ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's military paraded its wares for the second year running to commemorate Pakistan Day, during which the Chinese CAIC Z-10 helicopter gunship and the Shaheen III ballistic missile were notable participants.
The day marks the occasion both of the Lahore Resolution in 1940 that called for the formation of Pakistan, and the declaration of a republic in 1956.
Commenting on the parade, analyst, author and former Australian defense attache to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, said there were "no equipment surprises, but the main thing about the parade is that it took place at all, which is a positive indicator concerning the never-ending fight against terrorism."
The parade had generally been an annual event, but the deterioration in the security situation led to a seven-year break from 2007 until last year. It has also been notable in the past for the public debut of new equipment.
The JF-17 Thunder made its debut in 2007, and last year the FM-90 SAM system was displayed for the first time. The Z-10 and Shaheen (Falcon) III made their debuts this year.
The Z-10 has been in the country undergoing an operational evaluation since last year. Official details of this have not been revealed, but what unofficial information is available indicates the army is impressed with the machine.
Pakistan has a requirement to replace the AH-1F Cobra helicopter gunship currently operated by the 31st, 33rd, and 35th Army Aviation Combat Squadrons, and is awaiting delivery of the AH-1Z, but is also pursuing up to 20 MI-35 Hind gunships from Russia.
The Hind appears to have been acquired to fulfill the requirement for an armed and armored helicopter also capable of carrying troops.
It was announced today that the Z-10 was in service with the 35th "Mustangs" Squadron of the Army Aviation Corps, which would paradoxically see Pakistan operating three types of helicopter gunships.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence Production, which also handles procurement, declined to provide confirmation of the purchase of the Z-10 and how many were to be obtained.
In spite of the other gunship purchases, Cloughley believes there is still room for the Z-10.
"It seems that Pakistan has firmed on 15 AH-1Zs and will probably get 20 Hinds. So there is certainly room for the Z-10, which does seem to be in squadron service," he said. "It's much cheaper than the [AH-1Z] Viper, of course, and the Hind, though cost-effective, is a big machine."
Though it would seem dated over today's battlefield, members of the Army Aviation Corps have acknowledged it is the best counterinsurgency gunship available. Cloughley says the Hind also has one other clear advantage.
"The main thing with the Hind is economy in maintenance — it's probably the best in the world from that aspect for its type," he said.
Nevertheless, he believes the Z-10 will be the mainstay of Pakistan's gunship capability. "My assessment is that the Z-10 will be acquired in larger numbers."
There has been speculation regarding the presence of the Chinese Harbin WZ-19 armed scout in Pakistan, but the spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence Production also declined to comment on this.
Cloughley says the presence of the medium range Shaheen III amounts to some predictable signaling that was aimed squarely at India, Pakistan's main security threat.
The solid-fueled, multi-stage Shaheen III was tested for the first time in March 2015 and is Pakistan's longest range missile with a stated delivery limit of 2,750 kilometers, though this is believed by many analysts to be an understatement.
Nevertheless, the range allows it to cover all parts of Indian territory with a worthwhile payload, even the Indian strategic military facilities in the Andaman and Nicobar island chain in the Bay of Bengal/Andaman Sea.
Mansoor Ahmed, a Stanton nuclear security junior faculty fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center and expert on Pakistan's nuclear deterrent and delivery systems, said that "the Shaheen III is in service, but more user trials or batch/training tests might take place as is the usual practice with other similar missile systems."
Usman Ansari is the Pakistan correspondent for Defense News.