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Pakistan’s Air Force (PAF) recently released a video highlighting its modernization efforts under Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu. The video included a glimpse of the Chinese FC-31, a fifth-generation fighter jet, confirming Pakistan’s plans for acquisition.

Reports suggest Pakistan’s ambitions go beyond mere purchase. The plan, some sources claim, involves joint production of the FC-31 within Pakistan with Chinese support before the 2030s. This could potentially utilize the existing PAC facility currently manufacturing JF-17 fighters for the PAF.

The FC-31 is intended to replace Pakistan’s aging fleet of American F-16 A/B MLU-15 fighters, numbering around 60 aircraft. The exact number of FC-31s Pakistan aims to procure remains undisclosed, but estimates suggest an order of 100 units. The new jets would likely be produced at the aforementioned PAC facility.

Sidhu’s leadership has already seen the addition of 25 Chinese J-10CE fighters, a move aimed at countering India’s acquisition of 36 Dassault Rafale jets. However, these procurements have faced allegations of corruption and a lack of transparency.

The PAF’s vision extends beyond the next decade. Their ultimate goal is a complete transition to a fifth-generation fighter jet fleet by 2050. This raises questions about the future of the relatively new and capable JF-17 jets.

The PAF’s modernization drive encompasses the retirement of several aircraft. This includes over 100 aging Mirage-III/V fighters, which have served for more than five decades, and the F-7P jets, essentially Chinese copies of the MiG-21, still in use by the PAF.

In total, the PAF aims to replace or retire roughly 200 aircraft within the next ten years, with J-10CEs and FC-31s filling the gap.

While the PAF’s modernization plans are ambitious, some uncertainties remain. The exact details of the FC-31 joint production agreement and the fate of the JF-17 program require clarification. The allegations surrounding the J-10CE procurement also cast a shadow on these efforts.