S Rahman - IT was Mian Nawaz Sharif who took the final decision, like a seasoned statesman and a visionary to take his country out of depression and weakness vis-a-vis a cunning and powerful adversary, by test-firing the atomic weapon at Chaghi in1998. Of course, the final decision was that of the chief executive, Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif although it is a known fact that the input and suggestions from the armed forces were quite encouraging and supportive leading to a prompt, positive decision by the government of the day. If one were to describe those optimum conditions prevailing in the entire framework of the state, it can be stated with authenticity that all the national institutions stood on one page and that it was an era of grand national reconciliation. The chief executive of the state must be credited for this big accomplishment.

And now it is the same Mian Nawaz Sharif who has once again reassured the nation and the armed forces in categorical terms that his government would fulfil all the needs of the armed services in order to make them yet stronger and more capable of defending the homeland with yet greater capacity and technological sophistication.

This recent announcement by PM Sharif has boosted the morale of Pakistani masses as well as of the forces which already stand considerably strengthened and encouraged with the commissioning of the 50th Block-I JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft that can be aptly called the ‘zenith of pride’ of Pak-China friendship. On 18 December last, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) formally handed over the 50th indigenously produced aircraft to Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in a ceremony at Kamra that was graced by the Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif. The event also marked the launch of production work for Block-II JF-17 aircraft.

Those who have been watching the PM’s functioning minutely believe that the PM has not only given this statement for the sake of a statement. He rather means it and he also has the vision to transform this China-supported endeavour into a profitable business venture earning millions of dollars in foreign exchange to expand the country’s dwindling forex reserves in addition to turning the country into an impregnable bulwark against foreign aggression. The JF-17 co-production venture was rather approved during Mian Nawaz Sharif’s earlier tenure during the year 1992 and it was one of the top priorities of Sharif government at that time, to attain the targets of indigenisation and industrialisation with equal focus on defence production.

The Prime Minister already evinces keen interest in defence projects and wants to make the country less dependent on external forces other than time-tested friends like China whose collaboration in many ventures is a matter of pride for Pakistan. Even in the JF-17 co-production, China has acted like a genuinely well-wishing friend of Pakistan that sincerely wants to see Pakistani engineers and pilots attain the high state of self-reliance.

Informatively, with the signing of serial production contract, 42 JF-17 SP aircraft and related avionics are now being co-produced at PAC Kamra and finally 58pc of manufacturing share of the whole aircraft will be achieved in Pakistan. This would not only help in saving valuable foreign exchange and strengthen the indigenous aviation industry but also rank Pakistan in the selected group of few countries that have fighter aircraft manufacturing capability. It is indeed an act of graciousness on the part of China. Now Pakistan’s aeronautical industry has entered into one of the most advanced stages of technological sophistication especially in the avionics field. According to the senior functionaries allied with this co-production, under Chinese engineers’ guidance, Pakistani experts’ specialisation in avionics has crossed the 50pc mark.

The encouraging news in this area is that JF-17 aircraft has been equipped with state-of-the-art avionics package to provide all-weather navigation and attack capability. The avionics form an efficient man-machine interface thus reducing the pilots’ workload and improving his situational awareness in the cockpit. The Integrated Avionics Suite of JF-17 aircraft will provide a high degree of survivability through automated system of threat detection, analysis and counter threat measures. The avionics also enables effective management of weapons and firepower.

The credit also goes to a great extent to the able PAF leadership that has been working on this project for more than a decade quite passionately. With swift moves to different foreign capitals particularly those where aviation industry is at its peak, the PAF seniors have been collecting high-standard specifications that contributed substantially to the making of a light-weight and affordable combat aircraft that would fulfil the operational requirements of PAF vis-à-vis its adversary and that could also be afforded in large numbers. The JF-17 is an all-weather, multi-role aircraft. Remarkably short take-off and landing distances give JF-17 aircraft, the flexibility to operate from remote, shorter and damaged airfields. This aircraft will be able to engage targets at all speeds and altitudes within the conventional flying envelope. ln the surface attack and interdiction role, the aircraft will be capable of striking at long distances. Among the existing PAF aircraft, this performance is matched only by the F-16s.

As a matter of fact, JF-17 stands prominent amongst its own class of fighters but with its long range radar and active BVR missile, the aircraft will have the first shot capability even against the larger hi-tech fighters. And by virtue of its significant ability to reach the target safely and deliver the weapons precisely, its lethality is comparable with any other aircraft.

The aircraft has also attracted customers from abroad following its participation in six Air shows in different parts of the world including the Farnborough Air show. Now export orders are expected in the near future. In this connection, Prime Minister Sharif has signed an MoU with China on the co-production of Block-II of additional 50 JF-17 aircraft that also includes the joint sales and marketing agreement with China Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC).