By Quwa team
The Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) will continue improving its ‘supporting assets’ – i.e., AEW&C, EW/ECM, data-linking, etc – to keep up with emerging technologies and regional trends. If not, then it could potentially suffer in similar ways the IAF did during Operation Swift Retort, such as a loss in wireless data link/communications quality, or weaker EW/ECM employment. Though these assets are not as tangible (or celebrated) as combat aircraft, their absence or deprecation could cause aircraft loss, and potentially, wider tactical or even strategic defeats. Likewise, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and militaries are less transparent about the performance and technical specifications of these assets, so one will not know how effective they truly are until an actual engagement. However, though modernizing these assets adds fiscal strain, it is more affordable to keep these systems at-par, at least for now. In fact, significant (and comparatively lower-cost) gains in this respect could lessen the pressure of acquiring new high-performance combat aircraft (read: high-cost imports). Note: those combat aircraft are still valuable, but they are far from the sole measures of air warfare capability today as they were several decades ago.
For the PAF, its modernization goals for the 2020s will likely focus on the following areas: First, additional combat aircraft. This may contradict an earlier point, but ‘additional aircraft’ does not necessarily mean ‘high-cost off-the-shelf fighters,’ but rather, more JF-17 Block-IIIs and JF-17Bs (i.e., more than the 76 the PAF already has in its procurement pipeline). Second, diversification of EW/ECM assets, be it across pods for combat aircraft or dedicated, stand-off range assets like the Falcon DA20. Third, further investment in securing wireless communication/data-linking so as to mitigate enemy EW/ECM effects and ensure its reliability in contested electromagnetic environments. Fourth, training aircrews and other specialists from an early stage, and leveraging more exercises, so that the PAF can maintain and improve execution quality.