The first images of a new fighter aircraft China is supplying to the Pakistan Air Force surfaced on social media on Tuesday.
Rumours and reports of Pakistan being interested in the J-10, a single-engine fighter, have circulated for at least 15 years, though no deal was announced. However, since December, Pakistani officials have indicated the country would be acquiring the J-10C, an export variant of the J-10 fighter. China officially revealed the J-10 to the world in 2006. Pakistan is the first export customer of the J-10.
On Tuesday, plane spotters and defence analysts shared images of a J-10 fighter bearing the insignia of the Pakistan Air Force and having the PAF's distinctive camouflage pattern. Images showed the aircraft on the tarmac and in flight. US defence website The Drive reported the images appeared to have been taken “at an undisclosed airbase in China, presumed to be the factory facility of the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation, or CAC, in Chengdu, Sichuan province”.
Andreas Rupprecht, an analyst who has extensively covered Chinese military aviation, tweeted the images showed the J-10C was powered by a Chinese turbofan engine, the WS-10B. This is significant as early Chinese J-10 jets used a Russian-built engine, the AL-31. The presence of a Chinese engine would make supply of the aircraft immune to any geopolitical pressure from Russia.
Pakistan's military confirmed in early January that the country's air force would receive a new fighter jet from China. In late December, Pakistan's Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said Pakistan would receive 25 J-10 fighters from China and these would fly on March 23, Pakistan's national day.
Both Rasheed Ahmed and the Pakistani military had argued the purchase was in response to India's acquisition of the Rafale fighters from France.
While a single-engine aircraft, the J-10 is significantly larger than the existing JF-17 fighters that Pakistan is manufacturing in cooperation with China. The larger size enables the J-10 to carry a larger radar and heavier load of weapons and fuel, in addition to equipment such as an infrared tracking sensor. An infra-red tracking sensor would allow the J-10 to detect enemy aircraft discretely as it does not have any electronic emissions, unlike a radar. Moreover, the J-10 has a 'delta-canard' design similar to the Rafale, which endows it with high manoeuvrability in a dogfight.
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The presence of a more capable radar would also make the J-10 a more suitable platform to operate the PL-15 very-long-range air-to-air missile, which is estimated to have a range in excess of 200km.
Analysts believe the J-10 would supplement Pakistan's ageing fleet of F-16 fighters.