Pakistan’s military says it has deployed a locally-made drone for the first time, killing three militants near the Afghan border. In a statement, the army said missiles fired by the drone had hit a compound in the North Waziristan Shawal valley. The Shawal valley has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting between Pakistani forces and the Taliban since the launch of a massive military operation there last June. So far, more than three thousand terrorists have been killed in ongoing operation Zarb-e-Azb.
The attack appeared to mark a significant milestone for Pakistan, which is now the 4rth country in the world that have used its own made armed drones in combat after the United States, Israel and Great Britain.
Shaukat Qadir, a retired brigadier-turned-analyst, said that Pakistani drones were now set to play an “important role” in its more than decade-long battle against an Islamist insurgency within its borders, which began after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 that caused Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters to flee across the border. “It’s a significant development. We have been hearing about the development of this weapon system for quite some time.
Pakistani drones are limited in terms of payload and range, its largest drone, the Shahpar, has a wingspan of 7 meters, a payload capacity of 50-kilograms, and a range of 250 kilometers, modest in comparison with the U.S. Reaper drone that is 3 times the size and can fly 1,850 kilometers without landing. Inspite of modest size, Pakistan was successfully able to convert its surveillance drone into armed drone and carry out a targeted killing with a reasonable level of accuracy.
The United States has carried out hundreds of drone strikes inside Pakistan, targeting al-Qaida and other militants in its northwest. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has repeatedly demanded an end to the US drone strikes, stating: “The use of drones is not only a continual violation of our territorial integrity but also detrimental to our resolve and efforts at eliminating terrorism from our country”.
Pakistan’s several requests for Armed drones were rejected by the United States, so it went on to manufacture its own indigenous drones, suspected with Chinese help. The remotely-piloted aircraft ‘Burraq’ and laser-guided missile ‘Burq’ were tested on March 14, 2015.
Drone program with Chinese help
Neil Gibson, weapons analyst with IHS Jane’s, said that despite the claims of Pakistani manufacture, “close analysis of imagery released by Pakistan suggests at least a heavy debt to Chinese systems”. The Burraq, he added, “strongly resembles” China’s CH-3 UAV.
Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), said China must have helped Pakistan if it did indeed produce a UAV that goes beyond basic reconnaissance.
“Developing a drone with armed capability is much more difficult than just a reconnaissance one because the reconnaissance one can be built with very basic technology, but integrating weapons is a different level,” he said. “Either it is a Chinese UAV or based on Chinese technology.”
Pakistan has also been offered CH-3 and CH-4 armed drones from China, the first of which can carry two laser-guided weapons, while the latter has space for four.
Beijing has also expressed concerns about terrorists from Pakistan and Afghanistan entering Xinjiang, and has pledged to help broker talks between political factions in Afghanistan.
China’s suspected link with Pakistan’s drone programme underlines deepening China Pak Military Cooperation
Deepening China Pak Military Cooperation
President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, have agreed to boost their partnership to “all-weather levels”. The two nations also decided to step up dialogue between their armed forces, and expand cooperation in defence technology and production. Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif recently said that the military relations between China and Pakistan will reached unprecedented heights, according to a statement issued on the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) website.
In addition to the drone program, Sharif approved a US$5 billion deal to buy eight submarines from China, Reuters reported. Li Jie, a researcher at the PLA Navy’s Military Academy, said the submarine deal likely involved the Type 039-class, a diesel-electric vessel that first went into operation in the 1990s. China had sold submarines overseas before, but the deal with Pakistan was the biggest, he said.
“The Type 039-class submarine is equipped with an advanced air-independent propulsion system, which would allow the warship to stay and operate underwater much longer and make it more difficult to be detected by its enemies,” Li said. The deal would likely encourage Beijing to expand arms exports, said Mathieu Duchatel, head of the China and Global Security Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks global military spending and arms sales.
Sipri said this year that more than half of Pakistan’s weapon imports from 2010 to 2014 came from China and 30 per cent from the US. Pakistan has emerged as China’s largest arms customer, accounting for 41 per cent of Beijing’s exports during the same period. Two nations are also cooperating on a $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Beijing wants a planned network of roads, railways and energy projects linking Pakistan’s deepwater Gwadar port with the Xinjiang region on the mainland.
The corridor would shorten the route for energy imports, bypassing the Strait of Malacca, a bottleneck at risk of blockade in wartime.