Was Buying or Building JF-17’s a ‘Blunder’?

Posted on Posted inOpinion

Aircraft industries of 10 countries have shown interest in Pakistan’s homemade fighter jets JF17 Thunder after the jet destroyed two MIG21, and the stock value of Chinese firm that manufactures these in China has reportedly gone up.

IRSHAD SALIM (Islamabad) — In May 2011, the New York Times’ local partner Express Tribune carried a story headlined “JF-17 blunder: What else you can get for the price of 50 fighter jets?” The article went on to do arithmetic based on then Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar’s viewpoint that instead of paying $80 million per piece for the American-built F-16s, the JF-17 Thunder fighter jets will cost about a fourth of that, between $20 and $25 million per piece.

“The deal is so good, the minister says, that we’ve ordered 50 of the JF-17s to be delivered in the next six months,” the daily paper wrote.

It went on to add: “How much would that cost us? Between $1 and $1.25 billion. That doesn’t sound awfully expensive for national defense in itself but how else could we spend about $1.25 billion?”

The article contextualized price of the JF-17s with other pressing national needs, such as education, health, etc.

“With $1.25 billion, The Citizen’s Foundation, a private NGO that runs schools for underprivileged children, could educate 1.8 million of them for three years in over 7,000 schools built from scratch,” it said.

And “instead of 50 fighter jets, we could have 8,173 basic health units, or over 1,400 fully-equipped, 50-bed hospitals”.

“For $1.25 billion, the National Highway Authority could build approximately 2,500 kilometers of brand new, four-lane highways or 1,250 kms of world-class, six-lane, access controlled motorways. That’s more than three times the length of the famed Islamabad-Lahore motorway,” the article pointed out.

“Reminds me of great Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s famous and everlasting vow: We’ll eat grass but fight for a thousand year.” He was a visionary not a bean-counter like me.”

“Of course, it could alternatively be spent on the much-needed Gwadar airport, 13 times over!”

The extremely well-written article delivered golden nuggets for the nation but here’s the catch: provided we as a country have friendly neighbors and peace is not served on our dinner table as a daily ritual—normally it should be our national boundary wall behind which we all go to sleep daily, 365 days. That is a billion dollar cost right there between ringing the cash machine to quantify risk and imagine uncertainty (unquantifiable).

In short, the esteemed writer threw Risk Assessment and Quantum Analysis attributes to the wind, and did an over a white envelop math–something US President Donald Trump is adept at though!

Come to think of it now—18 years later since the black ink of the newspaper dried up and the report rests in the archives—(2019-2011)–a $20 million Chinese-designed but ‘Made in PAkistan’ bird took on the Russian-made flying machines and upended the skywarfare setting several new standards, for example:

  1. JF-17 was tested live in realtime war environment for the first time and without taking any hit. Since then reportedly, the Pakistani “shaheen” is in demand and the stocks of Chinese made bird have also gone up.
  2. By having avoided any collateral damage, it set new standards in humanizing a dehumanizing game of bloodletting.
  3. Shooting down two Mig 21s, preceded by locking 6 targets across the border and then returning is no ordinary feat–masterstroke some call it.

These were achieved by our 2 young boys flying the Thunder. There was no blunder.

Now the what if scenario:

What if we did not have JF-17s—we could not have sent F1-16s to encounter the Mig-21s. Result: Indeterminate from risk and quantum analysis point of view. Imagine, the inability to do so could have led to a full spectrum kinetic operation for days and weeks, absence per-empting and mitigating the threat in the sky not ground in 24 to 48 hours. Time is of the essence. That itself is a multiple of billion dollar damage and devastation right there avoided with two $20 million birds.

Simplistically counting, the savings these birds generated for the nation can’t even be cashed, monetized or deposited in any of world’s biggest bank or a Fort Knox. The cost/benefit analysis done then pales out in front of the outcomes now.

However, if I had to put a price-tag to such a feat and the machines used to achieve, it would be “priceless” and holistically an “existential trophy”.

Having said so, yes if there’s peace such analysis stands up on merit. But we are living in a bad neighborhood and the rules of survival and its cost is a priority—a practice undertaken worldwide.

Reminds me of great Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s everlasting doctrine: We’ll eat grass but fight for a thousand year.” He was a visionary not a bean-counter like me.

(The writer is a business consultant, analyst, and Editor-in-Chief of PKonweb, DesPardes and BE2C2 Report–presently based in Islamabad)

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