Pakistan using JF-17B for training and frontline use
In 2019, the PAF Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Mujahid Anwar Khan, revealed that the PAF was acquiring 26 JF-17Bs to serve as conversion aircraft to the JF-17 platform. The PAF is reportedly moving towards raising a dedicated operational conversion unit (OCU) to host the new aircraft. However, the PAF is also planning to allocate a number of its dual-seat JF-17Bs to front-line squadrons, which could suggest that the PAF will use some aircraft for various air combat tasks.
The PAF’s plans for a JF-17 OCU squadron was expected. With a total of 188 aircraft (comprising of 50 JF-17 Block-I, 62 Block-II, 50 Block-III, and 26 JF-17Bs) joining the fleet, the JF-17 is fast becoming the PAF’s mainstay fighter. In fact, the JF-17 now makes up the majority of the PAF’s multi-role aircraft, so it serves a central role in supporting the PAF’s air-to-air and air-to-surface capabilities. However, as it added JF-17s to its fleet, the PAF found that it would need to adjust its training program to fully adapt to the aircraft.
Before the JF-17B became available, it seems that the PAF was assigning experienced pilots from existing F-7P/PG, Mirage III/5, and F-16 units to its JF-17 squadrons. Initially, this was a natural step because a key goal of the JF-17 program was to replace legacy aircraft, namely the F-7P/PG and A-5. In the early 2010s, it was inevitable that the majority of the JF-17’s pilots would come from existing units as those legacy jets formed the bulk of the PAF fleet. However, from 2015, the PAF’s fleet started to change in its composition.
Today, the situation of the PAF fleet is inverted. The multi-role fighters – i.e., the JF-17 and F-16 – and the dedicated attack assets – i.e., Mirage ROSE (Retrofit Strike Element) – form the majority of the PAF fighter fleet. Not only are these aircraft more sophisticated than the relatively ‘simpler’ F-7P, but the latter is now due to exit the PAF fleet. Besides a high-level look at the number of JF-17s in the PAF, the fact that long-established F-7P and Mirage III/5 bases, such as Minhas and Rafiqui, respectively, are now hosting JF-17 squadrons is a visible indication of the change.