Pakistan armed forces are finding their Chinese defence imports a serious operational headache because of poor equipment quality and even poorer after sales service. At a time when the country is struggling through a severe foreign exchange crisis, Chinese firms are slow in responding to queries from armed forces for repair, spares and upgrades unless payments are made promptly. This has caused anger among the senior armed forces officials.
The biggest headache is experienced in the high-profile Project Dragon involving the procurement of Chinese-built J-10 multi-role combat aircraft. The J-10Cs – also referred to as the J-10CE – are considered to be the Pakistan Air Force’s most advanced platform.
But the new aircraft has come up with a set of malfunctioning, according to the latest project management review prepared by Pakistan Air Force for the Chinese defence export firm, China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC). The note was prepared in January 2023. The note, which was prepared after the meeting of PAF officials and the Chinese firm in China, pointed out several deficiencies in the aircraft. These included Egress system (to enable safety ejection of pilot), engine, Starting system, AC Generator, Aircraft Maintenance Engineering and ECS (environmental control system is an essential component which provides air supply, thermal control and cabin pressurisation for the crew) and avionics and weapons system related issues.
In another instance, the Chinese firm, Aerospace Long-March International Trade Co.,Ltd (ALIT) is dragging its feet over PAF’s persistent request to repair a FN16 Missile. The portable air defence missile developed a fault when its gas connector was dislodged from its base. The contract for the missiles was signed in 2018. The missile became dud the same year and the PAF has been trying to get the Chinese firm to repair the said missile unit. ALIT has been delaying Pakistani requests on the question of setting up a maintenance centre for the A-100 multiple launch rocket system. In fact, the Chinese firm point blank refused Pakistan Army’s request for an amendment of the contract in view of delayed payments.
The army also has serious problems with integration of LY-80 Long Range Air Defence Systems bought from ALIT. The LY 80 is Pakistan’s latest air defence system. During a meeting in China in January this year, the C41 Directorate, Pakistan Army, pointed out that integration tests failed to achieve the desired results. In December 2021, ALIT had admitted several software glitches but continued to delay any rectification since then. The Pakistan Navy, likewise, had reported several deficiencies in the Z9EC helicopters imported from CATIC, China. The Z9EC helicopter is deployed on Zulfiquar Class F22P frigates, jointly built by China and Pakistan for the Pakistani Navy, and incorporates on-board sensors and weapons capable of supporting fleet operations under multi threat environments.
The helicopter, however, developed several defects–failure of tail rotor blades, short life of main rotor blades and problems in brake distribution valves. The latest of the problems affecting the operational capability of the anti- submarine helicopter involved GPS systems. Pakistan Navy had imported 150 XL GPS systems for the effective maintenance and operation of the helicopters from the Chinese firm. In November 2022, the Pakistan Navy officials flagged “degraded performance“ of GPS systems. The Chinese firm has suggested replacing the system with a new one, 175 GPS, for the helicopters.