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Analysis: PAF's Fighter Modernization Roadmap (Part-1)

Quwa

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Part 1: An analysis of the Pakistan Air Force’s decision to focus on F-16s

22 February 2016

By Bilal Khan

A recent episode of ‘Defence and Diplomacy’, a policy news and analysis show hosted by retired Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Group Captain Sultan Hali, offered a number of interesting insights into the PAF’s apparent modernization roadmap, particularly with regards to its fighter fleet. This analysis will touch upon a few key points raised in the episode (which also included retired Air Marshals Shahid Lateef and Yousuf Chaudhry), especially in regards to the PAF’s rationale for pursuing the F-16 as well as its reluctance to induct a comparable alternative, such as the Chengdu FC-20 (i.e. J-10).

For the foreseeable future, the PAF will center its fighter acquisition plans on the JF-17 and F-16. Before continuing into how the PAF would pursue each fighter, it is important to understand the driving forces behind the PAF’s decision. To put it frankly, the main issue is Pakistan’s troubled economy. In other words, the PAF has very limited financial flexibility to depend on in order to replace its heavily aged fighters, i.e. the Dassault Mirage III/5 and Chengdu F-7P. The next several years will be critical for the PAF as it intends to phase-out a significant number of its legacy fighters by 2020.

In terms of the F-16, the PAF is currently looking to procure eight new F-16C/D Block-52+ from the U.S. It is important to note that the PAF is hoping to acquire these fighters with considerable Foreign Military Financing (FMF) support. In other words, it expects the U.S. to subsidize nearly half of the total cost (which is $700 million U.S.). If acquired, this batch would raise the PAF’s total F-16 fleet to 84 aircraft: 26 F-16C/D Block-52+, 45 F-16A/B MLU [Mid-Life-Update], and 13 F-16A/B ADF (Air Defence Fighter).

Through a mix of new-built and used aircraft, the PAF is probably looking to expand the F-16 fleet to 110, which it had originally planned for in the late 1980s, before the U.S. placed sanctions on Pakistan over the latter’s nuclear weapons program. Additional new-built F-16s could be acquired on an incremental and gradual basis whereby the PAF orders numerous small batches over a period of several years. If future acquisitions were to cost in the realm of $350 million U.S. per-order (especially with FMF support), the PAF could succeed in building a relatively sizable Block-52+ fleet by 2020.

The PAF may also pursue used F-16s from the U.S. through the Excess Defence Articles (EDA) program, which would enable it to buy airframes for very cheaply. It could also speak to other air forces, just as it did with Jordan in 2013-2014. It could opt to push these F-16s through a service-life extension program (SLEP), which would add life to their aged airframes. It might also consider upgrading them with a radar and avionics package identical to that found on its existing Block-52+ and MLUs.

However, the cost of replenishing and upgrading these F-16s ($30-35 million U.S. per unit) would basically amount to the cost of a new-built JF-17. The PAF could ultimately acquire used airframes without upgrading them, which would enable it to quickly replace outgoing F-7s and Mirages. In fact, a non-upgraded F-16 would be a substantial upgrade over old F-7 units involved in basic air defence duties (i.e. without the use of beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles or BVRAAM).

In terms of capability, the PAF’s F-16s are equipped for precision-strikeas well as air-to-air warfare. The PAF has 500 AIM-120C5 BVRAAMs, Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), and Paveway Guided Bomb Units (GBU) in its inventory. Unfortunately, despite having its F-16s equipped with the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), a helmet-mounted display and sight system (HMD/S), it has not yet acquired the AIM-9X high off-boresight (HOBS) within-visual-range air-to-air missile (WVRAAM). At present, the F-16’s WVRAAM capabilities are centered on the AIM-9M-8/9, which is a fairly capable current-generation all-aspect missile. Moreover, the PAF’s F-16s lack stand-off munitions and anti-ship missiles.

Since the PAF intends to continue procuring additional F-16s, especially new-built fighters such as the Block-52+, it is imperative that it secure these munitions. The main inhibitor would be the U.S., which will avoid tipping the balance of air warfare capabilities between India and Pakistan in Pakistan’s favour. That said, this technology is making into Pakistan via the JF-17, which – by Block-III – will be equipped with a HOBS AAM (and it is already being integrated with various stand-off munitions). The release of the AIM-9X, AGM-154 JSOW and AGM-84L Harpoon Block-II ought to be on the PAF’s roadmap.

With these limitations and issues in mind, one may ask why the PAF is not looking at the Chengdu FC-20 (i.e. J-10), especially as an alternative to the F-16. The reasoning is quite simple. If the PAF were to procure the J-10, it would simply be acquiring another medium-weight fighter. In other words, its inclusion does not necessarily add to the PAF’s existing capabilities, at least in a significant enough way to warrant the induction of an entirely new platform. Yes, the J-10 would offer additional range, payload, and capability boosts (e.g. radar output) compared to the JF-17, but are these advantages significant enough to warrant the costs of introducing a completely new maintenance channel, especially for what will inevitably be a relatively small number of aircraft (i.e. two squadrons)? It will not.

If this is the case, one might ask why the PAF is focusing on the F-16 at all, why not double-down on the JF-17? The question assumes that the PAF is not doubling down on the JF-17. At this point, the PAF is not even looking to buy a significant number of new-built F-16s. It only has eight aircraft on the table, and that too with substantial financial support from the U.S. If one were to consider what is in store for the JF-17 Block-III, then it would be evident that much of the PAF’s fighter budget is in fact going towards the development and induction of the JF-17.

Beyond the JF-17, the PAF has scarcely little financial flexibility. If it were not for FMF, it is unlikely the PAF would even procure the new F-16s. However, the addition of these new F-16s will add to its existing fleet, which will enable the PAF to exploit its existing maintenance infrastructure as well as build its fleet, until such time that a true next-generation fighter is available. Next week, we will take a look at that as well as review the JF-17’s role as the future backbone fighter.

Analysis: Pakistan’s Fighter Modernization Roadmap (Part-1)

@Horus
 

niaz

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It is refreshing to know that unlike some of the posts, which argue for acquiring an aircraft carrier, building nuclear submarine etc., there are still people around who are capable of unemotional, objective and pragmatic analysis. I wish there were more like Bilal Khan.
 

Tipu7

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which argue for acquiring an aircraft carrier, building nuclear submarine etc.
Many want Twin engine long range fighter aircraft. In which list you will include such people?
the PAF as it intends to phase-out a significant number of its legacy fighters by 2020.
I wonder time to time how we are gonna do that.
Roughly 130+ F7 (not counting PG) and 140+ Mirages are to be replaced by 2020.
With production rate of 16 aircraft per year, how we are going to achieve that target? By 2020 we will have more 80 Jf17 and probably 34 more F16. While leaving the void of almost 150 aircrafts..............
Are we looking to reduce the total number of aircraft in our arsenal? while keeping numbers of squadron same?

it has not yet acquired the AIM-9X high off-boresight (HOBS) within-visual-range air-to-air missile (WVRAAM). At present, the F-16’s WVRAAM capabilities are centered on the AIM-9M-8/9, which is a fairly capable current-generation all-aspect missile. Moreover, the PAF’s F-16s lack stand-off munitions and anti-ship missiles.
I don't think there is need to arm F16 with anti ship missiles. We can have better anti ship missiles from China for China based aircrafts.
As per HOBS missiles, I believe it is dependent upon MMRCA deal. Once India finalize those Rafales for IAF then surely PAF will try to get HOBS missiles from United States for F16 as a mean for balancing aerial power. We need a valid Justification and funds for AIM-9X, AGM-154 JSOW for our F16s...................
 

barbarosa

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We do not know more than PAF experts,but the above mentioned article means that PAF is not interesting in the purchase new jets except F16. We cannot say that how will be JF17 b3 until we watch its air display its all capability,it is a sweet dream for us. PAF will dependent on F16, Mirage 3/5, F7P &PG and JF17 b2 up to 2020.
 

Quwa

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Many want Twin engine long range fighter aircraft. In which list you will include such people?

I wonder time to time how we are gonna do that.
Roughly 130+ F7 (not counting PG) and 140+ Mirages are to be replaced by 2020.
With production rate of 16 aircraft per year, how we are going to achieve that target? By 2020 we will have more 80 Jf17 and probably 34 more F16. While leaving the void of almost 150 aircrafts..............
Are we looking to reduce the total number of aircraft in our arsenal? while keeping numbers of squadron same?


I don't think there is need to arm F16 with anti ship missiles. We can have better anti ship missiles from China for China based aircrafts.
As per HOBS missiles, I believe it is dependent upon MMRCA deal. Once India finalize those Rafales for IAF then surely PAF will try to get HOBS missiles from United States for F16 as a mean for balancing aerial power. We need a valid Justification and funds for AIM-9X, AGM-154 JSOW for our F16s...................
It won't be a 1:1 replacement, but used F-16s via EDA could be acquired to quickly phase out the F-7s. If not upgraded these used F-16s won't be advanced, but they'll be a step up from the F-7s, and can be had for very cheap. If need be, the PAF could drop $25-30mn on each used F-16 and put them through SLEP and MLU or CCIP, which would place them on par with the Block-52+ in terms of avionics.
 

Muhammad Omar

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The 8 F-16 were Offered by Obama Administration PAF didn't ask for them .... Plus PAF is trying to least amount for these 8 F-16 means PAF is not ready to pay for more F-16 as these F-16 will be payed under FMF

Maybe they'll look For J-10 and these 8 F-16 are the last to come in PAF :P
 

Tipu7

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It won't be a 1:1 replacement, but used F-16s via EDA could be acquired to quickly phase out the F-7s. If not upgraded these used F-16s won't be advanced, but they'll be a step up from the F-7s, and can be had for very cheap. If need be, the PAF could drop $25-30mn on each used F-16 and put them through SLEP and MLU or CCIP, which would place them on par with the Block-52+ in terms of avionics.
I believe Pakistan will look forward to complete induction of 36 Blk 50-52+ ............... Which mean after these 8 we will wait for appropriate time for remaining 10............... and buy Second hand F16 from Europe. As soon as F35 start coming in Europe then sure it will give us a lot of options............. so lets count 16 more second hand F16.
So by 2020 (hopefully)............... we will be flying 110 F16s in total (36 Blk52+, 13ADF, 60 MLU)
and 140+ Jf17..................

Void of 150 aircrafts still counts even if we are not doing replacement on one on one basis..........

What do you think abut increasing the production rate of Jf17.............? Like 25 aircrafts per year from 2016..........
We can have a fleet of 200 Jf17 by 2020..................
 

rockstar08

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Ok points which i think needs to be clear ..

1. we have +/- 80 F-16's( All Blocks ) , adding these 8 will be make it around 85-86 ... so how we are talking about the original plan of getting 110 F-16 ? isn't just another pipe dream .. or we are assuming everything will be according to our plans ? we order and US sell , that's not the case . The Change in US Govt in this yeah will also effect their South Asia Policy which also effect the sell of any high end fighter to Pakistan . Indian will not swallow that easily .. Indians got more influence and money to buy more congressman .. simple and short ? how are we looking for 110 F-16 by 2020 when we are around 20-25 Planes short . ?

2. By 2020 if we retire our Mirage III/5 and F-7's that means almost half of our fleet is gone... and with current rate we are producing the JF's and as we are looking for some export Orders , how we are going to fill this gap ? are we looking to operate only two kinds of Jets ? JF and F-16 .. for a enemy like India is it sensible to limit our capabilities with just 2 platforms while our enemy enjoys various Fighter , each having a different role .. E.g , Su-30 ( Air Superiority Fighter ) , Mig-29 ( Anti-Ship and Naval ) , Mirage 2000 ( Deep and precision Air Strikes ) and Rafale ( as medium weight fighter with highly Advance EW Suites . All these make a scary Combination to tackle with just 2 platforms .. which is also lesser in numbers with no LRSAM to support them even within our Air Space .

3. J-10's as Article say's its not adding anything Extra in our Capabilities of JF's but J-10's can still be heavily modified with extra Gadgets . we can't just built our strategy on Quality , sometimes Quantity matters .

Possible Solutions .

1. Even if we assume everything goes Fine between US and Pakistan ( which i doubt ), still we can just add a follow up order of 10 more F-16 block 52+ that will make 36 Block 52's . of course the time line of delivery of these 8 and later 10 birds will drag us to close to 2020's and than again we will be close to retirement of our half of fleets .Possible solution to reach the 110 mark for F-16's be placing Orders , and do it fast . if by 2018 we are able to get those remaining 10 F-16's from US we can immediately order 18 more ( block 52's ) , in the upcoming 2 years mark .
than will leave us with 36 + 18 = 54 Block 52's and total F-16's to 84+10+18= 112 boom ..
the wish list may sound unrealistic but i see no other ways to reach the mark of 110 by 2020 .

2. Why not Add another 4++ Fighter ? like 1-2 Sq of Su-35's ? even 1 sq of su-35 with certain modifications can make a difference . they can be Armed with BVR's and Anti-ship Missiles to completely dedicate it for Naval Operations or deep Strikes ,which can also be done by F-16. or we can do some back door Diplomacy here to lift the ban on Chinese J-series J-11's , J-16's whatever suites PAF well .in that case, Chinese can be our front man so Indian pressure will be released . Indian moving towards to final deal of Rafale, it will surely effect Russian's , and in order to keep Indian's in their league they can offer us Su-35 or life bans of J-series . its just how we are going to play our cards .

3. people who have better knowledge on J-10's can give a better solution for J-10's .

@MastanKhan @araz @Windjammer @Blue Marlin @Quwa @Horus @Oscar ( if he is not mad at me ) :D
 

Quwa

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I believe Pakistan will look forward to complete induction of 36 Blk 50-52+ ............... Which mean after these 8 we will wait for appropriate time for remaining 10............... and buy Second hand F16 from Europe. As soon as F35 start coming in Europe then sure it will give us a lot of options............. so lets count 16 more second hand F16.
So by 2020 (hopefully)............... we will be flying 110 F16s in total (36 Blk52+, 13ADF, 60 MLU)
and 140+ Jf17..................

Void of 150 aircrafts still counts even if we are not doing replacement on one on one basis..........

What do you think abut increasing the production rate of Jf17.............? Like 25 aircrafts per year from 2016..........
We can have a fleet of 200 Jf17 by 2020..................
The 110 figure for the F-16 fleet could be the minimum benchmark. Remember, it was the fleet requirement of the late 1980s, had Pressler not happened, the PAF would have likely acquired a lot more F-16s. I would say a fleet of 150+.

Based on that, I can see the following:

The Block-52+ fleet rising to 36, with a possible extension to around 50 (the pre-2005 plan).

The F-16 MLU fleet rising to 60, also a pre-2005 plan.

The non-upgraded used F-16 fleet being as high as possible, but with minimal added work in terms of upgrades, so as to control costs. At present this fleet sits at 13 (ex-Jordanian ADF), could rise to 40-50 if sufficient airframes are found via EDA and third-party purchases.

Beyond that, it would be the gradual induction of the JF-17 through various Blocks. By 2020 I expect we'll have close to 150.

Beyond the ~150 F-16s and ~150 JF-17s, there'll be F-7PG and some Mirage ROSE still soldiering on.

Ok points which i think needs to be clear ..

1. we have +/- 80 F-16's( All Blocks ) , adding these 8 will be make it around 85-86 ... so how we are talking about the original plan of getting 110 F-16 ? isn't just another pipe dream .. or we are assuming everything will be according to our plans ? we order and US sell , that's not the case . The Change in US Govt in this yeah will also effect their South Asia Policy which also effect the sell of any high end fighter to Pakistan . Indian will not swallow that easily .. Indians got more influence and money to buy more congressman .. simple and short ? how are we looking for 110 F-16 by 2020 when we are around 20-25 Planes short . ?

2. By 2020 if we retire our Mirage III/5 and F-7's that means almost half of our fleet is gone... and with current rate we are producing the JF's and as we are looking for some export Orders , how we are going to fill this gap ? are we looking to operate only two kinds of Jets ? JF and F-16 .. for a enemy like India is it sensible to limit our capabilities with just 2 platforms while our enemy enjoys various Fighter , each having a different role .. E.g , Su-30 ( Air Superiority Fighter ) , Mig-29 ( Anti-Ship and Naval ) , Mirage 2000 ( Deep and precision Air Strikes ) and Rafale ( as medium weight fighter with highly Advance EW Suites . All these make a scary Combination to tackle with just 2 platforms .. which is also lesser in numbers with no LRSAM to support them even within our Air Space .

3. J-10's as Article say's its not adding anything Extra in our Capabilities of JF's but J-10's can still be heavily modified with extra Gadgets . we can't just built our strategy on Quality , sometimes Quantity matters .

Possible Solutions .

1. Even if we assume everything goes Fine between US and Pakistan ( which i doubt ), still we can just add a follow up order of 10 more F-16 block 52+ that will make 36 Block 52's . of course the time line of delivery of these 8 and later 10 birds will drag us to close to 2020's and than again we will be close to retirement of our half of fleets .Possible solution to reach the 110 mark for F-16's be placing Orders , and do it fast . if by 2018 we are able to get those remaining 10 F-16's from US we can immediately order 18 more ( block 52's ) , in the upcoming 2 years mark .
than will leave us with 36 + 18 = 54 Block 52's and total F-16's to 84+10+18= 112 boom ..
the wish list may sound unrealistic but i see no other ways to reach the mark of 110 by 2020 .

2. Why not Add another 4++ Fighter ? like 1-2 Sq of Su-35's ? even 1 sq of su-35 with certain modifications can make a difference . they can be Armed with BVR's and Anti-ship Missiles to completely dedicate it for Naval Operations or deep Strikes ,which can also be done by F-16. or we can do some back door Diplomacy here to lift the ban on Chinese J-series J-11's , J-16's whatever suites PAF well .in that case, Chinese can be our front man so Indian pressure will be released . Indian moving towards to final deal of Rafale, it will surely effect Russian's , and in order to keep Indian's in their league they can offer us Su-35 or life bans of J-series . its just how we are going to play our cards .

3. people who have better knowledge on J-10's can give a better solution for J-10's .

@MastanKhan @araz @Windjammer @Blue Marlin @Quwa @Horus @Oscar ( if he is not mad at me ) :D
I have to use my phone right now, so pardon me for the brevity in my response. But the PAF will acquire additional F-16s through mostly used airframes, either via EDA or via other air forces. If not upgraded, 20 of these planes can be had for the price of a single Rafale. If given SLEP and upgraded, then the PAF could get up to 10 for the price of 1 Rafale.

As for U.S policy in South Asia, this will not change. The U.S understands that it needs to offer the Pak military something in order to maintain its support for U.S regional aims. Cut this, and the U.S will lose that influence, and that would be a strategic blunder. Won't happen. That said, the U.S won't do anything o alter India's advantage, hence the unlikelihood of PAF getting newer AMRAAM, AIM-9X, etc.

As for not adding another platform, the issue is money. For one thing, the J-10B/C hasn't been cleared for export, the FC-20 is actually J-10A. Second, if you add J-10, which is an entirely new fighter, you're merely adding another medium weight fighter. Are you sure your gains would offset the heavy cost of adding a new platform in relatively small numbers, and that too without adding to the PAF (in terms of range and payload)?

Su-35 would be an ideal addition because it gives the PAF a heavyweight design. Unfortunately, getting that will depend on Russia's willingness to extend a financing plan, which it probably won't since it needs cash, with its economy under stress and all.
 
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Sipahi

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@Quwa Great read once again. Thank You.

A Humble Question.

Since we are willing to wait for 5th Gen Aircraft. Why don't we partne Turkiye on TAI/TFX Project since they already offered us according to some media reports.
 

cerberus

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As per HOBS missiles, I believe it is dependent upon MMRCA deal. Once India finalize those Rafales for IAF then surely PAF will try to get HOBS missiles from United States for F16 as a mean for balancing aerial power.
That's Purely Misconception U See Every Air Superiority Fighter in IAF Has HOBS Missile Firing Capability with HMDS (Elbit DASH III)Su-30MKI ,Mig-29UPG.M2K And Even LCA.. Even if the Rafale's Coming or Not.Its Part of IAF ASR


PS:One Capability U Missed Here is Passive IRST Sensor which Also Key Capability in Present Modern Dogfight Scenario.

HOBS CCM Missile Currently in Service of IAF Inventory Presently
  1. R-73E
  2. MICA RF/IR(IIRCCM) with TVC
  3. Python-5 (IIRCCM)
  4. ASRAAM
 

Blue Marlin

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Ok points which i think needs to be clear ..

1. we have +/- 80 F-16's( All Blocks ) , adding these 8 will be make it around 85-86 ... so how we are talking about the original plan of getting 110 F-16 ? isn't just another pipe dream .. or we are assuming everything will be according to our plans ? we order and US sell , that's not the case . The Change in US Govt in this yeah will also effect their South Asia Policy which also effect the sell of any high end fighter to Pakistan . Indian will not swallow that easily .. Indians got more influence and money to buy more congressman .. simple and short ? how are we looking for 110 F-16 by 2020 when we are around 20-25 Planes short . ?

2. By 2020 if we retire our Mirage III/5 and F-7's that means almost half of our fleet is gone... and with current rate we are producing the JF's and as we are looking for some export Orders , how we are going to fill this gap ? are we looking to operate only two kinds of Jets ? JF and F-16 .. for a enemy like India is it sensible to limit our capabilities with just 2 platforms while our enemy enjoys various Fighter , each having a different role .. E.g , Su-30 ( Air Superiority Fighter ) , Mig-29 ( Anti-Ship and Naval ) , Mirage 2000 ( Deep and precision Air Strikes ) and Rafale ( as medium weight fighter with highly Advance EW Suites . All these make a scary Combination to tackle with just 2 platforms .. which is also lesser in numbers with no LRSAM to support them even within our Air Space .

3. J-10's as Article say's its not adding anything Extra in our Capabilities of JF's but J-10's can still be heavily modified with extra Gadgets . we can't just built our strategy on Quality , sometimes Quantity matters .

Possible Solutions .

1. Even if we assume everything goes Fine between US and Pakistan ( which i doubt ), still we can just add a follow up order of 10 more F-16 block 52+ that will make 36 Block 52's . of course the time line of delivery of these 8 and later 10 birds will drag us to close to 2020's and than again we will be close to retirement of our half of fleets .Possible solution to reach the 110 mark for F-16's be placing Orders , and do it fast . if by 2018 we are able to get those remaining 10 F-16's from US we can immediately order 18 more ( block 52's ) , in the upcoming 2 years mark .
than will leave us with 36 + 18 = 54 Block 52's and total F-16's to 84+10+18= 112 boom ..
the wish list may sound unrealistic but i see no other ways to reach the mark of 110 by 2020 .

2. Why not Add another 4++ Fighter ? like 1-2 Sq of Su-35's ? even 1 sq of su-35 with certain modifications can make a difference . they can be Armed with BVR's and Anti-ship Missiles to completely dedicate it for Naval Operations or deep Strikes ,which can also be done by F-16. or we can do some back door Diplomacy here to lift the ban on Chinese J-series J-11's , J-16's whatever suites PAF well .in that case, Chinese can be our front man so Indian pressure will be released . Indian moving towards to final deal of Rafale, it will surely effect Russian's , and in order to keep Indian's in their league they can offer us Su-35 or life bans of J-series . its just how we are going to play our cards .

3. people who have better knowledge on J-10's can give a better solution for J-10's .

@MastanKhan @araz @Windjammer @Blue Marlin @Quwa @Horus @Oscar ( if he is not mad at me ) :D
the f16 debacle is an interesting one at that. i personally dont think they will want to go for more and 36 blk52+'s as they is simply no need. why? the current 52's are doing air-strikes in the north and are just fine. i think some mlu's can be fitted with targeting pods, im not sure on that. but the purpose of getting 36 is so that there's and i quote: "a reasonable number, as 18 is to low to justify" no no more blk52's. i think they are focusing on getting their hands on a 5th gen fighter. theres images of a possible second prototype of the j31 where the size is increased to the f22. check it out on the link below. SAC FC-31 Stealth Aircraft Development | News & Discussions. | Page 133 . i think they will heavily invest in this aircraft but once maybe after the jf-17 production ends which would be early 2020's. or build a new production line.
i do feel a jet with "long legs" is required but i doubt it would be russain, european and certainly not american. so i think a version of the j-20 would be a good idea in the numbers of the f16's or about 72-80. also some cross integration with some turkish parts. [from the tfx]. if your economy booms by then go for that to and have the structure that either the j31 or the tfx would be a specialist jet. but this is unlikely as they would both be around the same size and class so it does not make financial sense. but who knows?
as for new platforms? the next one would be a 5th gen fighter. i'd put money on it.
 

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