In a one-day symposium – titled “CPEC vis-à-vis Opportunities for Aviation Industry and Way Forward” – the Government of Pakistan, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) and members of the private sector collectively expressed hope that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would spur growth in Pakistan’s aviation sector.
The Daily Times (Pakistan) compiled a report outlining the thoughts and aspirations of each symposium participant, which included the Federal Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, the PAF Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Sohail Aman and other leading officials and industry representatives.
Short-term objectives center on guaranteeing the security of CPEC projects. In this respect, the PAF had outlined its success in building a capable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) element for providing situational awareness for all relevant parties, including its sister services the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan Navy. The PAF had also expressed confidence in its ability to counter asymmetrical threats through precision-guided airstrikes. It is also committed to providing search-and-rescue support.
The panel’s long-term aspirations echoed earlier government sentiments, namely of channeling projected economic growth from CPEC to effect industry gains. In this case, it is aviation.
PCAA Additional Director of Air Transport International Regulation Syed Muzaffar Alam projected that air travel in Pakistan will see an additional three million passengers in the next three to four years. Alam believed that this growth will present opportunities for growth in Pakistan’s commercial airline sector, be it new airlines or expanded ground support providers. In relation, PAF Air Vice Marshal Razi Nawab, the Deputy Managing Director of the Shaheen Foundation, stressed that investment be made in raising new maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) entities and airlines in Pakistan to support growth in air travel.
Interior Minister Dr. Ahsan Iqbal called for developing Pakistan’s aviation development and manufacturing sectors, particularly through “Technology Intensive Clusters” at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) in Kamra. He also advocated for research and development, joint-ventures and public-private partnerships.
The participating stakeholders proposed raising a joint working group comprising of representatives from the Government of Pakistan, the PAF, PCAA, the private sector and academic institutions to steward the objectives discussed at the symposium.
Notes & Comments:
There are two overarching aspects to the symposium. First, the necessity of airborne systems for providing security to CPEC projects. Second, aspirational aims for using CPEC to fuel growth in Pakistan’s aviation sector, be it increasing demand for commercial air services or spurring relevant industry work.
For the first aspect, the PAF tabled the ISR and precision-strike capabilities it built to fulfill Pakistan’s counterinsurgency (COIN) requirements. The PAF ISR element comprises of diverse assets, among them C-130Bs fitted with FLIR Systems Star SAFIRE III electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) turrets, Falco unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) configured with L-3 WESCAM EO/IR turrets and F-16s equipped with DB-110 photo-reconnaissance and Sniper advanced targeting pods (ATP).
Besides building situational awareness of the ground environment, these assets can pivot to provide target acquisition and guidance support for precision-strikes. This is done in conjunction with the EO/IR-equipped C-130Bs or Joint Terminal Attack Controllers laser-designating targets for F-16s armed with GBU-10 or GBU-12 laser-guided bombs (LGB), or stand-alone with F-16s using the Sniper ATP for targeting, terminal guidance and deploying LGBs
Apart from later including the JF-17 to undertake precision-strike and partial-ISR (via LGBs paired with the Aselsan ASELPOD targeting pod), it is unlikely that the PAF will significantly change its equipment-set for asymmetrical engagement. In fact, the integration of the PAF into the CPEC security dynamic appears to mirror its current approach to COIN, if not be an extension of the Pakistan military’s existing push against non-state actors and asymmetrical threats.
The second aspect is less grounded at this time, but some aspects, such as the call for expanding Pakistan’s MRO base and deepening the aviation-related manufacturing, echo government and PAF goals set under Project Azm. In July, Ahsan Iqbal (then Minister of Planning and Development) stated: “I hope that this … the city will not only help us develop capabilities in defense or security domains, but I sincerely believe that this aviation city will also become the birthplace of the commercial aviation industry in Pakistan.