The air forces of China and Pakistan are currently engaged in a joint military exercise in Chinese city of Holton, close to the Indian border near Ladakh. Labelled Shaheen VIII, this is the eighth such exercise undertaken by India's two neighbours. It comes at a time when the country's relations with Pakistan have hit rock-bottom. The air to air war games is said to be an exercise to develop a mechanism for interoperability of both countries' air forces.
The exercise touted as the means to enhance close relations between the all-weather allies, however, has drawn a sharp reaction from India, with the Indian Air Force claiming it will watch all developments closely. The reason that this year's exercise has put India on its guard is its proximity to the Leh region. The location is reportedly around 300 kilometres north of Leh city, India Today reported.
Moreover, Pakistani JF-17 planes, which are participating in this year's drill, have passed through the Skardu airbase in Gilgit Baltistan, a semi-provincial area occupied by Pakistan, which India claims is a part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and is an integral part of the country. The Pakistanis have used the base after a long time to join the Chinese Air Force which has built several bases in the northern region with India.
Pakistan is one of the biggest recipients of the Chinese military, which includes missile technology, fighter planes and warships. During the recent post-Balakot conflict also, the Pakistan Air Force had relied heavily on Chinese military equipment including fighters.
After the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, both China and Pakistan have expressed concerns over the decision. While China has issues over Ladakh being declared as a Union Territory, Pakistan has been making a hue and cry over the changes made in Kashmir.
Islamabad is participating with its JF-17 fighter aircraft while China is taking part with their J-10 and J-11 fighters.
The JF-17, a single-engined light jet aircraft, is the byproduct of long-standing military aid by China to cash-starved Pakistan. China and Pakistan had begun joint development and manufacture of the single-engine light JF-17 jets, which were overhauled quite recently for replacement of old components, including the airframe and engine. JF-17 has become a mainstay of the PAF in recent years after US restricted sales of F-16 warplanes after the 1990 arms embargo imposed on Pakistan under the Pressler amendment. It is reported to have over 100 JF-17 planes with more in the pipeline.
On the other hand, the Chinese J-10 and J-11 form the modern backbone PLAAF fighter fleet. Entering service in 2003, the former is China's first indigenous modern fighter design and it is now in its latest J-10C configuration that adds an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and the ability to carry PL-10 and PL-15 air-to-air missiles. However, the single-engine J-10 multirole fighter family is still powered by imported AL-31FN engines. Chengdu Aircraft Corporation demonstrated the manoeuvrability of a J-10B with thrust vectoring control (TVC) at last November's Zhuhai Air Show. It employed a locally made WS10B3 engine with moveable nozzle petals, and it can be expected that it will be only a matter of time before TVC finds its way onto PLAAF fighters.
The J-11 is copied from the Russian Su-27 air superiority fighter (of which China purchased some Su-27SK/UBK types in the early 1990s), while the carrier-borne J-15 is a blatant copy of the Su-33. The updated J-11B entered service in around 2007, and it offers the PLAAF a ground-attack capacity. The updated J-11B entered service in around 2007, and it offers the PLAAF a ground-attack capacity.
While further details of the equipment used and whether battle training was also part of exercise is not yet clear, but last year, the joint training between the air forces of all-weather friends included contingents comprising combat pilots, air defence controllers, and technical ground crew along with fighter jets, bombers and early warning AWACS planes, according to a report in Pakistan's Geo TV. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) have held regular drills since March 2011.
With inputs from PTI
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