The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) sent a large contingent of fighters to Korla air base in China during mid-September, in a bid to further increase interoperability with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
Exercise Shaheen VI has seen the PAF deploy a squadron of JF-17 Thunders, ROSE III Mirage VEFs, Chengdu F-7PGs and a single ZDK-03 Karakoram Eagle airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft. According to the PAF the objective of these manoeuvres is “to strengthen the working relationship between both the air forces and help them learn from each other’s experiences”.
Over a three-week period, combat pilots, air defence controllers and ground crews will strengthen their expeditionary and tactical skills in the most complex Shaheen exercise to date.
It is the first time that JF-17 Thunders have flown to China for a tactical exercise, as all previous visits were connected to visiting the Zhuhai Airshow or the JF-17 test and development facility at Chengdu. This goes some way to illustrating the PAF’s confidence in the maturing jet.
The PLAAF has deployed the Shenyang J-8, Shenyang J-11, Xi’an JH-7 and KJ-200 AEW&C aircraft in the latest PAF/PLAAF joint exercise, which sees the two countries host the event in alternative years. The first PAF and PLAAF joint manoeuvres under Exercise Shaheen took place in 2012, when several J-11s visited PAF Base Rafiqui. Since then, the China-based exercises have taken place at Hotain (2013) and Yinchuan (2015), with PAF Mirage IIIEAs and F-7PGs being an ever-present.
Deploying overseas for exercises plays is an important part of the PAF’s tactical philosophy. Since 2004 it has visited exercises in Turkey (Anatolian Eagle), Nellis AFB, Nevada (Red Flag), Jordan (Falcon Air Meet), Egypt (Bright Star) and Saudi Arabia (Al Saqoor) as well as China. Alan Warnes