Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is all set to attain capability of keeping its indigenously developed fighter aircraft “JF 17 (Thunder) airborne for longer haul, said Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafiq Butt. “The ground tests have been very successful and I am satisfied. The air to air refueling test) will be done successfully by end of this summer, Air Chief Marshal Butt said in an interview with Defence Jane’s Weekly. Pakistan had acquired the refueling air tankers Ilyushin II-78 from Ukraine back in 2010 and these are being synchronized with Medium to High Tech multi-role aircraft thus giving it the capability to remain in air for longer durations.

ACM Butt pointed out that the capability would enhance the marketability of the aircraft which at present is being monitored by a number countries due to its cost effectiveness and other valuable abilities.

“The JF-17 program has been an excellent project to pursue, owing to the hard work put in by our engineers, technicians and test pilots,” ACM Butt said. “All this would also not have been possible without the cooperation of China.”

He said JF-17 with an attractive price tag has the capability of carrying a variety of weapons, it is a true multirole aircraft and in time “would become the PAF’s mainstay.”
He said that PAF has plan to induct around 200 t0 250 JF-17 aircraft.

Answering a question regarding the induction of Chinese-built ZDK-03 airborne early warning aircraft – a platform, ACM Butt said it has so far shown that its capabilities work well over sea, plains and mountainous terrain.”

In the meantime, he said PAF has also been maintaining and operating a sizeable fleet of US F-16 aircraft for a considerable time and its air/ground crew are fairly experienced in handling the weapon system.

“The PAF received its last batch of F-16s in the recent past and even now there are US Congressional clearances available for the provision of additional F-16 aircraft. Owing to requirements/compulsions in the future, there exists a possibility of acquisition of additional F-16 aircraft, he said.
To a query regarding purchase of High Tech aircraft, he said options are still open.

ACM Butt said that PAF must prepare for a two-front situation in view of its combat role in Pakistan’s anti- terrorism campaign, which has evolved since the 9/11 attacks on the US, in addition to its historic adversarial role as India’s neighbor.

“Airpower can achieve much more in a short span of time if employed with clear understanding of its capabilities,” he said. “Its inherent flexibility has enabled nation states to successfully deter their conventional adversaries as well as prosecute irregular outfits. We are now faced with a definite two-front scenario: external as well as internal. While we have always prepared for the traditional and ominous external threat, the new predicament did take us a while to get up to speed with, but …we did manage to learn on the job quickly and are very efficiently supporting our ground troops in all their operations against militants/terrorists.”
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