Pakistan will receive the first of four Shaanxi ZDK-03 airborne early warning and control system aircraft by the end of January 2011.

The other three aircraft are likely to arrive later in the year, says the Pakistan air force.

"The ZDK-03s have been developed to our specifications," says the air force. "It won't be an E-3C Sentry, but it will have the latest electronics and everything an AEW&C aircraft needs."

The Chinese-built aircraft will have an active electronically scanned array radar, and its open architecture electronics will allow for future developments and upgrades.

Pakistan has also received its third of four Erieye radar-equipped Saab 2000s being acquired from Sweden, with the final aircraft likely to arrive in the coming months. The four-engined Chinese aircraft has a greater range than the Saab, say sources.

The ZDK-03 deal underlines the strong military ties between Pakistan and China. The countries have also jointly developed the Chengdu JF-17 Thunder fighter, of which Pakistan is likely to buy 200.

Purchasing AEW&C aircraft from two separate sources is indicative of Pakistan's strategy of not becoming too reliant on any one ally. The USA imposed military sanctions against Islamabad from 1990 until 2005 in response to its testing nuclear weapons.

The air force's current fleet includes Lockheed Martin F-16s, Dassault Mirage III/5s and Chengdu F-7s and JF-17s.

In terms of military transports, Pakistan flies Lockheed C-130s, but also operates Ilyushin Il-76/78 tankers.

Source: Flight International