft operated by People’s Liberation Army Airforce. Huge numbers over 450 plus airframes are in operational service. J-10 took its first flight on 23rd March 1998 and entered operational services in 2006. There are three main variants of J-10 namely the J-10A, J-10B and newest J-10C.
The airframe is tailless delta wing with canards. The airframe is constructed with metal alloys and composite material. J-10A is powered by Russian AL-31FN engine. Later the J-10B and C have been spotted with Chinese WS-10B engines. Much of the avionics and electronic suite of Chinese made aircraft are kept away from the public domain. The cockpit is full glass comprising three main multifunction displays and HUD. J-10A incorporates an antenna array radar while J-10B and C are said to have AESA radars. J-10 is quite a manoeuvrable jet, a thrust vectoring engine J-10B was displayed at Zhuhai Airshow 2018, that was seen with enhanced manoeuvring characteristics and it even managed to pull notorious Pugachev Cobra manoeuvre. J-10 incorporates the large variety of Armaments, in Air to Air Combat it can employ PL-5 PL-8 and PL-10 for within visual range engagements, for beyond visual range it employs PL-12 and PL-15 Active Radar Homing Missiles. J-10 also employs a huge variety of Guided and Un-Guided Air to Surface armaments. The payload capacity of over 18,000lbs can be used to carry unguided bombs, Laser and GPS guided bombs, Air to Surface Missiles, Anti Ship Missiles and Drop Fuel tanks. General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon is one of the most famous fighters and most produced fighter aircraft in the world. F-16s are in operational service since 1980. Pakistan received its first F-16A/B Block 15s in 1983. F-16 kept evolving and improving with its Block building approach, starting from F-16 Block 5 to current operational F-16 Block 60, F-16s have kept improving. F-16 Block 70 is an upcoming variant with AESA radar and major boost to its capabilities over the previous blocks. In 2006 Pakistan Showed Interest in J-10s, and in 2009 Pakistan had signed a deal worth $1.4 Billion for 36 Pakistan specific variants of J-10B. However, the jets were never delivered and there is no further news on that. It was believed Pakistan wished to invest those resources in the development of JF-17 program. In June 2006 Pakistan had requested Falcon Star and Enhanced Mid Life Upgrade Worth $1.3 Billion for their F-16A/B Block 15s. In June 2010 Pakistan received its first two F-16D Block 52Ms and by February 2012 PAF had received their 18 F-16C/D Block 52Ms out of 18 under Peace Drive, US had agreed to release 15 F-16 Airframes embargoes earlier, those 15 Airframes were also EMLUed and last EDA EMLU was delivered in 2016. In 2014 Pakistan received 13 F-16A/B Block 15 ADFs from Jordan that were originally owned by the US. From 2006 to 2016 Pakistan received over 46 F-16 Airframes and there were more on order but unfortunately, that couldn’t materialise. It’s virtually impossible for a country like Pakistan to politically handle both deals, Pakistan had tried and tested the F-16s and they could easily rely on it so F-16 was given priority. Still, many people are keen to believe still there is hope US would approve F-16 Block 70s and Upgrade Kits for Pakistan Airforce. This argument largely relies on the United State’s need for Pakistan for compliance of Afghan peace deal. China is a long term and all-season strategic partner of Pakistan so J-10s are never off cards, but it won’t be wrong saying Pakistan still wants F-16s. Getting more F-16s is always a welcome move, as Pakistan already operates a large number of F-16s, Pakistan has all the support infrastructure and trained personnel to operate F-16s and moreover, PAF has 37 years of experience on F-16, where PAF F-16s undertook extensive operations ranging from Combat Air Patrols on Pak-Afghan border during Soviet invasion to Precision Strikes against militant targets during the war on terror. Pakistani F-16s have tasted blood as they were the second to score air to air kill after Israeli F-16s, there are many on and off record kills of PAF F-16s during the soviet afghan war. With the start of Pakistan’s anti-insurgency campaign PAF took an active part in the war. Recently on 27 February, 2019 Pakistani F-16s shot down Indian Airforce’s Mig-21 Bison and Su-30MKI with Aim-120C-5 BVR Missile. All this experience and PAF’s trust on F-16 makes it the most suitable option, with the induction of F-16 Block 70 into PAF it will bring huge improvements to PAF’s capabilities in the least possible time and less costly. It is argued that PAF cannot employ F-16s at their full potential. F-16 upgrade and new F-16 airframes were given to PAF aimed war on terror and meant for precision strikes. The points to be considered here are early PAF F-16s were also capable of precision strikes and guided ammunition was also there with PAF not only on F-16s. F-16s had Pods and Guided Bombs long before EMLU. In peace drive, 500 Aim-120C-5 and 200 Aim-9M-9 Air to Air Missiles were given to PAF, and a contract was signed for upgrades of existing PAF Aim-9 arsenal. Did the insurgents employ aircraft that PAF needed to counter with AMRAAMs “ No “, AMRAAMs were given to PAF for defending their eastern border. On multiple occasions during standoffs against India PAF employed F-16s very well and in absolute accordance with PAF’s plans. Even PAF F-16s shot down multiple IAF assets and there was little to no criticism on PAF for employing F-16s against India. Rather a $125 million support package was released for PAF F-16 fleet. Recently US Department of Defence approved the sale of LANTIRN pods to PAF. Such moves tend to show US has little to no concerns on how Pakistan employs their F-16s unless they violate some terms which are least likely. But what if “ NO F-16s FOR PAF “ then obviously the J-10 is always on cards, J-10 is a highly capable platform as evaluated by PAF with intent to induct and also in operational exercises PAF has been observing J-10s very keenly. J-10 offers PAF flexibility in terms of tactical and strategic employment and also free hands in terms of employment of weapon systems that may be local Pakistani or imported. China trusts Pakistan so J-10’s FCS will be fully accessible for Pakistan that really matters in operational efficiency. PAC Kamra has huge support infrastructure for PAF fleet, PAC Kamra can easily be utilised t o support the J-10 fleet. People are divided on the opinion whether PAF should opt for more F-16 or J-10s should be procured, Both sides have valid arguments. However, the decision lies with the utmost professional people the Pakistan Airforce itself. Everyone trusts PAF with their decision making as they have openly proved they are the best with it.