Since the war on terror started in Afghanistan back in 2001, the United States Air Force has employed various different UAV platforms to target insurgents and the Taliban. Both on Afghan soil as well as in Pakistani territory, with the covert approval of the Pakistan government. Observing the efficacy of UAV platforms like the Predator, the Pakistani military establishment requested the United States to equip it with UAVs so that the war on terror could be prosecuted with more efficacy on the part of the Pakistani military. However these requests were denied repeatedly and America cited the potential use of these UAV platforms in military theaters outside the Afghan Pakistan border (i.e. India) as a flimsy excuse. Faced with these denials, but unwavering in its resolve to achieve its objectives, Pakistan undertook a domestic UAV development program. Even prior to Predator requisition requests being turned down, the Pakistani military had already invested in various autonomous target drones, built both by the private and public sectors. Here at TechLahore, we covered Pakistani drone developments a couple of years ago. In fact, we pointed out that the level of sophistication was such that – in a rather ironic twist -private Pakistani drone manufacturers were exporting UAVs even to the United States homeland security department for oversight applications on the US-Mexico border.
Since then, much has happened. Pakistan entered into a deal with the Italian firm, Selex-Galileo, for the licensed production of fairly capable UAV aircraft at the Kamra Aeronautical facilities. In addition, the Pakistan Navy also acquired rotorcraft drones from foreign sources. Separately, the Pakistan Army has pursued partnerships with China and has incented local manufacturers to continue to develop more advanced platforms within the country. One of the more promising UCAV projects currently in progress in Pakistan is the Burraq armed drone. Burraq is envisioned as a high endurance, long-range, over the horizon, armed UAV aircraft. For the last four years it has been under development and rumors are now surfacing that it may be ready for deployment. At the recent Zhuhai airshow in China, in which the Pakistan Air Force participated with its JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft, Chinese manufacturers also displayed miniaturized lightweight missiles that were particularly suited for carriage on a drone. Various parts of this sprawling Pakistani drone development program are coming together, in partnership with China – weapons development, control systems development, propulsion, airframe, ground stations and much else. The Burraq will only the first in a line of capable, armed Pakistani drones.
And soon. The Burraq, it seems, will be flying in early 2012.
The Pakistani UAV program is a wonderful example of the breadth of technological capability that exists in the country, its ability to collaborate internationally without relying on problem-ridden dealings with America, and the benefits of investing in local development and local manufacturing as opposed to wiring a ton of money to a foreign country and importing somebody else’s equipment (Saudi Arabia style). As with the JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft, Pakistan will discover that the flexibility of owning and running a domestically developed military platform allows unending customization, full control of capabilities, and absolutely no worries with regards to security or someone else knowing its true performance, or even inhibiting the capabilities by doctoring the IFF system or other internal electronics. Not only that, but for private technological firms based in Pakistan a program of this nature creates tremendous economic opportunity. A variety of different inputs, ranging from materials to software to optics to electronics and propulsion technologies are required to build a high-tech UAV. A sophisticated military program such as the Burraq will lead not only to an improvement in Pakistan’s defensive and offensive military capabilities, but also in significant benefits for the economy and local industry.
We hope that in future, with military programs such as Burraq, the continued development of the spectacularly successful JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft and its various space technology ventures, Pakistan will continue to create domestic research and development capabilities which will ensure a brighter future for its people and a credible defense against any would-be aggressor.