Pakistan’s military confirmed Wednesday it is acquiring multirole J-10 fighter jets from China in response to a buildup of rival India’s air force.
“This is a step to upgrade our air force fleet and get the best possible technology available because we know what kind of technology is being acquired on the other [Indian] side,” Army spokesman Major-Gen Babar Iftikhar told a news conference.
The J-10 is a single-engine fighter jet that reportedly has been in use by China’s People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) since 2005.
Iftikhar spoke just days after Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad disclosed the purchase of the Chinese jets at a public event, saying they will serve as a counterweight to India’s deployment of French Dassault Rafale aircraft.
India’s contract to purchase 36 of the French fighters was first announced in 2015. India's Minister of State for Defense Ajay Bhatt told reporters in late July that 26 of the aircraft had been delivered, with the remainder expected by the end of 2021.
“Our adversary is continuously procuring latest equipment on one pretext and the other. Any conventional imbalance in this region is very dangerous,” Iftikhar warned. “That is something that is going to lead us into a race for procuring more equipment.”
The army spokesman declined to say how many of the aircraft are being bought.
Last week, Ahmed told reporters a full squadron of 25 Chinese J-10 planes will take part in the Pakistan Day military parade on March 23. The interior minister said the flyby ceremony of J-10 jets “is going to be performed by the Pakistan Air Force in response to Rafale.”
Pakistan and India have fought three wars, two over the disputed Kashmir territory, since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.
China has officially not commented on the sale of the jets to Pakistan.
Recent Israeli media reports said J-10 jets are believed to be based on technology developed by Israel Aircraft Industries in the 1980s before it halted the project a few years later because of mounting costs.
U.S.-made F-16 fighter planes form a crucial part of Pakistan’s Air Force fleet and are considered a counterweight to the Rafale jets India has purchased from France.
But analysts say Islamabad’s often strained ties with Washington in recent years have prompted the South Asian nation to increasingly rely on close ally China to augment Pakistan’s defenses.
Iftikhar said Wednesday that negotiations were also under way with China to procure new Z-10 attack helicopters. “Hopefully we will be getting some gunships from there,” he said.
The general confirmed that Pakistan was exploring other options instead of buying 30 T-129 combat helicopters from Turkey under a contract the two countries signed in 2018. “As far as the Turkish deal is concerned, we have moved on,” Iftikhar said when asked whether the contract was still intact.
T-129 helicopter gunships are powered by a U.S.-made engine and the U.S. refusal to grant Turkey export licenses for engines led to the cancellation of the reported $1.5 billion deal.
The Pakistani air force fleet also contains single-engine JF-17 fighter jets jointly produced by Pakistan and China.
Editor's note: Paragraph 15 of this story has been updated to include clarification from the army spokesperson.