Air forces of about a dozen developing nations are buying and deploying Pakistani made aircrafts. The reasons for their choice of Pakistan manufactured airplanes range from lower cost to ease of acquisition, maintenance and training.
Pakistan's Aircraft Exports:
Pakistan started developing defense hardware for imports substitution to reduce external dependence and to save hard currency. Now the country's defense industry is coming of age to lead the way to high value-added manufactured exports.
Pakistan Super Mushshak Trainer Aircraft
Nigerian Air Force is the latest to announce purchase of Pakistan made Super Mushshak aircraft after the United States' refusal to sell to Nigeria, according to American periodical Newsweek. Nigerian Air Force chief Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar was quoted by the Nigerian media as saying that "Pakistan has accepted to sell ten trainer airplanes. And that is why the Pakistan Chief of Air Staff is coming for the induction ceremony which is going to take place in Kaduna".
Several other countries are in the process of making decisions to purchase aircraft from Pakistan. A report in Pakistan's Express Tribune newspaper says that Turkey has decided to buy 52 Super Mushshak trainer aircraft. The Tribune also reported that Azerbaijan may buy a couple of dozen JF-17 Thunder fighter jets jointly developed by Pakistan and China.
Along with exporting existing hardware, Pakistan is continuing its efforts to enhance the capabilities with new versions. For example, fighter-jet JF-17’s Block III is expected to open up new opportunities for Pakistani defense exports.
The new JF-17 Block III will be a twin-seat trainer version with advanced Active Electronically-Scanned Array radar and mid-air-refueliling probe. It will use new composite materials to increase its performance, besides addition of other updates in cockpit and weapons’ pods, according to Pakistani media reports.
Pakistan-China Defense Industry Collaboration:
Growing defense collaboration between China and Pakistan irks the West, according to a report in the UK's Financial Times newspaper. The paper specifically cites joint JF-17 Thunder fighter jet, armed drone Burraq and custom AIP-equipped submarines as examples of close cooperation between the two nations.
Pakistan's JF-17 Jet Fighter
Pakistan's bitter experience with the unreliability of its cold war allies as weapons suppliers has proved to be a blessing in disguise. It has forced Pakistan to move toward self-reliance in production of the weapons it needs to defend itself from foreign and domestic enemies.
It all started back in 1965 when the US and its western allies placed an arms embargo on Pakistan during war with India. The bitterness grew stronger when the US forced France to cancel its contract to supply a breeder reactor to Pakistan in 1974 soon after India conducted its first nuclear test.
Khushab Nuclear Reactor:
Fortunately for Pakistan, the French had already given Pakistanis scientists drawings and specifications before canceling the breeder reactor contract. Work on Khushab reprocessing plant stated in 1974 when Pakistan signed a contract with the French company Saint-Gobain Techniques Nouvelles (SGN). In 1978, under U.S. pressure, France canceled the contract. Pakistan then proceeded to indigenously produce its own nuclear breeder reactors at Khushab. Four such reactors are now operating to produce plutonium for Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. Having done its first nuclear test in 1998, Pakistan now has a large and growing nuclear arsenal it needs to deter any enemy adventurism against it.
Babar Cruise Missile:
Since MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) prevented Pakistan from acquiring delivery vehicles from other countries, the country had to develop its own ballistic and cruise missiles to carry nuclear weapons.
The story of Babar Cruise Missile development is particularly interesting. It is believed that Pakistani engineers learned the technology by dismantling and studying a US Tomahawk cruise missile that fell in Pakistani territory when President Bill Clinton fired these missiles to target Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
JF-17 Thunder Fighter:
The development of JF-17, a modern highly capable and relatively inexpensive fighter jet, is the crowning achievement to-date of the Pakistan-China defense production cooperation. It's being deployed by Pakistan Air Force with Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) on recently rolling out the 16th Block 2 JF-17 aircraft for PAF's 4th squadron. The latest version is capable of launching a variety of nuclear and conventional weapons ranging from smart bombs and air-launched cruise missile Raad to anti-ship missiles.
Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) got its start decades ago by setting up maintenance facilities for advanced fighters like French Mirage and US F-16s and by manufacturing Mushshak and Super Mushshak trainer aircraft. It is now also building JF-17s as well as a variety of drones, including combat UAV Burraq being used in Pakistan's war against militants in Waziristan.
Nuclear-Capable AIP Submarines:
Pakistan is expanding and modernizing its underwater fleet with 8 additional AIP-equipped submarines. Four of these subs will be manufactured in Pakistan. These will reportedly be custom versions of Yuan class diesel-electric subs with additional wider tubes from which cruise missiles can be launched. A key requirement for these submarines is to be stealthy—and the AIP-equipped Yuan class is indeed very quiet. The trick is in the submarine’s air-independent propulsion fuel cells, which provide power under the surface as the diesel engines—used for running on the surface—rest and recharge. Though relatively limited in range, this system is quieter than the nuclear-powered engines on American and Russian submarines, which must constantly circulate engine coolant.
Arms as Pakistan's Cottage Industry
Pakistan has a long history of arms manufacturing as a cottage industry. The dusty little town of Darra Adam Khel, only a half-hour drive from Peshawar, reminds visitors of America's Wild West. The craftsmen of this town are manufacturers and suppliers of small arms to the tribal residents of the nation's Federally Administered Tribal Areas who carry weapons as part of their ancient culture. The skilled craftsmen of FATA make revolvers, automatic pistols, shotguns and AK-47 rifles. Until five years ago, the list also had items such as anti-personnel mines, sub-machine guns, small cannons and even rocket launchers. Pakistani government has forced the tribesmen to stop making heavy assault weapons to try and prevent the Taliban and Al Qaeda from getting access to such weapons.
Pakistan's arms industry has come a long way from making small arms as a cottage industry in the last few decades. The US and Western arms embargoes imposed on Pakistan at critical moments in its history have proved to be a blessing in disguise. In particular, the problems Pakistan faced in the aftermath of Pressler Amendment in 1992 became an opportunity for the country to rely on indigenous development and production of defense equipment.
Pakistan's Military Industrial Complex
The country now boasts a powerful industrial, technological and research base developing and manufacturing for its armed forces a wide variety of small and large weapons ranging from modern fighter jets, battle tanks, armored vehicles, frigates and submarines to armed and unarmed aerial vehicles and high tech firearms and personal grenade launchers for urban combat. Some of these items were on display at IDEAS 2014, the 5-day biennial arms show held November 2014 in Karachi, Pakistan.
A country can not be truly independent unless it can manufacture the arms it needs to defend itself. Pakistan is just starting to build the weapons it needs but it has a very long way to go. At the same time, Pakistan is starting to export defense hardware to developing nations. This goal can only be achieved if Pakistan develops significant human capital and builds a vibrant economy.