Wednesday 5 January 2022

Thunder From The East - Pakistan’s Operational UAV Fleet

By Farooq Bhai in collaboration with Stijn Mitzer

Pakistan has been a prolific user of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) since the late 1990s. In 2004, the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) inducted the indigenous Satuma Jasoos II ''Bravo+'' UAV, becoming the first branch of the Pakistan Armed Forces to operate UAVs. The Pakistani Army (PA) soon followed suit with another indigenous type, the Uqab P1 UAV designed by Global Industrial & Defence Solutions (GIDS), which entered entered active service with the Pakistani Army in 2008. The design of the Uqab P1 was further refined after incorporating lessons learned during its service with the PA and an improved version, known as the Uqab P2, was later adopted by the Pakistani Navy (PN) in 2010.

The story of Pakistan's elusive German Luna UAVs began in the late 2000s, when the Pakistani Army purchased the EMT Luna X-2000 to serve as its primary tactical UAV. [1] The Pakistani Navy similarly appeared impressed by the type, and around 2010 launched its own programme to acquire the Luna X-2000. Nonetheless, the programme appears to have been delayed (perhaps caused by a lack of funding) and the indigenous Uqab P2 was selected as a stopgap measure instead. When the Uqab P2 was phased out of service in 2017, the Pakistani Navy finally acquired the improved Luna NG, which boasts a longer range and increased capabilities over the X-2000. [1]
In 2016, a requirement for a tactical UAV that could takeoff without the need for a lengthy runway led the PN to acquire the U.S. ScanEagle UAV in the mid-2010s. [1] The Pakistani Navy had long sought a seaborne drone system, having previously trialled the Austrian Schiebel Camcopter S-100 VTOL UAV in 2008. The Boeing Insitu ScanEagle is launched by a catapult and retrieved by the Skyhook system. The compact size of these systems means that the ScanEagle can easily be operated from naval vessels with a helicopter deck. Pakistan appears to have received its ScanEagles as U.S. aid through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programme. [1]

A Luna NG 'Made in Germany' in service with the Pakistani Navy. An ATR-72 maritime patrol aircraft can be seen to the rear.

Unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs)
Pakistan witnessed the deadly capabilities of armed drones first-hand through the deployment of U.S. MQ-1 Predator unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) to the country. Their subsequent use must have greatly impressed the Pakistani Army, which soon attempted to acquire U.S. armed drones as well. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this to no avail. Undettered, the Pakistani Army looked to its neighbour East and acquired a license to produce the Chinese CH-3A UCAV, which became known as the Burraq in Pakistan. Despite the advent of more capable platforms, the Burraq UCAV remains in active use with the Pakistani Army and Air Force to this day.
Drawing inspiration from the design of the Burraq, GIDS designed an improved version known as the Shahpar-1. This system was adopted by the Pakistani Air Force for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) roles in 2012. The Shahpar-1 has meanwhile been superseded by the Shahpar-2 ISR UAV, which was first revealed to the public during the Pakistan Day Parade in 2021. The Shahpar-2 is currently used primarily in ISR roles, although an armed version was recently unveiled as well. This type will likely supplement and later replace the Burraq in PAF service. [2]

The armed version of the Shahpar-2 can carry up to two munitions.

Shopping in China
The Pakistani Army meanwhile supplemented the Burraq UCAV with Chinese-made CH-4B UCAVs. [3] Their acquisition came after the Air Force had already settled on a different Chinese UCAV design, the Wing Loong I, in 2016. [3] The PAF appears to have limited its orders for the Wing Loong I to a small batch for training and doctrine-building purposes. In 2021, the PAF took delivery of an unspecified number of Wing Loong IIs, which could end up being acquired in large numbers. [3] The Pakistani Navy followed the route of the PA and also settled on the CH-4B, reportedly taking delivery of large numbers of these UCAVs in late 2021. [3] 

Pakistan Army (PA)


Surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles

  •  CASC CH-4B [2021] (At least five acquired with several more on order)

Pakistan Air Force (PAF)


Surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles

Pakistan Navy (PN)

Surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles

  •  CASC CH-4B [2021] (At least four acquired. Not yet seen)