Despite its potent display of combat capability during the Balakot standoff, the PAF requires additional platforms to balance against a much larger Indian Air Force.


Amidst sustained tensions between the two nuclear armed South Asian neighbors, the Indian Air Force is scheduled to receive the first batch of four state-of-the-art Rafale fighter jets by the end of July 2020. The 7.87 billion euro Rafale deal between France and New Delhi for a total order of 36 jets was finally inked in September 2016, after much controversy and delay. According to the delivery schedule, the Indian Air Force shall receive all jets by May 2022. Armed with Meteor missiles and a highly sophisticated electronic warfare suite, New Delhi’s Rafale acquisition threatens to tilt the balance of power in South Asia in the IAF’s favor.


The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has been following the Indian Air Force’s modernization program with keen interest, but budget constraints mean that Islamabad’s chances of acquiring a fighter jet of similar capability are slim. Instead, Pakistan seems to be focusing on the latest variant of its indigenous JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter.


In the event of an all-out conventional war, the PAF’s limited frontline air assets are at risk of getting overstretched. More worryingly for Islamabad, the Indian Navy operates a sizeable independent air arm, which can be utilized in a conflict scenario to target Pakistan’s coastal industrial hub of Karachi. The much smaller Pakistan Navy does not operate fighter jets, instead relying on the PAF for aerial maritime strike operations.


In addition to their low maintenance and impressive safety record, the Spey engine’s utility lies in the fact that it is designed specifically for sustained low altitude flight below the radar horizon of enemy naval vessels. Despite significant advances in jet engine development since the Cold War, the majority of engines today are designed for mid-to-high altitude flight. Flying at low altitude to avoid radar detection for longer periods thus decreases much of the engines’ range.


The JH-7 also complements the Pakistan Navy’s combat doctrine, which is based on the anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) blueprint. The PN’s three Khalid-class submarines form the linchpin of their A2/AD strategy, with the wartime obxtive of preventing an attempted blockade of the vital Karachi port by the Indian Navy. Acquisition of the JH -7 by Pakistan would provide Islamabad with lethal capability to considerably limit the maneuvering capacity of the Indian Navy in the proximity of Karachi port.


Also, the JH-7, with its longer combat range, heavy payload capacity, and ability to fly under enemy radar cover provides Islamabad with an offensive capacity targeted at India’s protracted western coastline. Hence, acquisition of the JH-7 by Pakistan serves both defensive and offensive purposes. The improved JH-7A variant currently in service with the PLA Air Force is capable to carry over seven tonnes of armament, including four KD-88/YJ-83 anti-ship missiles.


The capability to carry long range anti-ship missiles, which can be launched more than 100 miles away from their targets, means that the JH-7 is able to utilize an asymmetric “hit and run” strategy before enemy air defenses can effectively engage with it. This doctrine was perhaps most aptly demonstrated by the Argentine Air Force during the 1982 Falklands War, as French Super Etendard strike aircraft armed with Exocet missiles sank two British warships.


One alternative to the JH-7 for Pakistan is its existing arsenal of cruise missiles, but this option has its own pitfalls. First, cruise missiles follow a predictable trajectory and are vulnerable to interception by India’s air defense network and fighter aircraft such as the Sukhoi 30 MKI. Second, the use of cruise missiles, even in an all-out conflict, presents a significant leap in terms of escalation. As such, a cruise missile attack by either New Delhi or Islamabad can lead to an eventual nuclear exchange.


Having extensive prior experience in operating and maintaining Chinese-built aircraft such as the H-5, J-6, and F-7, acquisition of the JH-7 by Pakistan and its effective combat use for the heavy strike role presents an ideal “stop-gap” solution for the PAF until sufficient numbers of the JF-17 Block 3 are inducted. The Chinese also appear eager to sell much of their JH-7 fleet, showcasing the fighter bomber for sale at air shows such as the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition. As prospects of inducting foreign jets from Western countries appear bleak, the JH-7 appears to be the PAF’s only viable option to assert itself in a volatile region.

巴基斯坦空軍對中國飛機(如H-5, J-6, 和F-7)有著豐富的操作和維護經驗,在引入足夠數量的JF-17 Block 3之前,獲得JH-7并有效利用其重型打擊作用,對巴基斯坦而言是一種理想的“權宜之計”的解決方案。中國似乎也急于出售大部分JH-7機隊,在中國國際航空航天博覽會等航空展上展示這種待售的戰斗機轟炸機。由于引進西方國家飛機的前景黯淡,JH-7似乎是巴基斯坦空軍在這個動蕩地區鞏固自身唯一可行的選擇。