Crashes raise concern about Pakistani air force

Pakistani air force

"We bought them at almost throw-away prices, brought them over, overhauled them and continue to operate them," said former Pakistani air force chief Tanvir Mahmood. "This was our compulsion because of the financial constraints that we had."

Chaudhry, the former senior air force officer, said the Mirage was a "very sturdy platform" that shouldn't fail easily.

"But when you have the intensity of an operational combat environment, problems tend to be there," said Chaudhry.

The crashes raise questions not only about the age of the aircraft, but also flight maintenance practices, said Sajad Haider, a celebrated former air force pilot who has written a book about the service.

Other planes that have gone down include the Chengdu F-7 fighter jet bought from China, the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet jointly developed with China and Pakistan's Mushshak trainer, a propeller plane.

The most advanced fighter jet operated by the Pakistani air force is the F-16 Fighting Falcon, over 60 of which were purchased in various batches from the US over the past three decades.

US military support came to a halt in the 1990s because of sanctions imposed on Pakistan over its nuclear program, but resumed in 2001 when Washington needed Islamabad's support to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Military assistance largely dried up once again over the past two years because of renewed tensions between the two countries, although the US did deliver more than a dozen new F-16s purchased by Pakistan.

One of the reasons Pakistan turned to China for help with its air force was the country's troubles with the US.

The government has purchased over 100 F-7 fighter jets from China, mostly in the 1980s, and has reportedly ordered more advanced FC-20 fighter jets in recent years. Pakistan is also domestically producing the JF-17 fighter jet, jointly developed with China, but it has not yet entered full service.

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