Finances, Politics Slow Pakistan Fleet Modernization

Discussion in 'Pakistan' started by Zebra, Nov 1, 2011.

  1. Zebra

    Zebra Senior Member Senior Member

    Mar 18, 2011
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    Published: 31 October 2011

    ISLAMABAD - Financial and political constraints are hindering Pakistani acquisition of new transport platforms, endangering the effectiveness of the fleet in the medium to long term, analysts said.

    The aging transport aircraft fleet will not be able to handle the military's increasing airlift demands unless a program of renewal is implemented, said Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank.

    The fleet has to cope with an increased tempo due to anti-Taliban operations while continuing to support Pakistan's commitment to U.N. peacekeeping missions. Pakistan remains the largest contributor, in terms of manpower, to U.N. peacekeeping missions necessitating good airlift capability.

    Additionally, the transport fleet has been severely tested after a string of domestic natural disasters, from earthquakes to repeated flooding.

    These missions have, Khan said, "established the need for the Air Force to revamp its transport fleet."

    The fleet needs to be both expanded and modernized, he said, but financial and political constraints may preclude this.

    The backbone of Pakistan's transport capability is its C-130s, and it is here that the problem of aged airframes is most apparent.

    "The majority of the Air Force's C-130 aircraft, [excluding six refurbished ex-Australian C-130Es], are more than 45 years old," Khan said.

    In addition to their excessive age, some may not even be airworthy, he said.

    "I have seen pictures of two C-130s at Chaklala [the home base of the transport fleet] with no engines and half the wings missing," he said.

    Among the four Il-78 Midas MRTTs, a single A-310-300 VIP transport, the Hercules fleet, four CN-235s and a small number of Chinese Y-12s, the Air Force requires about 55 transport aircraft of all types to fulfill its needs.

    However, taking into account the two C-130s lost in a ground accident in 1999, Khan said the number of available Hercules aircraft is only about 14 or 15, meaning there is a considerable shortfall.

    With even the newer C-130Es of Vietnam War vintage, he said their replacement is something that should be explored. There are options, he said, but the C-130J is probably unavailable due to the deterioration in Pak-U.S. relations. Alternatively, a Sino-Ukrainian variant of the Antonov An-70 or the Brazilian KC-390 could fulfill the need, but finances are tight.

    The poor financial situation has already hindered expansion efforts.

    "Initially, the Air Force wanted to procure 12 CN-235M STOL [short takeoff and landing] transports, but due to a shortage of funding, only four aircraft were purchased with one of these configured for VIP operations," Khan said.

    Analyst and former Air Force pilot Kaiser Tufail said the Hercules fleet is "quite dated," but use of the Il-78 in a cargo role has reduced the urgency for replacements, and "there ... [is] no utility for them as tankers for the time being."

    The reason, he said, is that the "Mirage-III/5s are on their way out, while the JF-17 aerial refueling modification is still some time away."

    The Il-78s have bought some time for a modernization effort to begin, he said, but only while in-flight refuelable aircraft remain small in number.

    Efforts to acquire more Il-78s are underway in anticipation of the arrival of more JF-17 fighters and the future arrival of the J-10/FC-20 fighter aircraft. The Air Force hopes greater endurance and striking capability of those aircraft will help redress Pakistan's qualitative and numerical imbalance in air power with arch-foe India.

    Earlier requirements for surplus U.S. KC-135 Stratotankers or A-310 MRTTs "will remain unattainable due to limited funding and nonavailability of platforms," Khan said.

    The Stratotankers in particular were desirable due to a stated Air Force requirement for a tanker capable of refueling Pakistan's F-16s, but Tufail said an F-16-specific tanker is not required.

    "I am of the opinion that it is completely unnecessary. Following the acquired nuke capabilities of India and Pakistan, a war longer than about one week is untenable, if for no other reason than the world community's horror at the prospects of a nuclear exchange," he said.

    Given India's vast infrastructure and strategic depth, the time frame of a future conflict would mean the F-16 fleet would more likely be employed for air defense/superiority missions that would not require in-flight refueling.

    If ground attack missions are required, Tufail said, "By and large, force application during air ops would center around offensive air support, including close-air support and battlefield interdiction."

    The F-16C /D fleet equipped with a conformal fuel tank would be adequate for this role, he said.

    Finances, Politics Slow Pakistan Fleet Modernization - Defense News

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