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ISLAMABAD — After years of watching U.S. drones operate along its Afghan border, Pakistan is working on its own Predator-like unmanned aerial vehicle to undertake the same mission, sources here said.
The sources said the country's air force and government-owned defense conglomerate, the National Engineering and Scientific Commission, are flight-testing a new-design aircraft to be equipped with a NESCom-designed laser designator and laser-guided missiles. The Burraq UAV is named for a winged horse creature in Islamic tradition, similar to Pegasus.
According to local news reports, Pakistan is focusing its unmanned aircraft efforts on upgrading various older UAVs with Chinese help.
But the sources note that no domestically produced UAV is large enough to heft both a missile and a targeting system. The military's most capable UAV is the air force's Selex Galileo Falco, which can laser-designate targets for other platforms but cannot deliver munitions.
Officials with the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Defence Production here refused to confirm or deny the program's existence. A spokesman for the military's Inter Services Public Relations said it was "not ready to give a statement on the issue at this time."
One former air force officer said the notion of a Pakistan-developed hunter-killer UAV is credible.
"You only have to see our track record," said Kaiser Tufail, a retired air commodore. "We have some fantastic achievements in the field of defense."
Tufail said Pakistan needs such a weapon. Anti-terror operations on the frontier require "hours and hours of round-the-clock reconnaissance," married with the ability to strike quickly when a target is spotted, he said.
Help from China?
Analysts were more dubious about Pakistan's ability to produce a laser-guided missile, but they noted that help might be found in China or Turkey.
Turkey, with whom Pakistan has an agreement to cooperate on UAV development, is seeking an armed UAV, preferably the Predator or MQ-9 Reaper. This UAV may someday be armed with the UMTAS infrared guided anti-tank missile being developed by the Turkish firm Roketsan to arm the T-129 attack helicopter.
Pakistan could simply produce China's new CH-3 unmanned combat air vehicle, "or co-produce any number of Chinese components to assemble a unique UCAV," said Richard Fisher, China specialist and senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington.
"China has also developed the unique AR-1, a 45-kilogram, laser-guided attack missile, apparently designed specifically for light winged or helicopter UCAVs," he said.