A senior Pakistani Air Force officer flew a sortie in one of China’s new fighter jets this week, making him the first from his country to do so and reiterating the close military ties between the two “all weather” allies.
The head of PAF’s Southern Air Command, Air Vice Marshal Haseeb Paracha, flew in the J-11BS, one of China’s third generation fighters, during the Shaheen-VI exercise, state media reported on Thursday.
Paracha was in China to participate in the just-concluded Shaheen VI drill, which was first held in 2011. The exercise, held in the remote Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) during September 5-25, was described as an anti-terror drill.
A People’s Liberation Army website reported, “The air vice marshal was accompanied by Xin Xin, a vice-chief of staff of the PLA Air Force. This marks the first time that a Pakistani top military official has flown in China’s new fighter jet.”
It added: “The Chinese warplane performed acrobatic maneuvers during the flight, drawing praise from Haseeb.”
Pakistan’s Geo News reported, “The PAF contingent, comprising combat pilots, air defence controllers and technical ground crew, is participating in the exercise, during which the contingents from both sides demonstrated mutual trust by sitting in the same fighters.”
The report added: “The previous drills only provided experience of sitting in the same fighter instead of cooperating in fighting.”
The exercise featured China’s J-11 fighters, JH-7 fighter-bombers, KJ-200 AWACS aircraft and ground forces, including surface-to-air missile and radar units. The PAF sent its JF-17 Thunder jets and early warning aircraft.
“During the joint training starting from September 7, different kinds of aircraft from the two air forces such as Chinese J-11 fighter jets, JH-7 fighter-bombers, KJ-200 AWACS aircraft and Pakistani JF-17 Thunder fighter jets and early warning aircraft participated in drills of air-to-air combat, close air support operation, air-to-ground attack and confrontational operation involving multiple arms of the air force,” the report said.
“The Shaheen-VI joint air training exercise, especially the anti-terrorism training jointly held by the air forces of China and Pakistan, will certainly be a powerful deterrent to terrorist forces, and conducive to safeguarding national security and people’s well-being of the two countries,” said Lt Gen Zhan Houshun, air force commander under the PLA Western Theatre Command, which oversees the borders with India.
“The drills maintain national security and protects people of the two countries,” Zhan said.
A video of Chinese and Pakistani pilots jointly flying warplanes for the first time was shown by the defence ministry during a news briefing. “Speaking of Pakistan, the first word that comes to my mind is ‘Iron Pak’,” Col Wu Qian told the briefing, adding the Shaheen-VI exercise was marked by several firsts.
Wu said this year’s exercise was unique as the two sides conducted “confrontation training” at night in China and carried out close support operations for the first time.
In yet another first, the two sides organised combat target practice backed by naval aviation and special operations units of airborne troops. “There are more forces and more elements in this year’s joint training exercise compared with previous ones,” he said.
(With inputs from agencies)