ISLAMABAD - China for the first time officially offered Pakistan a variant of its most advanced frontline fighter, the Chengdu J-10 Vigorous Dragon/F-10 Vanguard.
Citing defense sources, the offer was reported in the Urdu press here over the weekend. The offer was made during the recent visit to China by Lt. Gen. Waheed Arshad, the Pakistani Army chief of General Staff.
Official Pakistani interest in the fighter dates back to February 2006, when then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf toured the J-10 production facilities on a trip to China. Pakistani government approval for the purchase of 36 FC-20s, a Pakistani-specific variant, was given in April 2006. Service entry was slated for the middle of the decade.
Precise details of the deal are not yet known. However, Usman Shabbir of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank, said "the initial deal will be for at least two squadrons [at least 32 aircraft] and will be financed by China via a soft, long-term loan."
Analyst Kaiser Tufail said the J-10's operational autonomy would be far greater than that provided by the U.S.-built F-16C.
"It has to be remembered that India refused to consider the F-16C/D and F-18E/F, as they wanted a freer hand in operability aspects as well as technology transfer, which the U.S. was unwilling to provide," Tufail said.
With the J-10, Pakistan would "be able to operate it in an environment not constrained by security restrictions," and could base the aircraft wherever desired, Tufail said. He also said the lack of technology-transfer restrictions from the original equipment manufacturer is a factor.
"The J-10 will provide F-16-class capabilities for Pakistan but without the cost and political encumbrances of U.S.-sourced aircraft," Carlo Kopp of the Air Power Australia think tank said.
"What a J-10 would provide is quantity over any U.S.- or EU-sourced product," Kopp said, though he is still uncertain whether China will supply "pre-loved J-10A…or new-build J-10A or J-10B airframes."
Shabbir said the broader Sino-Pakistani combat aircraft relationship has eroded Western influence over Pakistan, though he remains concerned about the implications Pakistan's fragile economy has for its defense capabilities.
"The availability of J-10 and JF-17 from the Chinese means that Pakistan is now not that reliant on the U.S. and Europe for its aircraft requirements, and this of course will erode U.S influence over Pakistan in the long term," he said.
The Pakistani Air Force is the largest operator of U.S supplied weapons in South Asia and therefore most vulnerable to sanctions.