The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) kicked off a joint training exercise this weekend, Xinhua news agency reports. The military drill, code-named “Shaheen (Eagle)-5” began on April 9 in Pakistan and is scheduled to run for three weeks until April 30.
“China’s Air Force hopes to widen the scope of cooperation and dialogue with all countries and regions,” the Chinese Ministry of Defense statement said in a statement quoted by Reuters. Neither China nor Pakistan offered additional details on where the exercise is being held or how many aircraft and troops –including combat pilots, air defense controllers, and technical ground crew–will be involved in the next three weeks.
Last year’s installment of the military drill, dubbed Shaheen-4, featured fourth-generation fighter jets and bombers as well as airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft. The PAF alone participated with three different types of frontline fighter aircraft from different squadrons (likely the JF-17 Thunder, Dassault Mirage III/5, and F7 PG fighter aircraft).
The PLAAF and PAF have held regular drills since March 2011 with the first Shaheen exercise held in Pakistan. The second training exercise took place in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in western China in September 2013, the third was held in Punjab, Pakistan, in May 2014.
Speaking to Reuters, the PAF second-in-command, Air-Vice Marshal Muhammad Ashfaque Arain, said that the PAF heavily relies on its fleet of around 70 U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets in its anti-terrorist operations in Pakistan. Whether any F-16 aircraft will participate in the training exercise is unknown. In February, the United States finally approved a possible of eight additional F-16 Block-52 fighters to Pakistan in a deal valued at $699 million.
This Monday, the PAF also inducted 16 upgraded JF-17 Thunder Block II combat aircraft during a handover ceremony in Kamra, also known as Aviation City, the center of aircraft manufacturing in Pakistan. The JF-17 Thunder combat aircraft has been jointly developed by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (PAC/CAIC) and is meant to replace the PAF’s aging fleet of Dassault Mirage III/5 fighter jets by 2o20.
The chief of air staff, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, said that Pakistan achieved its goal of producing 16 JF-17 Thunder aircraft in 2015 and intends to up the production to 24 jets in 2016. Pakistan is looking to replace 190 aircraft—primarily Chengdu F-7 and Dassault Mirage III/5 fighter jets—by 2020 presumably with a mixture of F-16 and JF-17 aircraft. Pakistan, however, is also allegedly in talks with Russia over the purchase of Su-35 multi-role fighters.