As far as force modernisation of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) goes, 2010 was an extremely good year. The roll-out ceremony of first Shaanxi ZDK-03 ‘Karakoram Eagle’ airborne early warning and control (AEW & C) aircraft designed specifically by CETC for the PAF was held in Hanzhong, Shaanxi, on November 13 last year. The ceremony, which was attended by the PAF’s Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, coincided with President Asif Ali Zardari's visit to China--his sixth since assuming the position in 2008. It may be recalled that the PAF had inked a US$278 million contract in December 2008 with CETC for the joint development of four ZDK-03s, which are due for delivery in the first quarter of next year. In a parallel procurement effort, the PAF has also become the first customer for the Saab 2000 AEW & C platform. The Skr6.9 billion order for these four platforms was placed in June 2006 under Project Horizon, but the contract was renegotiated in May 2007 and its value was reduced by Skr1.35 billion. The first aircraft was delivered on December 8, 2009, with the second following on April 24 April last year. Also being delivered are up to six ground receiving stations. Saab will provide an integrated logistics system (ILS) for these four aircraft for a 35-year period. It is believed that the PAF has procured the four Saab 2000 AEW & C platforms with Saudi financial assistance and in return the PAF will train the Royal Saudi Air Force to operate the latter’s three Saab 2000 AEW & C platforms, which were ordered last June under a $680 million contract.
The four ZDK-03s will be employed by the PAF specifically for directing and managing the air campaigns waged by the PAF’s fleet of Mirage IIIPs and Mirage VPs, JF-17 Thunder, F-7PG and (in future) FC-20 MRCAs. The four Saab 2000 AEW & C platforms, on the other hand, will be employed for directing and managing the air campaigns waged by the PAF’s fleet of Lockheed Martin-built Block 52 F-16A/B/C/D MRCAs and the Mirage IIIPs and Mirage VPs.—Prasun K. Sengupta