Pakistan’s air force hedges its bets

JF-17 23 march 2007.jpg

It has been an important few days for Pakistan’s air force, which has just confirmed upgrades to its US-made Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs and started the domestic production of the JF-17 fighter (above) that it co-developed with China (see video below of the aircraft flying in 2007).

Islamabad was one of the USA’s closest allies during the cold war, but Washington imposed military sanctions after Pakistan exploded a nuclear device in the 1990s. A shortage of spares for its then mainly US air force fleet pushed it towards the Chinese, from whom it has since bought hundreds of military aircraft.

After September 11 2001, however, the dynamics changed. Islamabad became an important ally in the USA’s fight against Islamic insurgents in Afghanistan and its border with Pakistan, and that led to a resumption of military ties.

Washington agreed to sell new F-16C/Ds to Pakistan and is helping it to upgrade its older aircraft. Pakistan, however, has continued with its good relations with Beijing. Its money helps China to reduce the cost of its military programmes, and its companies gain the technological knowledge that will help them in the future.

Islamabad is hedging its bets and diversifying its weapons sources. It is keeping China and the USA on its side in an increasingly multi-polar world. By modernising its air force, it ensures that India will continue to fret about its capabilities.

These are interesting times for Pakistan and its air force.

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