"Even before the IAF and the political class can blink an eye Pak may well field a 5th Generation Stealth fighter in its hangers" IDN

According to the Pakistan Ministry of Defence Production’s (MoDP) yearbook for 2017-2018, the Aviation Research, Innovation and Development (AvRID) Secretariat completed the first of four “conceptual design phase” cycles for the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) program.

The MoDP yearbook states:

“First cycle of conceptual design phase has been completed. The first configuration that was designed based on the challenging performance requirements of PAF will go through three more cycles within the conceptual design using higher fidelity analysis tools and codes.”

The FGFA is the centrepiece of Project Azm, the PAF’s vision for developing a turnkey aviation industrial base within Pakistan to support the country’s defence as well as civilian and commercial aviation needs.

The PAF formally initiated Project Azm in July 2017 with the objective of developing an FGFA, a medium-altitude and long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), new munitions, and other projects.

When it announced Project Azm, the then Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Sohail Aman, had stated that the design work of the MALE UAV was in its “final stages.” The 2017-2018 MoDP yearbook stated that the scheduled deadline for the MALE UAV’s maiden flight was June 2019.

Since the MoDP yearbooks cover issues completed over 12-18 months prior to publication, it would mean that the MALE UAV either flew or was delayed, and that the FGFA is well into its subsequent design work.

In terms of the FGFA, in a recent interview with the PAF Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, stated that he does not expect the FGFA to become operational for “another decade.”

The CAS had also revealed the current Air Staff Requirements (ASR) of the FGFA, i.e., a “twin-engine single-seater, boasting the likes of super-cruise and laser weapons (directed energy weapons).” Thus, the FGFA is not only a clean-sheet design, but currently slated as a medium-to-heavyweight, high-performance jet.

This design configuration indicates that the PAF intends to produce a platform capable of heavier payloads and range than the JF-17. In other words, a platform optimised for offensive counter-air (OCA), maritime, and deep-strike platforms, i.e., a direct successor of both the F-16A/B Block-15s and the Mirage III/5.

Pakistan Likely To Work With China On A Stealth Fighter

In his statements former PAF Chief, ACM Sohail Aman, had said that “Pakistan is engaged with Chinese experts in manufacturing the next generation aircraft.”

This is the most realistic scenario because — besides the fact that China is Pakistan’s top defence partner — but because China is the most accessible turnkey industrial power available to Pakistan. One can argue that besides the US, France, Russia, and China, there are no countries that can contribute to any part of a next-generation fighter. But for Pakistan, the US, France, and Russia are non-factors in this respect.

Recently, the New York Times reported that a proposal was made to form “a special economic zone (SEZ) [in Pakistan]…to produce a new generation of fighter jets.” This SEZ would produce critical subsystems, such as “navigation systems, radar systems and on-board weapons.”

Based on the two aspects (e.g., the PAF stating that its next-generation fighter is ‘indigenous’ and the fact that Pakistan will likely need China), one might be hard-pressed to find alignment. However, it is certainly there, albeit with caveats – i.e., Pakistan will not be independent from all foreign partners…