Imran Khan during the induction of the fighter jets on March 11, 2022.

Islamabad: Pakistan Air Force (PAF) formally inducted into service the first batch of six advanced J-10C fighter jets. The induction ceremony marked “major milestone” for PAF as the aircraft will be the most modern and capable fighter in the Pakistani fleet.

The single-engine 4.5 generation combat aircraft arrived in Pakistan from China on March 4 and entered service with the PAF’s No 15 ‘Cobras’ Squadron on March 11 at a ceremony held at PAF base Minhas in Kamra.

Prime Minister Imran Khan along with air force, army and navy chiefs attended the induction ceremony. Khan congratulated the nation on the historic induction of advanced aircraft and thanked China for delivering the jets in shortest time.

The first six of 25 J-10C ‘Vigorous Dragon’ multirole fighter aircraft were delivered in record eight months. Khan said Pakistani nation had full confidence that its armed forces are fully capable of defending the country. “We are confident that if anyone makes an aggressive move against Pakistan, it would be retaliated by the armed forces with full force,” he said. He emphasised on enhancing indigenous defence technology.

Major milestone

Pakistan Air Force Chief Zaheer Ahmed Babar described the new induction as a “significant development.” It is after four decades that PAF is inducting next generation combat system and state of the art technology, he said, recalling the last such momentous occasion was when F-16 jets joined the PAF fleet in 1982. The J-10C Dragon entered service with the PAF’s No 15 Squadron - a glorious unit that earned Pakistan its first aerial kill in 1959 and took part in two wars and operation Swift Retort in 2019. PAF chief said that it was also the unit where he began his journey as a fighter pilot.

The aircraft is configured with most advanced weapons including PL-15 and variety of precision munitions. Image Credit: Supplied

J-10C combat capabilities

Detailing the combat capabilities of the aircraft, Air Marshal Babar said that “J-10C has a fully integrated weapons, avionics and EW suite that makes it a potent combat system.” The aircraft is configured with most advanced weapons including PL-15 and variety of precision munitions.

“The Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, net-centric and sensor fusion capabilities enable it to detect, engage and destroy targets at long range both in air to air and air to surface domains,” that would enhance PAF competencies while ensuring retention of first shot capability, he said. PAF has “never attempted to match numbers nor wish to be in any arms race” and is instead pursuing a developmental strategy with focus on smart induction programme and high quality combat training to maintain highest level of readiness across all domains.

J-10C to help PAF achieve air dominance

Pakistan had long expressed interest in the advanced J-10 to replace its ageing fleet. “The induction of the modern 4.5 generation combat aircraft J-10C offers significant new capabilities to Pakistan Air Force. It is superior to the current fleet of F-16 and JF-17 Thunder fighters and gives Pakistan Air Force outstanding multirole capabilities” defence analyst Shahid Raza told Gulf News.

Prime Minister Imran Khan along with air force, army and navy chiefs who attended the induction ceremony. Image Credit: Supplied

The J-10C is considered Chinese equivalent to the American F-16s but it will be a significant leap for Pakistan, which relies on older F-16s that have not received upgrades. “J-10C features a true swing role capability as it is able to swing between air to air combat, anti-surface and ground attack roles,” Raza said.

The J-10C induction will help Pakistan regain the balance of power in the region, says international aviation analyst Fahad Ibn Masood. “With the induction of J-10C, Pakistan leaps into medium weight category fighter aircraft with increased range, radius of action and lethality with diverse weapon capability such as precision guided munitions and PL-15 air-to-air missile” that can outrange the Meteor missile on Rafale, Masood said talking to Gulf News.

Describing the rationale behind acquiring advanced J-10C along with the locally developed JF-17 Block III fighter jet, Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail, a former PAF pilot, earlier explained to Gulf News that PAF is aiming to complement a large number of low-cost and lightweight fighter JF-17 with a mix of smaller fleet of high-end fighters like J-10C to augment air superiority.

Pakistan-China defence partnership

Pakistan is the first confirmed export customer of the J-10C and its induction builds upon collaboration between two countries that jointly developed JF-17 Thunder light fighter aircraft. The J-10C induction is “a testimony of strong partnership between two brothers Pakistan and China ... committed to ensure peace and stability in the region, ” Pakistan air chief said.