ISLAMABAD — Pakistan is considering purchase of the South Korean KAI T-50 Lead In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) to revamp its Air Force training program, although some viable alternatives remain.
Interest in the T-50 comes amid moves to improve explore greater Pakistani-South Korean defense industry collaboration, possibly including a new shipyard in the Pakistani port of Gwadar.
On This resulted in a March 26, a joint memorandum to ensure mutual standards of quality was and standards signed by South Korea's Defence Agency for Technology & Quality and Pakistan's Ministry of Defence Production.
At the time, Pakistan's Secretary for Defence Production Lt. Gen. Tanvir Tahir said, tated, "Pakistan is examining the [T-50] and assessing our needs and requirements accordingly."
Author, analyst and former Australian defense attache to Islamabad Brian Cloughley said the South Koreans also may there may also be some help to improve Pakistan Ordnance Factory's ammunition production capacity, "but it is difficult to estimate what other matters may be under consideration."
Author, analyst and former Australian defense attache to Islamabad Brian Cloughley said, However, "It is apparent that the Koreans are serious about further collaboration, they are not going to waste their time on a meaningless visit but they can be expected to examine options very carefully." he added.
Usman Shabbir of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank said believes this is linked to a potential need for new training aircraft could be needed once the current Chengdu F-7 variants are retired and possible acquisition of stealth aircraft possibly acquired.
Currently, trainees transition from the subsonic intermediate K-8P jet to the superbisonic FT-7P, which "seems to be sufficient for now," he said, adding that though he also said the K-8P presently appears to be performing satisfactorily in the LIFT role.
Though it has lower performance, the K-8P replaced the FT-5, a Chinese two-seat variant of the MiG-17, in the fighter conversion role in 2012.
If a higher performance type is required, therefore the T-50 fits the bill, but Shabbir said financial restrictions may dictate selection of a more affordable Chinese option. The Hongdu JL-10/L-15 has previously been examined by the Pakistan Air Force PAF and could therefore be a more realistic option.
However, Douglas Barrie of the International Institute for Strategic Studies highlights the potential benefits of operating a twin-seat JF-17, currently under development in China. ), and sets out a number of options for a training program.
"As far as LIFT goes, a training pipeline using the K-8 as the intermediate jet trainer and then pilots doing advanced jet training with a two-seat JF-17 would be one option. An alternative would be to use an L-15-class aircraft as an advanced jet trainer with pilots only doing type conversion on front-line squadrons to the JF-17, although again this could be done using a two-seat version. Using a two-seat JF-17 for advanced jet training would avoid introducing another aircraft type into inventory."
Justin Bronk at the Royal United Services Institute is also unconvinced of the need for a supersonic LIFT and said the "K-8's suitability for continued use will depend on fleet fatigue, life remaining and avionics fit, rather than performance characteristics per se."
He said also highlights that a dedicated supersonic LIFT would cost as much to operate as an F-16, and that said a twin-seat JF-17 would be preferable.
"A twin-seat JF-17 would certainly make it easier for new pilots to transition to the type straight from a K-8/Yak-130-class trainer. Being only slightly more expensive to operate than a T-50, its introduction to service would probably kill much of the rationale for a Pakistani purchase of the latter," he said.
Even possible acquisition of the Shenyang J-31/F-60 may not justify a supersonic LIFT.
"I would regard potential acquisition of the FC-31 for Pakistan as far enough away in terms of any meaningful operational capability that I'd disregard it as a significant factor in evaluating current requirements for advanced jet trainers in the PAF," he said.
"Furthermore, since the primary difference with the FC-31 will be low-observability and, presumably, sensor fusion rather than flight performance/handling difficulties ... the choice of previous trainer type will probably make little difference for initial pilot flying conversion training compared to legacy types."
Still, a new type may still be required, said however, as analyst, author, and former air commodore Kaiser Tufail, who added that said use of T-37 and K-8P jets for basic and advanced training is undesirable.
"Use of turbojets/turbofans for basic training is contrary to the current trend, where turboprops have virtually taken over this role. Turboprops do not lack in performance in the training regime compared to turbojets/turbofans, and are much cheaper to operate all the same," he said.
Adding, "Looking at this trend, the PAF would do well to start looking at turboprop trainer options to replace the T-37s, just as the Turkish Air Force (TAF) is doing by developing the Hurkus as a T-37 replacement."
The Turkish Aerospace Industries Hurkus is being promoted to Pakistan, but is not yet in Turkish service and therefore has limited currently limiting its attraction for Pakistan. Turkish deliveries are expected beginning in from 2018.
onwards, but this delivery timetable is believed to be
In addition to heavy promotion by TAI, Tufail says the strong bilateral relationship and that between the two nation's air forces, makes it highly likely Pakistan will consider the Hurkus favorably however.
Should plans to acquire new training aircraft bear fruition, Tufail says the Super Mushak primary trainer and K-8P will still comprise the bulk of those in service.
"I might be way off the mark in my estimation, but I reckon, 40 Hurkuş might be sufficient (notwithstanding the number of K-8s we might have, which must remain dedicated to Advanced Jet Flying/Fighter Conversion)", he said.
Adding, "If the LIFT comes around, 40 of those might be just right. The figure of 40 takes into account two squadrons of 16 aircraft each, with the remainder undergoing various stages of second and third line maintenance."