New Delhi: With its adversary India inducting Rafales that can carry nuclear weapons, Pakistan is reportedly equipping its JF-17 fighter jets with nuclear-capable Ra’ad-I missile.

First tested in 2007, the Ra’ad is Pakistan’s only nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). In 2017, the U.S. Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Centre (NASIC) reported that the missile was “conventional or nuclear”, also known as ‘dual-capable system’.

Analysing the images of a JF-17 Thunder Block-II from rehearsals for the 2023 Pakistan Day Parade, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) said that the fighter has been equipped with Ra’ad-I nuclear missile. “Notably, this was the first time such a configuration had been observed in public,” the FAS said in its report.

To ascertain whether it was the original version or the extended range Ra’ad-II, the American think tank carried out comparisons by going through both versions of the missile displayed in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022, and 2024 Pakistan Day Parades.

Both versions featured a new engine air intake. But while Ra’ad-II was “presented as having nearly double the range capability, this was not clearly observable through external features,” the report states.

The version of the Ra’ad-II was displayed at the 2022 Pakistan Day Parade. This, according to the think tank, has an ‘x-shaped’ tail fin configuration, whereas the previous versions of the missile had the ‘twin-tail’ configurations.

This year’s Pakistan Day Parade showcased two distinct versions of the Ra’ad with their respective tail fin arrangements, the report states.

The fin arrangements of the photographed missile on the JF-17 appear to more closely match the ‘twin-tail’ configuration of the Ra’ad-I, rather than the newer ‘x-shaped’ tail of the Ra’ad-II, it reported.

“While it is possible that the missile could be an old Ra’ad-II, given that the 2017 version also had a ‘twin-tail’ configuration, that version of the Ra’ad-II appears to be outdated and is therefore unlikely to be utilised in a flight test,” the think tank suggests.

Developed by the China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corp, the JF-17s are tipped to take over from the air force’s ageing Mirage-III and V aircraft. Pakistan had procured over 130 operational JF-17s, the report says.

India might be shifting its nuclear policy. Traditionally, India’s nuclear warheads were stored separately from their launchers during peacetime. However, recent moves, like storing missiles in canisters and using nuclear submarines, suggest a move towards keeping warheads and launchers together even in peacetime.

(With Inputs From International Agencies)