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First J-10C ‘4++ Generation’ Fighters Arrive in Pakistan: A Revolution in Air Defence Capabilities


On March 3 the first J-10C fighters were delivered from China to Pakistan, marking the first export of a post-Cold War fighter designed for Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) service to a foreign client. A Pakistani J-10C acquisition was long suspected, but was only confirmed in December 2021 in a statement by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed that the first unit would be delivered by mid-March the following year. Although considered a lightweight aircraft, the J-10C still represents the most advanced and heaviest fighter China has ever exported. Almost all Chinese fighter exports over the past four decades have been J-7 and JF-17 fighters from the third and fourth generations respectively, both of which are operated by the Pakistani Air Force and the latter which was developed exclusively for export specifically with Pakistan in mind. The much larger J-10C has comparable avionics and armaments to the latest JF-17 variant, the JF-17 Block 3, which is expected to enter service before the end of 2023. The JF-17 Block 3 nevertheless suffers from a number of disadvantages including a far inferior flight performance and a smaller weaker radar, although it is significantly cheaper both to operate and to acquire. 

The J-10C and JF-17 Block 3 are being acquired in parallel as complementary fighters which will drastically increase Pakistan’s aerial warfare capabilities. The J-10C provides Pakistan with its first AESA radar equipped fighter, and benefits from AESA radar guided PL-15 missiles, thrust vectoring engines, stealth features and highly sophisticated electronic warfare systems and avionics. The number set to be acquired remains uncertain, with the first order thought to include 30 aircraft and followup orders expected to bring the fleet size to over 70, and possibly over 100. The fighter’s high altitude, powerful sensors and very long range PL-15 missiles between them will revolutionise Pakistan’s ability to defend its airspace and counter threats from high performance Indian fighters such as the Su-30MKI, which has for two decades formed the elite of the Indian fleet and provided a comfortable performance advantage over the latest Pakistani aircraft. Where previously the ageing F-16C Fighting Falcon was considered Pakistan’s top fighter in air to air combat, it is set to be relegated to third place behind the JF-17 Block 3 and the J-10C with the J-10 being the country’s most capable fighter by a considerable margin.



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