THE atmosphere was charged, the onlookers held their breath and suddenly the silence was shattered by a crescendo of “Allah-o-Akbar” as the first JF-17 Thunder produced in Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra rolled out, marking a historical moment of Pakistan joining the august club of nations, which are capable of designing and producing their own fighter aircraft.
The scene was reminiscent of May 28, 1998, when the first nuclear tests were carried out; marking Pakistan’s crossing the nuclear threshold, after being goaded into it by a belligerent and saber rattling hostile neighbour India, which had executed its own nuclear tests only two weeks earlier. It was so certain that Pakistan did not have the technology to match that it was cackling a hen that has perhaps laid an asteroid and was threatening Pakistan of dire consequences. Once Pakistan unleashed its fury as the Chaghai Hills turned white with the power, energy and force released with Pakistan’s tests, India had to eat a humble pie. Pakistan was sanctioned and its defence procurements embargoed but its resolve to defend itself against a hostile, many times more powerful and armed to the teeth neighbour did not weaken. International sanctions affected Pakistan and not India because Pakistan was totally dependent on western sources for its defence needs. Indian planners had made long term strategic alliances with the Soviet Union and later its successor Russia so any amount of sanctions did not affect it one iota.
The adverse circumstances affected Pakistan’s defence capabilities in general and Pakistan Air Force’s fighting capacity in particular because the air force is a technology specific force where obsolescence sets in rapidly and its has to keep abreast of the latest developments and the state-of-the-art technology. Adversity breeds courage and the defence planners of Pakistan accepted the challenge and pressed forward with plans of indigenous production. Pakistan Army went on to produce Main Battle Tanks, Guns and ammunition, while the Navy opted for destroyers, frigates, submarines and gun boats. The case for Pakistan Air Force was tricky since designing and producing an aircraft from a scratch is highly complex and the sanctions made it doubly difficult. Our time tested friends the Chinese came to our rescue and Pakistan opted for a joint venture. Having learnt lessons from India’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas disastrous experience, which is fifteen years behind schedule and has consumed billions of dollars and the Euro Fighter, which despite being based on western hi-tech industrial base, took 21 years to develop. Pakistan opted for a less ambitious, cost effective but hard hitting fighter aircraft, which would be achievable within the resources yet, have the necessary bite. Pakistani engineers and technicians were put to the test along with their Chinese mentors.
The result of the sweat, blood and toil was visible in the first prototype being launched in 2003, a record three years within the launch of the project. The teething glitches were addressed to and the skies of Islamabad reverberated for the first time with the roar of JF-17 Thunder on the auspicious date of 23 March 2007, Pakistan Day Parade Fly Past. The nation was thrilled by the sight of the two JF-17s draped in Pakistan Flag colours, saluting the nation as they dipped low and then climbed high disappearing in the skies, their afterburners glowing in the misty sky.
November 23, 2009 culminates in the beginning of a new era, where the first JF-17 produced in Pakistan was inducted in the PAF’s inventory. The first JF-17 Thunder squadron will be formulated in 2010. It will gradually replace the A-5s, F-7s and subsequently the Mirages and become the mainstay of Pakistan Air Force. Pakistan will no longer be bullied and sanctioned by western sources and will have the option to upgrade the current JF-17 platform and design and produce even more advanced in future generations, with the invaluable experience gained. Any reference to JF-17 would be incomplete without a mention of the Aviation Industries of China, especially M/s CATIC – the company that co-developed the aircraft and the astute and reliable Government of the Peoples’ Republic of China, for their vision and whole-hearted support both technically as well as financially for the project.
Successive PAF leadership of PAF and Pakistan must be credited for having the vision to plan and execute the project and continue when each baton pf command changed.
The nation deserves praise for its sacrifice and tenacity to surmount each difficulty. In these tumultuous moments of trial and tribulation, the JF-17 is a morale booster for the nation as it has brought cheer and pride for the achievements of its engineers, technicians and aircrew. Pakistan Zindabad. JF-17 Thunder a morale booster Sultan M Hali Comment