Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed has reportedly confirmed that the country’s armed forces will field a full squadron of J-10C ‘4++ generation’ fighter jets by March 2022 in time to participate in the country’s March 23rd Parade. This follows months of unofficial and unconfirmed reports of a Pakistani J-10 acquisition, with a contract suspected to have been signed in the first half of 2021. It also follows the deployment of J-10Cs by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force to Pakistan for joint exercises. The J-10C will provide by far the most modern and capable fighter in the Pakistani fleet, and represents the most advanced and heaviest fighter China has ever exported although it is still considered a lightweight aircraft. The bulk of the Pakistani fleet is currently comprised of Chinese fighters, namely the very light fourth generation JF-17 and the older third generation J-7. The J-10C uses similar avionics and the same armaments as the upcoming JF-17 Block 3, which is expected to make up all other Pakistani fighter acquisitions until at least 2027. The two aircraft are complementary, with the JF-17 Block 3 having lower operational costs and maintenance needs while the J-10C has an overwhelmingly superior flight performance including speed, altitude and manoeuvrability as well as a more powerful sensor suite.
The Pakistani Air Force has shown an interest in the J-10 for over a decade, although older variants of the fighter were not seen to have sufficient performance advantages over the F-16C Block 52 which the country began to field in the 2000s. The J-10C represented a revolutionary improvement to the fighter design, however, and will be capable of challenging the most capable fighters in the Indian Air Force including the lightweight Rafale and even the heavyweight Su-30MKI in air to air combat. The fighter will provide Pakistan with its first AESA radar equipped squadrons, and benefits from AESA radar guided missiles, thrust vectoring engines, stealth features and highly sophisticated electronic warfare systems and avionics. It remains uncertain how many J-10C squadrons Pakistan intends to field, and the possibility has been raised that it could in future replace the F-16A/B fighters acquired from the early 1980s as these are the only Pakistani fighters from a similar weight range and with comparable operational costs. The first J-10C squadron, however, is expected to replace a unit of ageing Mirage III lightweight fighters in service, with the Mirage having first entered service in 1961 and considered increasingly obsolete.