Pakistan stops looking at foreign advanced trainer jets

Pakistan JF17 LIFT trainer aircraft
Pakistan JF-17B multi-role fighter aircraft.

Pakistan's plan to purchase a LIFT trainer jet dates back to 2015 when the former head of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) revealed that they had begun evaluating modern trainers to prepare pilots for the transition to JF-17 and F-16 fighters.

This project became even more concrete in 2017 when the PAF inaugurated a LIFT unit, named Shooter Squadron, at the MM Alam airbase in Mianwali.

However, budget problems led the service to equip the Shooter Squadron with some FT-7P jets from the PAF Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) for F-7P rather than modern aircraft. It was designed as an interim solution as the performance and systems of the old FT-7P are too far from those of modern fighters.

The PAF finally opted to conduct advanced flight training in the JF-17B two-seater jet, putting an end to the plan to buy LIFT trainers such as the Leonardo M-346 or the KAI T-50.

This choice broke the trend now widespread among the main air forces, which is to induce an advanced trainer to acclimate the new pilots to the cockpit environment and performance of modern fighter aircraft. Although this option is very appropriate for training pilots for high-performance fighters (for example Lockheed Martin F-35 and Eurofighter Typhoon), PAF found this purchase not essential and potentially redundant as the capabilities of the JF-17B jet are quite similar to those of the LIFT platforms that the market offers today. As a result, the LIFT and Operational Conversion phases are substantially comparable.

Furthermore, the selection of a foreign aircraft could have negatively impacted the sales of the Pakistani-Chinese JF-17. Manufacturers are also marketing their LIFT platforms as light multirole fighters, such as the KAI FA-50 and Leonardo M-346FA. Selecting one of the latter could have reduced potential customers' confidence in the JF-17, especially in low-budget countries.

Today the primary need for the PAF is to procure a modern jet to cover the intermediate phase of pilot training to replace the current K-8 fleet. We expect Pakistan to soon target aircraft such as the Aero Vodochody L-39NG, Leonardo M-345, Embraer Super Tucano and TAI Hurkus.

Written by Matteo Sanzani

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