2021 marked 70 years of Pak-China’s diplomatic relations. China–Pakistan share a close strategic partnership since 1950s. The 1962 Sino-India War strengthened the relationship and, in 1963, Pakistan agreed to cede part of Kashmir to China, 5,180 Sq. Km of land in Karakoram region of north Kashmir. In return, China began providing economic and military assistance. Apart from supporting Pakistan in the 1965 and 1971 wars against India, China also helped Pakistan to become a nuclear power, by providing technological assistance and technical support to the nuclear program. After dismembered of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, Pakistan forged a formal strategic alliance in 1972.
While China supports Pakistan on Kashmir, Pakistan, in turn, supports China on Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang. Pakistan also acts as a link between China and the Muslim world. This is despite massive social engineering by China of Muslims in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. akistan continues to be a key element of China’s ‘string of pearls’ policy to create sphere of influence and security network around India. For Pakistan, China is a low-cost-high-value deterrent against India. Beijing has lent its support to Islamabad’s stance on the Kashmir issue ever since the Indian government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
In 1978 Chinese operationalised the Karakorum highway linking northern Pakistan with western China. China later became Pakistan’s largest arms supplier. In the 10 years period (2008-18), China has supplied weapons worth over $6.4 billion to Pakistan, with the US coming a distant second at $2.5 billion.
Importantly, Pakistan’s military build-up has continued with Chinese defence imports despite its economic slowdown and mounting debt. Its foreign exchange is barely sufficient for two months. Its GDP growth is continuously going down from 5.5% in 2017-18 to (-)1.5% in the pandemic period. Its external debt even before the pandemic had risen to $112 bn. About 47% of the Pak budget goes into servicing debt. Beijing’s weapon supply not only added to Pakistan’s defence capability but also emboldened it to keep carrying out a proxy war through terrorism in India, without the fear of being defeated in retaliatory Indian aggression.
Over the years, the tension between India and China has intensified over China’s support for Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir, the increasing presence of the Chinese navy in the Indian Ocean, and over border disputes such as ones leading to the Doklam standoff. China’s increasingly aggressive military posture and support for Islamabad is seen to contain India’s strategic status in the region and also enhance its superpower status in the region. It is evident that Beijing’s intentions through nuclear and military assistance to Pakistan is part of China’s intentions to achieve this aim.
Recently the relationship between United States and Pakistan is on the downslide, with President Donald Trump suspended $2bn of military aid to Pakistan, accusing it of showing “nothing but lies and deceit” in its promises to crack down on the Taliban and affiliated groups. This has driving Pakistan to look for China for high tech weapons, like the next batch of the JF-17 instead of F-16, the fighter jet it is developing with China, and which is catching up with the F-16 in terms of capabilities. Pakistan Air Force announced in March 2019 that a JF-17 had successfully test-fired an indigenously developed smart missile, Sputnik reported, saying a “successful trial has provided JF-17 Thunder a very potent and assured day and night capability to engage a variety of targets with pinpoint accuracy.” Pakistan also need an ally to balance strong dominance of USA in their relationship.
The relations between Pakistan and China have been described by Pakistan’s ambassador to China as higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, dearer than eyesight, sweeter than honey, and so on. On January 26, 2015, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a conclusion of a two-day visit of Raheel Sharif to Beijing called Pakistan China’s ‘irreplaceable, all-weather friend’.
China has also stepped in to expand its sphere of influence. It currently is involved in a major mutually beneficial project to build a network of roads and other infrastructure from its territory to Pakistan’s Gwadar port in order to provide a shorter route to the Persian Gulf. Russia, too, has been making diplomatic overtures and recently participated in joint naval exercises off Pakistan. Military analysts predict that China could use Gwadar to expand the naval footprint of its attack submarines, after agreeing in 2015 to sell eight submarines to Pakistan in a deal worth up to $6 billion. China could use the equipment it sells to the South Asian country to refuel its own submarines, extending its navy’s global reach. “If the US does not consider our legitimate concerns and just toes India’s line, then we will certainly move closer to China and Russia,” the official said, referring to Pakistan’s first “contingency plan.
Pakistan and China signed an agreement to boost the bilateral defense cooperation and capacity building of the Pakistan Army in August 2019. The agreement was signed during Vice Chairman Central Military Commission (CMC) General Xu Qiliang’s visit to Pakistan’s army headquarters with a high-level delegation.
China has also designated many military projects as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Since the beginning of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, Pakistan has been the program’s flagship site, with some $62 billion in projects planned in the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. According to the undisclosed proposal drawn up by the Pakistani Air Force and Chinese officials, a special economic zone under CPEC would be created in Pakistan to produce a new generation of fighter jets. For the first time, navigation systems, radar systems and onboard weapons would be built jointly by the countries at factories in Pakistan.
A recent report about China trying to acquire a military base in Pakistan has created new concerns about Beijing’s long-term strategic plans in the Indian Ocean. The new base is supposed to go up in Jiwani, about 80 kilometers to the west of the better-known Gwadar port. The proposed air and naval facility in Jiwani will come up next to Gwadar in Baluchistan, where China has already established what appears to be a long-term maritime presence. The new base is also fairly close to Chahabar port in Iran on the Gulf of Oman. Chahabar was jointly developed by Iran, India, and Afghanistan. At the beginning of 2020, the two countries completed a nine day naval exercise (called operation Sea Guardians) which involved “special forces, warships, aerial assets and, for the first time, submarines in a series of live-fire exercises.”
China plans to step up military cooperation with “all weather” friend Pakistan to produce ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and a multi-role combat aircraft, official media here reported as Pakistan’s new army chief held talks with top Chinese officials in July 2018. Weapon exchanges, including the mass production of FC-1 Xiaolong which in Pakistan called JF-17 Thunder is a lightweight and multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by the two countries. Pakistan is the only other country that has been granted access to the China’s Beidou satellite navigation system’s military service, allowing more precise guidance for missiles, ships and aircraft.
The Indian Army has told a parliamentary panel that even as China and Pakistan are modernising their militaries at a lightning pace, a looming financial crisis is crippling India’s combat capabilities at a time when it should be prepared for a two-front war. The army told the standing committee on defence that the threat of a two-front war with Pakistan and China was “a reality” and it was crucial to pay attention to the modernisation of the military and plugging yawning gaps in capabilities.
Senior U.S. Congress members, led by Congressman Mike Rogers, Chairman of the Sub-committee on Strategic Forces, had warned that China is supplying super sensitive nuclear weapons systems to Pakistan which could pose a threat to the national security of the United States and other nations like India. In his speeches, Trump has drawn attention to China’s ‘devious track record’ in nuclear material matters and the fact that Beijing has actively assisted Islamabad in its nuclear program in violation of global and United Nations norms. Trump has been calling for firm action against China and, if this illicit nuclear relationship is confirmed by the U.S. Government, then by law, it will have to impose economic and other sanctions on Beijing.
The Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) said that a senior level tri-service military delegation of Pakistan visited China from 9 to 12 June 2022. Both the sides discussed their perspectives on international and regional security situation, and expressed satisfaction over the defence cooperation between the two countries. They also vowed to enhance their training, technology and counterterrorism cooperation at the tri-service level. On the occasion, China’s Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Zhang Youxia said that China and Pakistan are all-weather strategic cooperative partners and the two sides have maintained close coordination and firmly support each other on issues involving each other’s core interests over the years.
Economic and Trade
China’s assistance to Pakistan over the last six decades has expanded from a purely military relationship to economic and diplomatic levels. Since 2012, China has emerged as Pakistan’s largest trading partner replacing the United States. Chinese exports to Pakistan make up more than 87 percent of the total trade volume. Pakistan’s monthly exports crossed $312.33 million in December 2020, according to the data of the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China (GACC). From January to December 2020, China’s imports from Pakistan stood at $2.12 billion whereas China’s exports to Pakistan were recorded at $15.36 billion according to the same source.
The alliance expanded into an economic partnership with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which Pakistan sees as a game-changer.
China and Pakistan have agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation on science and technology under the Belt and Road Initiative. Furthermore, the two sides should push forward energy cooperation in the fields of thermal power, Hydropower, solar energy and clean energy, implement infrastructure cooperation projects such as highways, railways, urban rail facilities, deepen cooperation in industrial parks and strengthen personnel training, the Chinese vice premier said. China and Pakistan should further tap the potential in bilateral economic and trade cooperation, maintain the growing momentum in bilateral trade so as to promote trade balance, he said. The two sides should also boost cooperation in the fields such as education, science and technology, culture, health, youth and media in a bid to consolidate the social basis of the China-Pakistan friendship, Wang said.
Intelligence and Counterterrorism Cooperation
There is also increasing intelligence cooperation between them. According to a US intelligence report, China had a much better understanding of Indian troop positions and movements ahead of the June 15 Galwan Valley clash in Ladakh, thanks to Pakistan. There are suspicions of Pakistani having intel operations into India for decades, particularly on the movement of troops that were acquired using low-level assets. “Sources also point to increased Pakistani intel activity during the Galwan stand-off, indicating that the human intelligence capability is being outsourced to Islamabad,” Kartha claimed. Analysts worry about this intel sharing between India’s two adversaries. While China has superior technical intelligence capability, Pakistan possesses human intelligence capability.
The two countries agreed to enhance anti-terrorism cooperation at the meeting in July 2018 , vowing to resolutely strike against terrorist forces including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement active in China’s restive Xinjiang which is the connecting point of the CPEC. China blames the East Turkistan Islamic Movement for the violent attacks in the past few years. The daily quoted Bajwa as saying that Pakistan’s military is willing to deepen the cooperation with the Chinese army and fully support the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism in Counter Terrorism by Afghanistan-China-Pakistan- Tajikistan Armed Forces.
China and Pakistan have agreed to strengthen anti-terrorism and security cooperation along a US $50 billion economic corridor that links the restive regions of the two countries through a network of rail and road projects. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) connects Xinjiang province in northwest China with the deep-water Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea in southwestern Pakistan. It faces challenges from Islamic militants in both the regions.
Both countries are working towards deepening their Counter-terrorism cooperation. Pakistan supports china strategy on the issue of Muslim separatism in Xinjiang. It has killed and extradited many of Uighurs to China. In return, China has supplied an increasing amount of counter-terrorism equipment, such as explosive scanners, to Pakistan. Both also collaborate to check East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and call the group their “common enemy”.
The “Friendship-2016” joint anti-terrorism training of the Chinese and Pakistani armies was held at Pakistani national anti-terrorism training center on October 18, 2016. Focused on “anti-terrorism combat by special operations units in mountains and urban residential areas”, the training was aimed at exchanging anti-terrorism skills and tactics and sharing experience in the building, training and real combat of the special operations forces. During the joint anti-terrorism training, two sides also performed actual-troop live-ammunition comprehensive exercises with a view to improving the soldiers’ tactical and real combat capability, enriching the pragmatic training cooperation between the two militaries, and deepening their traditional friendship.
China is also concerned with security of its heavy investment in Pakistan from the Karakorum Highway in the north of the country to the seaport of Gwadar in the south. In a bid to address their fears, Pakistan last year created an army division, to focus specifically on protecting CPEC projects and Chinese workers. Reports have said that Pakistan deployed a 15,000-strong military force to protect Chinese nationals working on various projects linked to the CPEC. This includes 9,000 Pakistan Army soldiers and 6,000 para-military forces personnel. Officials expect the CPEC projects to significantly boost Pakistan’s economic growth above the current 5 percent a year. China has become increasing concerned about al-Qaeda linked terrorism originating in Pakistan and sought help to set up military bases on Pakistani soil to deal with the problem.
Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky’s latest ‘Cyberthreats to Financial Organizations in 2022’ report mentions that India is one of the top five targets for cyber-attacks in the Asia Pacific region, particularly the APT (Advanced Persistent Threats) cyber-attacks which exploit gaps in cyber defences, and remain undetected for a long time. According to Kaspersky, the APT attacks are expected to increase in the coming years. Kaspersky’s findings reflect the growing expansion of India’s cyber threat canvas, primarily dominated by penetrating attacks from Pakistan and China.
There is good reason to suspect China-Pak collaboration in cyberspace. In recent years, Beijing and Islamabad have deepened their co-operation in the information technology domain. Digital and cyber co-operation are crucial elements of the ‘Long-Term Plan for China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (2017-2030)’. The plan emphasises ICT-enabled development and promotion of e-commerce in Pakistan.
The Chinese side has taken the lead by providing the technology and content, while Pakistan acts as the implementer and disseminator. This collaboration is symbiotic: China needs Pakistan because mainstream social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are banned in China, and command over the English and Hindi languages is very limited in most parts of China’s populace. Moreover, by not directly getting involved and making Pakistan the front end of the anti-India activity, China is able to skirt attribution. For Pakistan, collaborating with China strengthens its strategic partnership and lends the technical edge, which Islamabad’s cyber activities wouldn’t have been able to achieve otherwise
China in July 2018 launched two satellites for Pakistan that, among other things, are meant to keep an eye on India. One of them — the PRSS-1 — is a remote sensing satellite built by China. The other — PakTES-1A – is Pakistan’s indigenously developed scientific experiment satellite. The two were launched on Chinese rocket Long March-2C from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China.
The remote-sensing PRSS-1 satellite can carry out day and night monitoring, and it has viewing capacity even in clouded conditions. The PRSS 1 spacecraft was built in China by DFH Satellite Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of the China Academy of Space Technology, for Pakistan’s national space agency, SUPARCO. Designed for to collect one-meter (3-foot) resolution imagery from orbit, PRSS 1 will support the monitoring of natural resources, environmental protection, disaster management and emergency response, crop yield estimation, and urban planning, according to China Great Wall Industry Corp., the Chinese state-owned company responsible for arranging commercial and international satellite and launch contracts. Officials said the new satellite will also provide remote sensing information for the establishment of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, an extensive multibillion-dollar infrastructure development project between the two nations. Scientists said it would also help Pakistan keep watch on India.
An experimental Earth observation satellite named PakTES 1A, designed and built in Pakistan with contributions from South Africa, accompanied the PRSS 1 spacecraft launch. China previously manufactured and launched the PakSat 1R communications satellite for Pakistan in 2011. The countries signed the agreement for the PRSS 1 mission in April 2016, modeled on an arrangement in which China built a pair of similar Earth-observing spacecraft for Venezuela.
After Thailand, China, Laos and Brunei, Pakistan is set to become the fifth Asian country to use China’s domestic satellite navigation system which was launched as a rival to the US global positioning system. The Beidou, or Compass, system started providing services to civilians in the region in December and is expected to provide global coverage by 2020. It also has military applications. Huang Lei, international business director of BDStar Navigation, which promotes Beidou, told the newspaper the company would build a network of stations in Pakistan to enhance the location accuracy of Beidou. “Pakistan’s armed forces cannot rely on US GPS because of its questionable availability during a conflict that has overtones of nuclear escalation,” said former Pakistan Air Force pilot Kaiser Tufail.
China’s Nuclear assistance to Pakistan
China reportedly supplied Pakistan with nuclear technology including perhaps the blueprint for Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. After India signed the 123 civil nuclear-agreement with USA, China agreed to set up two nuclear power stations in Pakistan.
In Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has inaugurated a nuclear power facility built with the assistance of China. The plant at Chashma, in Pakistan’s Punjab province, adds 340 megawatts to the national grid. Beijing has already constructed two other nuclear reactors, with a combined capacity of more than 600 megawatts.
The three power plants at Chashma are known as C-1, C-2 and C-3 respectively. They are are part of broader plans to overcome long-running crippling power shortages in Pakistan. “The next (nuclear) power projectwith an installed capacity of 340 megawatts, C-4, is also being built here (in Chashma with Chinese assistance). God willing, it will be operational and connected to the national grid in April, 2017,” Sharif told Wednesday’s ceremony.
In the past, China has played a major role in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure, especially when increasingly stringent export controls in Western countries made it difficult for Pakistan to acquire plutonium and uranium enriching equipment from elsewhere such as the Chinese help in building the Khushab reactor, which plays a key role in Pakistan’s production of plutonium.
China helped Pakistan develop nuclear warheads that directly contributed to Pakistan having nearly 150 nuclear warheads as on date.
China’s lavish military assistance to Pakistan has been on four critical fronts: Export of Chinese conventional military equipment; support in Pakistan’s nuclear build-up; assistance to Pakistan’s indigenous defence industry and intelligence sharing. The intelligence-sharing cooperation between the two countries has deepened and reports suggest posting of Pakistan’s ISI officers (from this March) to China’s Central Military Commission’s Joint Staff Department.
Military cooperation between China and Pakistan started in the 1960s when China began supplying arms to Pakistan and established a number of arms factories in Pakistan. Military cooperation in both conventional and non-conventional security is strengthening. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Pakistan is China’s biggest arms buyer, counting for nearly 47% of Chinese arms exports. Military cooperation has deepened with joint projects producing armaments ranging from fighter jets to guided missile frigates. 600 Al Khalid tanks produced in Pakistan form the backbone of the Pakistan Army’s Armoured Corps. They are variants of Chinese Type 90II tank.
There are credible indicators that China and Pakistan are involved in dubious deals for such purchases from other countries, which China cannot directly purchase. An article by a defence analyst B K Singh has indicated two instances to prove the Chinese effort to acquire technological information via Pakistan. First, the soft loan of $5 bn, which was being given by China for the purchase of four Type 054A and eight submarines, could have contained the hidden amount for the Pak acquisitions. Second, a recent satellite-based photograph revealed that Pak Agosta 90B submarine which was acquired from France was berthed between the two Chinese ships and importantly that was not the usual berthing place for 90B submarine.
Dragon’s illicit acquisition of advanced technology, whether military, civilian, or dual-use, has been a cornerstone of its effort to “catch up” to the West technology for decades. China’s efforts to acquire advanced technology illicitly can generally be divided into two broad categories. The first consists of espionage, both in its traditional form, where intelligence and military organs clandestinely steal national security secrets, and its industrial variant, where the aim is to acquire commercial secrets and the range of actors, has been broadened to include scientific and manufacturing entities. The second includes collusion with other countries which can acquire such hardware even by violating rules and share clandestinely with China, writes SD Pradhan who has served as chairman of India’s Joint Intelligence Committee.
In 1990, USA froze F-16 deliveries and stoppage of spares for many years as a result of Pressler amendment, 1990, which banned most economic and military assistance to Pakistan after nuclear tests. This drove Pakistan to China for all its aerospace needs. JF-17 fighter jet project (JF standing for joint fighter), was launched in 1999, when CATIC signed a cooperation agreement with the Pakistan Air Force. In 2007, as a part of a joint-venture project, China rolled-out a ‘designed for Pakistan’ Fighter JF-17 ‘Thunder’. Both countries contributed half of the cost, estimated at US$150m. The design for the plane was finalised in 2001, and the maiden flight was held in 2003. The planes are powered with Russian engines and be armed with Chinese missiles. Currently PAF has 120 aircraft, and numbers will increase to 300 later.
JF-17 is designed to employ Chinese weapons on its seven hard-points which can carry external load of 4,600 kg (10,100 lb). Weapons include the PL-5 short-range air-to-air missile, LS-6 ‘Thunderstone’ GPS-guided glide bombs, and YJ-12 supersonic and YJ-83 subsonic anti-shipping missiles. PAF maintains one squadron in the maritime strike role. PAF had ordered 600 Chinese PL-12 radar-guided beyond-visual range (BVR) missile with a range of around 80 km. Chinese claim that missile is comparable to the American AIM-120 AMRAAM and the Russian R-77.
PAF has bought Chinese SD-10 (ShanDian-10) radar-guided, mid-range homing air-to-air missiles to equip the JF-17 fighters. Short range Air-to-air missiles PL-8 and PL-9, medium-range radar-guided air-to-air missiles PL-11 and PL-12, precision guided munitions including laser-guided bombs, anti-ship missiles YJ-9K and anti-radiation missiles PJ-9 are part of the package. JF-17 Block 3 will have avionics advancements such as helmet-mounted display and sight (HMD/S) system, a new single panel multi-functional display (MFD), an active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar paired with an infrared search and track (IRST) system, and a cockpit with a flight-control stick on the side an NRIET KLJ-7A AESA radar. It will have more use of composites, a new engine, and a two-seater cockpit option, with a top speed of 2.0+ Mach.
JF17 is now been fitted with planar AESA array measures 60×60 cm and weighs 69 kg. The radar uses a 3GHz bandwidth at the X-band, provides detection of fighter-sized targets at 170 km, tracks up to 15 targets simultaneously and engages four with air/air missiles. The radar also supports air/ground modes, with one-meter SAR resolution and terrain mapping at 300 km. Searching targets at sea, the radar can detect large targets from 200 km. The processor and power module weigh another less than 35 kg. The array consumes 3,200 VA of power.
The addition of AESA gives Pakistan the ability to compete with India’s new domestically produced Tejas MK-1, which also sports the advanced radar, Sputnik reported. With AESA, the JF-17 can scan the skies as well as the ground for many targets at once and at many frequencies, whereas more traditional pulse-doppler radars have to be pointed and can only scan at a single frequency, making them much easier to jam.
Pakistani Air Force is expected to induct 250 to 300 JF17 fighter planes which will form its backbone. Pakistan is buying about sixteen JF-17 jets every year. Various countries including Algeria, Argentina, Myanmar, Qatar, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Uruguay have shown interest in the JF-17. The older JF-17 jets cost $25 million each. Newer jets with AESA radar and other improvements will cost $32 million each. Nigeria has ordered three JF-17 and Myanmar has ordered sixteen.
China has also provided Four Karakoram Eagle airborne early warning & control aircraft (AWACS) at a cost of $278 million. 6 ZDK-03 Chinese AWACS have been inducted. 60 Chinese designed K-8 Karakorum intermediate jet trainers are currently in service and more are on order.
In the last two decades, the focus of Pakistan’s defence procurement has been on the build-up of its air force and the maritime strike capabilities of its navy. In 2006, the Pakistan Navy ordered four F-22P-type frigates from China and it was agreed that the fourth F-22P will be manufactured in Pakistan at a Karachi shipyard. PNS ASLAT is the first indigenously built frigate of the navy and the production was done in collaboration with the China Shipbuilding and Trading Company.
China’s authorisation to Pakistan to produce ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, anti-ship missiles and main battle tanks in Pakistan is also on the agenda, he said. China has transferred 34 M-11, road-mobile, short range ballistic missiles (SRBM) with related technology, and manufacturing capability to Pakistan. Despite Chinese pledges to the contrary, it has continued to provide Pakistan with specialty steels, guidance systems and technical expertise in the latter’s effort to develop long-range ballistic missiles. Hatf, Shaheen and Anza series of missiles have been built using Chinese assistance.
2017 has already seen the Pakistan Army successfully induct a Chinese made Low-to-Medium Altitude Air Defence System (LOMADS) LY-80. The LY-80 is also known as HQ-16A in China and is a product of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corps (CASC) and can hit targets of an altitude of 400 to 10,000 metres. The Pakistan Ministry of Defence Production has revealed that the armed forces ordered six LY-80 defence systems from China for $373m between 2014-2015. According to Pakistani Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa, the defence system would increase “response capability to current and emerging air defence threats.”
China has sold Pakistan a powerful tracking system in an unprecedented deal that could speed up the Pakistani military’s development of multi-warhead missiles, South China Morning Post has reported. China has sold Pakistan many conventional weapons, including warships, fighters, short-range missiles, diesel submarines and surveillance drones. Zheng Mengwei, a researcher with the CAS Institute of Optics and Electronics in Chengdu, Sichuan province, confirmed to the South China Morning Post that Pakistan had bought a highly sophisticated, large-scale optical tracking and measurement system from China.
An optical system is a critical component in missile testing. It usually comes with a pair of high-performance telescopes equipped with a laser ranger, high-speed camera, infrared detector and a centralised computer system that automatically captures and follows moving targets. The device records high-resolution images of a missile’s departure from its launcher, stage separation, tail flame and, after the missile re-enters atmosphere, the trajectory of the warheads it releases.
The uniqueness of the Chinese-made system lay in its use of four telescope units, “more than normally required”, Zheng said. Each telescope, with a detection range of several hundred kilometres, is positioned in a different location, with their timing synchronised precisely with atomic clocks. Together, the telescopes provide visual information of unprecedented detail and accuracy, which missile developers can use to improve designs and engine performance. Using more telescopes allows the system to track more warheads simultaneously from different angles, reducing the risk of losing a target.
The US Defence Intelligence Agency officially confirmed in March that Pakistan conducted the first test launch of its nuclear-capable Ababeel missile in January 2017, “demonstrating South Asia’s first MIRV payload”. Although the Ababeel missile has a range of only 2,200km, it can deliver numerous warheads to different targets. The technology has the potential to overwhelm a missile defence system, wiping out an adversary’s nuclear arsenal in one surprise attack.
China has provided Nine HQ16 medium range surface to air missile systems with a maximum intercept range of 40 km at a cost of $600 million.
The U.S. Congressmen reportedly said that they are specifically alarmed over the supply of Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) systems, which would provide instant mobility to Pakistan’s medium range nuclear ballistic missiles like the Shaheen III. The Pakistan Army successfully conducted a training launch of the Ghauri medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) fired from the transporter erector launcher from Tilla Test Range in Jhelum District in 2015. Ever since it has been in the market for several TEL systems. Pakistan Army already uses Chinese origin 8×8 transporter erector launchers similar to the Russian MAZ-543/MAZ-7310.
US Congressmen have cautioned that availability of more such mobility vehicles would provide Pakistan’s nuclear command with far reaching powers to strike anywhere in South Asia, including in Afghanistan and India and on targets that affect U.S. national security interests in the region.
The detention and subsequent seizure of an autoclave onboard a Chinese ship en route to Pakistan made headlines in February 2020. India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), confirmed that the autoclave — a pressure chamber used to manufacture the composite lining in solid fuel ballistic missiles which aids the missile’s ability to withstand launch — was potentially dual-use (civilian and military) and had been mislabeled as an industrial dryer. This incident reiterates India’s concern around the growing nexus between China and Pakistan. China’s assistance was also crucial in the successful development of Pakistan’s Shaheen II medium range ballistic missile. According to the DRDO’s analysis, the seized autoclave could be used for the aforementioned Shaheen II missile.
China armed drones to Pakistan
PAF has received four CH-4 Recce-cum-strike drones which can carry up to 4 PGMs and reportedly have endurance of 30 hours. China will sell 48 high-end military drones to its “all-weather ally” Pakistan in what a military observer said will be the largest deal of its kind, official media in Beijing reported in Oct 2018. The Wing Loong II, a high-end reconnaissance, strike and multi-role long-endurance unmanned aircraft system, is manufactured by Chengdu Aircraft Industrial (Group) Company. It is roughly equivalent to the American MQ-9 Reaper drone. The drones will also be jointly manufactured by China and Pakistan, state-run Global Times reported.
The Wing Loong II drone made its maiden flight in February 2017, an earlier report by the state-run Xinhua news agency said. Within 10 months of the maiden flight of the Wing Loong II, multiple live firing tests had been conducted in accordance with the requirement of its customers, including stationary targets, moving targets, time-sensitive targets and air-ground coordination, the report said.
The Wing Loong II drone is believed to have an endurance of up to 20 hours and can carry a payload of at least 500kg, including anti-tank missiles and guided bombs for attack missions. While China did not specify the first buyer, there has been speculation that the Wing Loong II drone was purchased by the UAE after the US declined the sale of armed drones. Chinese drones such as the Wing Loong II have already been used by the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the ongoing conflict in Yem
The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) will also be jointly manufactured, state-run Global Times reported. The air force academy aerobatics team announced that in the future, the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra and the Aviation Industry Corporation of China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industrial (Group) Company will jointly manufacture the Wing Loong II drones, the report said. China, an “all-weather ally” of Islamabad, is the largest supplier of weapon systems to the Pakistan Army.
China’s national strategic interest to get port facilities and a highway close to the oil rich middle-east made it initially commit US$ 46 Billion in the Gwadar deep-water port and the road and rail corridor leading to it, called the China Pakistan economic Corridor (CPEC). Long term plan is to lay an oil/gas pipeline from Gwadar to central China. CPEC remains the ‘crown-jewel’ of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The current fund commitment is nearly US$ 62 billion. CPEC funding is in the form of loan and the interest on the debt has become so high that Pakistan is unable to service the debt, so some projects are already being canceled.
China is the largest investor in Pakistan’s Gwadar Deep Sea Port, which is strategically located at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. It is viewed warily by both America and India as a possible launchpad for the Chinese Navy, giving them the ability to launch submarines and warships in the Indian Ocean.
China has also committed to supply Pakistan With 8 new stealth attack submarines by 2028, four of which will be constructed in China and the remaining four in Pakistan. Significantly, all these involve transfer of technology to Pakistan. Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence Production confirmed a contract with China for the purchase of eight conventional diesel electric submarines, which will cost between $4 billion to $5 billion (Rs. 25,600 crore to Rs. 33,200 crore), China’s biggest defence export deal. China has sold four 2,5000 ton Zulfiquar class frigates at a cost of $500 to $750 million. Three of these were constructed in China, the fourth in Karachi.
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