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The Drone Index: GIDS Shahpar II

March 27, 2022

For the better part of two decades the United States carried out a ruthless aerial campaign using combat drones to assassinate terrorists in Pakistan. The rationale behind this strange war remains controversial enough and isn’t helped by the collateral damage it left behind; up to a thousand civilians were killed. But it certainly left a deep impression on Pakistan’s armed forces and the 2020s are shaping up to become a watershed for the country’s hard power as a sizable combat drone fleet takes shape. During this year’s Republic Day parade on March 23 the grandiose spectacle arranged by the army featured the reappearance of the Shahpar II–this time carrying a Barq air-to-ground missile under each wing.

The medium altitude Shahpar II was kept under wraps for a number of years until its original public appearance at Republic Day 2021. In as little as 10 months later it emerged as an exportable combat drone and, by the looks of it, is now poised to enter service with the army. Even when its performance characteristics have yet to be verified the significance of the Shahpar II can’t be ignored. Pakistan is in a growing club of Asian countries that assemble combat drones and sell them for profit. It’s been established the delta wing Shahpar II is a medium altitude/long endurance model (MALE), which means its flight ceiling soars beyond 20,000 feet. But engine type and fuel capacity matter as these determine speed and mission endurance. The exact specifications on its surveillance and targeting pod, carried on a gymbal under the airframe’s nose, are also beyond scrutiny.

Further improvements on the Shahpar II will no doubt increase its payload to include additional munitions (Pakistan’s state-owned factories have full catalogs of these) and its lethal reach. For a country locked in a permanent showdown with its great southern neighbor and faced with internal security problems the Shahpar II is destined to travel the length and breadth of Pakistan to menace its enemies. It’s worth imagining what other roles the Shahpar II can perform in a naval context or as a fully networked combat aircraft. For Pakistan’s armed forces and the partners of the state-owned GIDS to commit so much for an indigenous model with superior characteristics to its predecessor reveals how deep the country’s military-industrial sector values its own abilities. As a South Asian state of strategic importance in the span of just 20 odd years Pakistan assembled what looks like the region’s biggest arsenal of fixed wing combat drones.

Aside form the Shahpar II and the Burraq the Chinese-made Wing Loong II recently entered service with the armed forces in what looks like a renewed flowering of military ties between Beijing and Islamabad. With its endurance, flight ceiling, and sizable payload (up to six munitions on each wing) the CAIG Wing Loong II is arguably the most capable armed MALE drone China offers right now aside from its other Chinese rival the CASC CH-5. The Wing Loong II invites obvious comparisons to the General Atomics MQ-9 and the ironic part is the latter was the primary weapon of choice for the US’ drone warfare inside Pakistan’s airspace from the 2000s and 2010s. But Pakistan’s armed forces haven’t stopped here.

A recent promotional video clip shared by the air force on its official media channel showed a few surprises of its own. It turns out stock footage of the latest combat drones from Turkey’s Baykar means these are being acquired. To be specific, the twin-boom TB2 and the larger Akinci that carries a 450 horsepower propeller engines on each of its wings. Now the status of either needs some clarification at the moment. Have they been delivered yet or are there outstanding matters still under discussion? With the high profile it now enjoys in the global arms market Baykar prefers to move swiftly–new deliveries of TB2’s reached Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine in 2021 alone–so its combat drones may arrive in Pakistan sooner rather than later. When they do reach the branches who will operate them Pakistan’s military enjoys outsized reach in its own neighborhood and a lethal edge for any war scenario.

It serves the reader well to be reminded the Shahpar II and its munitions are approved for export.

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