January 28, 2021
Pakistani troops from the Special Services Group (SSG) march during the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad on March 23, 2018. Pakistan National Day commemorates the passing of the Lahore Resolution, when a separate nation for the Muslims of The British Indian Empire was demanded on March 23, 1940. / AFP PHOTO / AAMIR QURESHI
Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
THE Global Firepower Index, an online military ranking website, has ranked Pakistan 10 out of 138 nations in military strength in its 2021 ranking, a rise from previous years. “For 2021, Pakistan is ranked 10 of 138 out of the countries considered,” Global Firepower said on its website.
Today, Pakistan’s military has been revitalizing its strength in terms of both conventional and non-conventional military weapons. Last week, Pakistan conducted another test of surface-to-surface ballistic missile Shaheen-III, which is also the longest-range missile to have been developed in the country.
A nuclear watchdog has categorized Pakistan as the “most improved country” in the ranking for countries with weapons-usable nuclear material. In its 2020 assessment, the Nuclear Security Index said Pakistan’s improvements, because of its passage of new regulations, provide “sustainable security benefits.
Today, the Pakistan military has been trying its utmost to keep a balance in its nuclear and conventional power symmetry. There is an undeniably close link between nuclear weapons and a nation‘s conventional military capabilities. Any nation with a weaker conventional warfare capability vis-à-vis a nuclear-armed adversary would be inclined to rely on a first use strategy to defeat a conventional military offensive that may otherwise be unstoppable.
In 2017, the Pakistan defence forces had approximately 654,000 active personnel, excluding 25,000–35,000+ personnel in the Strategic Plans Division Forces and 482,000 active personnel in the various paramilitary forces.
Pakistan has nuclear-capable aircraft (F-16A/B and Mirage III/V) with ranges up to 2100 km, eight types of land-based ballistic missiles with possible ranges up to 2750 km, and two types of cruise missiles with ranges up to 350 km.
Pakistan has devoted a strategic culture that characterizes its growing relations with great powers. Pakistan rightly responds to the new global order and is going to have close military relations with China, Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan.
With the change of new Government in America, there is growing indications that both the Pentagon and the GHQ may regain the lost momentum of US-Pakistan military-to-military relations as the United States cannot ignore the importance of Pakistan on both regional and international canvass.
American strategist, Brian Cloughley, told Defence News that emphasis on heavy armour indicates Pakistan’s “preparedness for conventional war, and it seems that the riposte is alive and being refined in direct answer to India’s overwhelming numerical superiority.” Today, the three organic and vital parts of Pakistan’s military — Navy, Air Force and the Army — have gained remarkable strength.
Pakistan Navy power is committed to having the following features: -Expanding the Navy to more than 50 warships (more than doubling major surface combatants to 20, with plans for six additional large offshore patrol vessels). -The apparent free transfer of a Chinese Yuan-class submarine to train Pakistani crew for its eight Hangor subs.
Developing the hypersonic P282 ship-launched anti-ship/land-attack ballistic missile. -Establishing the Naval Research and Development Institute to nurture indigenous design talent (it is presently engaged in programs such as the Jinnah-class frigate, Hangor-class subs, UAV jammers, directed-energy weapons, underwater sonar surveillance coastal defence systems, unmanned underwater vehicles and unmanned combat aerial vehicles).
Replacing of the P-3C Orion patrol aircraft with 10 converted commercial jets, the first of which has been ordered. -Acquiring medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned combat aerial vehicles as well as 20 indigenous gunboats, which are to be commissioned by 2025.
Pakistan AIR Force: The PAF currently has 22 fighter aircraft squadrons that translate into about 410 aircraft. These include around 70 JF-17s, 45 F-16s, 69 Mirage IIIs, 90 Mirage Vs and 136 F-7s. The JF-17, a China-designed aircraft, is claimed to be a fourth-generation, multi-role aircraft.
It is reported that another 100 are in order. The PAF plans to acquire 250 aircraft to replace its Mirage IIIs and F-7s. Some of these would be Block 2 version with 4.5 generation features while some more would be Block 3 and are expected to have fifth-generation characteristics. The PAF is also said to have placed an order for 36 Chinese J-10s a 4.5 generation aircraft.
The J-10 is expected to be inducted as the FC-20, an advanced PAF-specific variant. The PAF’s fighter aircraft currently are of four types, which are planned to be reduced to three multi-role types, namely the F-16, JF-17 and FC-20 by 2025. Russia and Pakistan have also been talking about the possible purchase of the Sukhoi-35 air-superiority multi-role fighter.
The PAF plans to procure 30-40 Chinese FC-31 stealth fighter aircraft to replace the F-16 fighter jets. The FC-31 is designed to fly close air support, air interdiction and other missions. However, the PAF is more likely to employ conventional tactical aircraft rather than stealth aircraft in actual missions to support Pakistani ground forces.
The PAF with a smaller fighter aircraft inventory is the seventh-largest air force in the world and the largest in the Islamic world. PAF pilots are well-trained, with battle experience and high morale. The PAF is also an inherently air-defence oriented force. As earlier, in an exclusive Indo-Pak war scenario, the PAF will be kept head-down by the IAF and is likely to be defeated. In the shadow of nuclear stand-off, a full-fledged war is less likely.
Pakistan Army: Following are the growing power infrastructure of Pakistan’s army. -The manufacturing of auxiliary power units for the Al-Zarrar and T-80UD tanks. -The development and trials of a sabot FSDS-T round. -The development of a driver’s thermal imaging/night vision periscope. -The assembly of engines for the Al-Khalid and T-80UD tanks. -The rebuilding and upgrading of 160 Type-85IIAP main battle tanks between 2019-2020 and 2021-2022. -A pilot effort to rebuild T-80UDs (completed in August 2019). -The continued rebuilding of M113-series armored personnel carriers.
The continued upgrade of Type-59 main battle tanks to the Al-Zarrar version. -The low-rate production of 20 Al-Khalid I tanks, plus the final-stage development of the Al-Khalid II (featuring an enhanced power pack and fire-control/gun-control system). Meanwhile, Pakistan bolstered its infantry anti-tank capabilities by purchasing Kornet-E anti-tank guided missiles (a Russian-made weapon) and Spanish Alcotán-100 shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.