By Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace
On 25 November 2013, Pakistan’s armed forces announced that two new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) had been introduced to service. The official announcement gave scant detail about the systems, beyond stating that the Burraq and Shahpar UAVs were ‘indigenously developed’.
The claim that Burraq and Shahpar are solely the products of Pakistan’s defence aerospace industry should, however, be treated with caution. The Burraq and the Shahpar resemble the Chinese CH-3 UAV. With Beijing being Islamabad’s main partner in terms of defence-industrial collaboration, there was speculation that Islamabad had earlier ordered a number of CH-3 systems from China.
The Shahpar was apparently developed by Pakistan’s Global Industrial and Defence Solutions, a state-owned defence and technology conglomerate. Amongst its other products is the Anza Mk-II man-portable air-defence system (MANPAD), which is generally regarded as a close relative of the Chinese QW-1 MANPAD.
The announcement also provided an indication that at least one of these UAVs might be capable of carrying ordnance. A picture in the press release apparently shows a model, likely the Burraq, carrying two missiles on under-wing pylons, while an illustration visible in the background also shows a missile clearing a pylon on the UAV. The Chinese CH-3 has been test-flown to carry and launch the AR-1 semi-active laser-guided missile, as well as the FT-5 small guided-bomb.
Burraq had previously been associated by some analysts with the Italian Falco UAV, which Pakistan operates in small numbers, but it now seems more likely to be related to a CH-3 type design.
Pakistan has seen both the value and the political risk associated with the use of armed UAVs as a result of US operations in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. However, while tactical reconnaissance UAVs are increasingly common, armed UAVs remain in the inventories of only a small number of armed forces, most obviously the US. The UK and Israel are also among those nations which operate armed UAVs, and other countries are pursuing such a capability. Whether China has introduced an armed UAV into its own inventory has yet to be ascertained, but imagery of CH-3 munition launches show it is pursuing this objective.
Islamabad’s defence relations with Beijing are multifaceted, ranging across the land, sea and air domains. They have not always, though, been transparent to outside observers, and sensitivity over the sale of a weaponised UAV could be part of the reason that the Inter Services Public Relations press release stressed that the two UAV systems were indigenously developed. However, if this assessment of these systems’ origin is correct, it constitutes further evidence of the close, and still developing, defence relations between Beijing and Islamabad.