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China PLAAF Gains Exposure to India’s Western Front, Maritime Air Operations

Published Dec 13, 2018
Updated Jun 09, 2020

PLAAF and PAF are conducting a joint exercise at an air base near Karachi which was also visited by the Pak Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa

A release by China Military Online indicated that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and Pakistani Air Force (PAF) will hold the 7th Shahing (Shaheen) Joint Air Force Exercise in Bholari Air Force Base in Pakistan from November 30th to December 23rd, 2018. The release indicated that China will send fighters, fighter bombers and early warning aircraft to the exercise.

The exercise is held under the annual cooperation plan between China and Pakistan and is a model of China-Pakistan Air Forces’ cooperation that promotes bilateral air force cooperation and improve combat capabilities of both sides.

Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a press release on 12 December stated that the Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, (COAS) witnessed the Pak-China International Air Exercise Shaheen-VII. The release mentioned only, “at an operational air base of Pakistan Air Force,” and did not name the same though it was clear that the exercise was conducted at Bholari air base as is evident from the China Military Online input.

Details of Bholari Air Base

In December 2017, Pakistan inaugurated main operating base – PAF Base Bholari on 25 December. The Bholari air base pivots operations in the desert sector as well as can assist maritime operations in the Northern Arabian Sea expanding the anti-access potential of Karachi.

Then Pakistan Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman who inaugurated the Air Base in the presence of the Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah amongst other dignitaries stated as per Geo TV, “Indeed, PAF Base Bholari is a project of strategic significance for capacity enhancement of Pakistan Air Force in operational domain both overland as well as at sea. With the establishment of the Base, PAF would be able to support the land operations of Pak Army more efficiently. More so, PAF Base Bholari would also augment and supplement the very important maritime operations carried out by Pak Navy.”

Bholari is located North East of Karachi astride the Karachi Hyderabad highway and thus is logistically sustainable. Two parallel runways are seen in the Satellite map of the area only one of which is apparently completed. Construction work is still ongoing indicating that the base may not be fully operational.

Pakistan Air Force will be operating F 16 aircraft locating the No 19 Squadron at Bholari. The Squadron also held a flypast during the inauguration ceremony.

The deployment of F 16 at the base indicates operations to support Pakistan’s 5 Corps which has the main role in the desert sector, thus demoting the land operations support indicated by the PAF Air Chief. For maritime operations, PAF may deploy the J 17 Thunderbird in the future as the base is still under development with photographs on the FaceBook page showing barracks which are under construction.

Apart from the F 16 the base will also operate C 130 aircraft as shown on the FaceBook page bearing the name of the Bholari Air Base.

Significance of the Exercise Shaheen VII

Importantly by holding the seventh joint exercise with the PLAAF at Bholari, the PAF has provided an expanded exposure to the Chinese Air Force of the profile of operations on India’s Western border in the desert sector as well as the maritime front.

As the PLAAF deployed, “fighters, fighter bombers and early warning aircraft to the exercise”, the expanded reach of the Chinese Air Force would be evident.