Pakistan rolls the die on China’s J-10C fighters

Pakistan has formally announced its acquisition of China’s J-10C multirole light fighter, with 25 jets scheduled for delivery in time to be displayed at the Pakistan Day parade on March 23. Pakistani Interior Minister Rasheed Ahmed said the Chinese-made fighters would serve as a counter to India’s French-built Rafale fighters, first purchased in 2015 with an initial order of 36 units. At present, 30 Rafale jets have been delivered to India, with the remaining six slated for delivery by April 2022. Pakistan’s interest in the J-10C spans more than a decade, driven by a need to complement its existing US-made F-16 fighters when additional acquisition of the type became unlikely due to bilateral tensions. Pakistan first acquired F-16s in 1981 and currently operates 66 units. Alongside the F-16, Pakistan also operates older Chinese fighters such as the J-7 and JF-17. The F-16 is deemed superior to all other fighter types in Pakistan’s arsenal, and is a serious contender against the Indian Air Force, Islamabad’s nuclear-armed traditional adversary. However, the US has placed restrictions on their use including 24-hour monitoring of the fleet by US technical teams to prevent unauthorized modification, usage or technology leakage to China. The J-10C is billed as a competitor to the F-16 and Swedish Gripen. Key features include an active electronically scanned array radar (AESA), improved radar warning receiver (RAWR), missile approach warning system (MAWS), satellite communications (SATCOM) and datalinks. It uses a single Russian AL-31F engine, implying that China is not yet confident to use its own jet engines in single-engine fighters. As such, the J-10C is an affordable fighter that can compete on an equal footing against non-5th generation aerial threats, being comparable across most performance metrics against competing types while being significantly cheaper. At the same time, China’s aviation industry is believed to have already overtaken Russia in certain key areas. For instance, China is known to have made notable strides in composite materials, active electronically scanned array (AESA), stealth technology, integration of precision-guided weapons (PGMs) and certain drone capabilities. A J-10C poised for takeoff. Image: Twitter That said, the improving quality of China’s aircraft and weapons over those made by Russia makes the former an increasingly attractive option for countries whose budgets or political alignments preclude the use of Western equipment. These improvements may have been already incorporated into the J-10C or may come as incremental upgrades to Pakistan’s fleet. Still, some analysts believe that the France-made Rafale is superior to the J-10C. The Rafale’s carrier and land-based multirole capability, better AESA radar, electronic warfare package, compatibility with the latest Western weapons and combat record in the Middle East and Africa pose a serious challenge to the J-10C. The Rafale might have the edge on paper, but no analyst can know for sure unless the two types go head-to-head in combat.  China has struggled to sell its fighter jets to other states, apart from a small core market consisting of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, North Korea and a few African countries. These limited sales reflect China’s hesitance to enter cost-sharing agreements, a lack of major strategic partners that utilize its fighters and a reciprocal reluctance of countries to enter a strategic partnership with China through fighter jet purchases. China may be trying to consolidate its influence in Pakistan by further integrating the latter into its military logistics supply chain. Like the US, China may be marketing its sophisticated weapons on the premise that its buyers join a Chinese-dominated supply chain for technical support, better pricing and access to better equipment. In the process, these buyers run the risk of subjugating large parts of their defense and by association foreign policy to China’s interests. That said, Pakistan’s ongoing hostilities with India keep it dependent on China for weapons. This has created a dependency when coupled with other levers of Chinese influence in Pakistan that threatens to reduce Pakistan into China’s vassal but at the same time is likely the best deal financially-strapped Islamabad can get.

Pakistan rolls the die on China’s J-10C fighters

Pakistan has formally announced its acquisition of China’s J-10C multirole light fighter, with 25 jets scheduled for delivery in time to be displayed at the Pakistan Day parade on March 23.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rasheed Ahmed said the Chinese-made fighters would serve as a counter to India’s French-built Rafale fighters, first purchased in 2015 with an initial order of 36 units. At present, 30 Rafale jets have been delivered to India, with the remaining six slated for delivery by April 2022.

Pakistan’s interest in the J-10C spans more than a decade, driven by a need to complement its existing US-made F-16 fighters when additional acquisition of the type became unlikely due to bilateral tensions. Pakistan first acquired F-16s in 1981 and currently operates 66 units. Alongside the F-16, Pakistan also operates older Chinese fighters such as the J-7 and JF-17.

The F-16 is deemed superior to all other fighter types in Pakistan’s arsenal, and is a serious contender against the Indian Air Force, Islamabad’s nuclear-armed traditional adversary. However, the US has placed restrictions on their use including 24-hour monitoring of the fleet by US technical teams to prevent unauthorized modification, usage or technology leakage to China.

The J-10C is billed as a competitor to the F-16 and Swedish Gripen. Key features include an active electronically scanned array radar (AESA), improved radar warning receiver (RAWR), missile approach warning system (MAWS), satellite communications (SATCOM) and datalinks.

It uses a single Russian AL-31F engine, implying that China is not yet confident to use its own jet engines in single-engine fighters.

As such, the J-10C is an affordable fighter that can compete on an equal footing against non-5th generation aerial threats, being comparable across most performance metrics against competing types while being significantly cheaper.

At the same time, China’s aviation industry is believed to have already overtaken Russia in certain key areas. For instance, China is known to have made notable strides in composite materials, active electronically scanned array (AESA), stealth technology, integration of precision-guided weapons (PGMs) and certain drone capabilities.

A J-10C poised for takeoff. Image: Twitter

That said, the improving quality of China’s aircraft and weapons over those made by Russia makes the former an increasingly attractive option for countries whose budgets or political alignments preclude the use of Western equipment. These improvements may have been already incorporated into the J-10C or may come as incremental upgrades to Pakistan’s fleet.

Still, some analysts believe that the France-made Rafale is superior to the J-10C. The Rafale’s carrier and land-based multirole capability, better AESA radar, electronic warfare package, compatibility with the latest Western weapons and combat record in the Middle East and Africa pose a serious challenge to the J-10C. The Rafale might have the edge on paper, but no analyst can know for sure unless the two types go head-to-head in combat. 

China has struggled to sell its fighter jets to other states, apart from a small core market consisting of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, North Korea and a few African countries. These limited sales reflect China’s hesitance to enter cost-sharing agreements, a lack of major strategic partners that utilize its fighters and a reciprocal reluctance of countries to enter a strategic partnership with China through fighter jet purchases.

China may be trying to consolidate its influence in Pakistan by further integrating the latter into its military logistics supply chain.

Like the US, China may be marketing its sophisticated weapons on the premise that its buyers join a Chinese-dominated supply chain for technical support, better pricing and access to better equipment. In the process, these buyers run the risk of subjugating large parts of their defense and by association foreign policy to China’s interests.

That said, Pakistan’s ongoing hostilities with India keep it dependent on China for weapons. This has created a dependency when coupled with other levers of Chinese influence in Pakistan that threatens to reduce Pakistan into China’s vassal but at the same time is likely the best deal financially-strapped Islamabad can get.