Pakistan China air force drill
Pakistan’s Air Vice Marshal Waqas Ahmed Sulehri and China’s Major General Sun Hong witness the Pakistan-China joint air force exercise on December 9, 2020, being held in Pakistan. Image Credit: PAF

Islamabad: Pakistan welcomed combat pilots and military aircraft from China as they arrived for joint air force drills in Pakistan to further enhance defence cooperation between the two countries.

Pakistan-China joint air drill, called ‘Shaheen-IX’, is currently underway at the newly Pakistan Air Force (PAF) operational Bholari air base in Sindh province. A contingent of People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), comprising combat pilots, air defence controllers and technical ground crew is participating in the exercise.

Improve combat training

At the opening ceremony, Air Vice Marshal Ahmed Sulehri, the deputy chief of Pakistan’s air staff (operations), said the exercise offers “opportunity to further enhance interoperability of both the air forces, thereby fortifying brotherly relations between the two countries.” Major Gen. Sun Hong, the assistant chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, said the Pak-China air drills “will improve actual level of combat training” and further strengthen cooperation between the two air forces.”

The actual numbers and types of aircraft participating in the exercise have not been disclosed officially. However, aviation experts hinted that the drills include China’s fourth-generation Shenyang J-11, Chengdu J-10 multirole fighter aircraft, Chengdu F-7 interceptor as well as the JF-17 Thunder multirole combat aircraft, jointly developed by Pakistan and China.

The air drills, also known as Xiongying (or Eagle), is the ninth in the series of joint air exercises, conducted each year in both countries on an alternate basis.

Bolstering military-to-military engagements

Experts say the skills attained during these exercises will help bolster practical military cooperation in the future between Pakistan and China – long-time allies and strategic partners. The drills are being held a week after Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe visited Pakistan and signed a new defence accord to further deepen military cooperation. The visit of Chinese defence minister and the exercise are considered significant developments in the region.

Strategic partnership

Pakistan enjoys well-developed defence, economic and strategic cooperation with China since the 1950s. Defence collaboration forms the backbone of Pakistan-China relationship with frequent high-level military exchanges, joint exercises, training of personnel, joint defence production and defence trade. The two neighbours also enjoy an extensive range of cooperation including defence partnerships, joint ventures, particularly the production of aircraft, submarines, tanks and other military equipment.

The multi-billion dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – comprising of energy, transport infrastructure and industrial cooperation projects has further cemented the strong strategic partnership.