Pak to buy 14 Chinese fighter jets, 114 more may come

J 10 fighter jets

In a major move to boost its air warfare capability, Pakistan is to purchase 36 J-10 fighter aircraft from China in a deal worth more than USD 1.4 billion, with options open for induction of more similar aircraft.

China will supply the 36 J-10 fighter jets, enough to equip two squadrons, under a preliminary agreement that could lead to "more sales", a Pakistani official has said. Pakistan might buy "larger numbers" of the multi-role aircraft in the future but has not signed any deal to purchase as many as 150 jets, the official told the Financial Times.

The J-10 or Jian 10 is China's most advanced combat aircraft and is the third generation fighter comparable to American F-16 Fighting Falcons. Islamabad and Beijing are also collaborating to build an advanced fighter -- JF-17 or "Thunder" and the first of these aircraft are expected to roll out by the end of this month, air force chief Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman said recently.

China is one of the main arms suppliers of Pakistan and has sold combat jets to it for over three decades. But Beijing has seldom supplied Pakistan with advanced fighter aircraft like the J-10. Pakistan bought Mirage jets from France in the 1970s and F-16s from the US in the 1980s.

Pakistan has a fleet of 45 F-16s that have been used to some degree in anti militancy operations in Swat and South Waziristan, defence experts said.

The US recently agreed to sell Pakistan another 18 new F-16s and officials also expect the Americans to supply about a dozen used aircraft. The Pakistan Air Force plans to acquire at least 250 JF-17s over the next four to five years, which would become its future mainstay.

Defence experts have described Pakistan's agreement with China to buy the J-10 jets as a "landmark event" in the defence relationship between the two countries.

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