The Pakistan Air Force now faces serious difficulties. Its frontline fighter, the JF-17, developed with the help of the Chinese, has maintenance problems that are getting worse every day.
The reason is the JF-17’s Russian made engine, the RD-93 and the sanctions by the United States of America on Rosoboronexport, the Russian defence trade agency, since 2018. Engines need to be overhauled; they need to be replaced after a certain number of hours of flying. And only Rosoboronexport can ensure overhauling and provide new engines or spare parts.
The sanctions prevent Rosoboronexport from doing US dollar transactions. So, there are payment issues which the two governments and the concerned banks have not sorted out, sources said. As a result, ensuring the JF-17 is ready to fly is becoming more difficult and will be more so in the future.
The Pakistan Air Force or PAF has over a hundred JF-17s (the much-talked-about US-made F-16 is at least 30 years old and maintenance is getting difficult). It is already the most modern fighter the PAF has. The PAF has about 15 JF-17s in Masroor in Karachi (this is its 2nd Squadron), about 50 in Minhas in Kamra (14th and 16th Squadron), about 15 in Samungli, near Quetta and about 20 in Peshawar.
Plus, there are a dozen two-seaters that are usually used as trainers in Kamra and another 5 fighters elsewhere. All these JF-17s will need new engines or overhauled engines or spares in the future. The question is: where will they come from?
And it’s not just these. The joint production facility is producing more planes at Kamra. A dozen are ready, another 4 are expected.
More JF-17s are to join the fleet including trainers and the more advanced Block-3 version. About 30 are expected. And they could well be crippled by the unavailability of engines or spares.
As a way out, the PAF and the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation or CATIC are trying to replace the Russian RD-93 engine with a Chinese version. But just how capable it will be and how long it will take has to be seen.