By David Donald
The Pakistan Air Force (PAF, Pakistan Fiza’ya) has inducted the Chengdu J-10CE “Dragon” multirole fighter into service in a ceremony on March 11 attended by Prime Minister Imran Khan and the chief of the air staff, air chief marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu. The Chinese-made J-10CE is intended to begin the replacement of the PAF’s Dassault Mirage III/5 fleet, the induction event occurring almost 54 years to the day since the first of the French delta-wing fighters arrived In Pakistan.
Having forged close links with China at both military and industrial levels, Pakistan was the natural choice to become the first export customer for the J-10, and signed an order for at least 25 of the type on June 25, 2021. The number is expected to rise to at least 36. Aircraft wearing PAF markings were noted undergoing flight tests at the factory airfield in Chengdu during February, and the first batch of six —all single-seaters—was ferried to Pakistan on March 4. Pakistan has stated an aim to have 25 in service by March 23 to take part in the national day flypast. The PAF unit nominated to operate the type is No. 15 Squadron “Cobras”, which formerly flew Mirage IIIs and 5s from Rafiqui.
The multi-role fighters were delivered to PAF Base Minhas in Kamra, which is also the location for the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC). This factory builds the JF-17 Thunder fighter, which was co-developed with Chengdu, and also undertakes overhaul on a variety of types. PAC will also support the J-10CE fleet.
The J-10CE is the export version of the J-10C that is in service with China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force. It is equipped with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and a forward-looking infrared sensor, and is powered by a Shenyang WS-10B turbofan. Armament includes the PL-10 and PL-15 air-to-air missiles, the latter being a long-range weapon with dual-pulse rocket motor. A range of precision-guided bombs and missiles is available, as well as YJ-91 anti-radar missile and YJ-83K anti-ship missile, although what weapons the PAF aircraft will use has not been specified.
The addition of the J-10CEs is seen as the PAF’s answer to Indian procurement of Dassault’s Rafale fighter from France and is part of an ongoing effort to modernize the tactical aircraft fleet. The fleet currently relies primarily on the Lockheed Martin F-16, supported by a growing number of JF-17 squadrons, which are soon to induct the Block 3 variant with KLJ-7A AESA radar. Older types remaining in service are the Chengdu F-7 (a Chinese MiG-21 derivative) and the Mirage III/5, the first of which was delivered on March 8, 1968.