Difficulties brought by US sanctions on Russia highlight weakness in Pakistan’s defense industry

Russia’s involvement in the joint Pakistani-Chinese JF-17 Multirole Aircraft program will prove an issue for Pakistan in its campaign to keep the platform flying, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

However, according to GlobalData’s ‘The Global Military Aerospace MRO Market Forecast 2020-2030’ report, the reason for Pakistan’s concerns is not budgetary neglect. The country’s expected spend on maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) for the current JF-17 fleet stands at $103.6m in 2020 – a sizeable but not bank-breaking 12.9% of the total expected military aerospace MRO spending. Instead, the actual reason is rooted in US sanctions against Russia – specifically against Russian state-owned defense importer/exporter Rosoboronexport. This company is the sole intermediary that can supply Pakistan with overhaul services and replacement for its JF-17 engines. US sanctions are causing difficulties in transactions between the two states.

Harry Boneham, Associate Analyst at GlobalData, commented: “The friction in sales between Russia and Pakistan are, of course, the intended outcome of sanctions against Rosoboronexport. However, in this instance, it is Pakistan that is bearing the brunt of these measures. The country’s ability to maintain a vital platform is being seriously undermined. With its other multi-role aircraft, including F-7s and F-16s, rapidly aging and becoming harder to maintain, the need to keep the JF-17 airworthy is acute.

“This development highlights the fundamental issue for Pakistan’s defense industry. The country has traditionally relied upon defense imports from great powers such as the US and China, as it lacks a domestic defense industry capable of supplying high-tech critical systems such as aircraft engines. Rather, as with the JF-17, less complex components such as the airframe are domestically manufactured, and high-tech systems are supplied from abroad. Persistent decisions to select foreign solutions over domestic has starved the Pakistanindustry of investment necessary to develop high-tech capabilities.

“While there are ambitious, indigenous development programs such as the Project Azm next-generation fighter, the limitations of the Pakistandefense industry remain. It is unlikely that these projects can be brought to fruition without foreign support. This reliance on external assistance will persist going forward, leaving Pakistani procurement vulnerable to the shifting geopolitical landscape of the region.

“The increasingly solid relationship between China and Pakistan, epitomized by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, would indicate that China is the prime choice for foreign military imports and support. However, the US was previously considered a key ally, signified by the 1981 purchase of 40 Lockheed Martin F-16s. As geopolitical tensions wax and wane, the eclectic composition of Pakistan’s fleet leaves it particularly vulnerable to measures such as the US sanctions.”

Information based on GlobalData’s report: The Global Military Aerospace MRO Market Forecast 2020-2030

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