Pakistan’s on-going EX Sea Spark 2015, jointly conducted by the Pakistan Navy and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in the northern Arabian Sea, has seen the participation of the PAF’s ZDK-03 Karakoram Eagle KE-3 AEW & CS platform for the very first time in a simulated joint services warfighting environment.
During this exercise, the PAF’s ZDK-03 Karakoram Eagle KE-3, apart from providing airspace surveillance of Pakistan’s Makran coastline, also extended airborne battlespace management support to not only the Pakistan Navy, but also for the PAF’s MRCAs operating out of Masroor air base.
The PAF’s Masroor air base in Sindh province is presently home to No.2 ‘Minhas’ Squadron flying F-7P Airguard L-MRCAs (which in future will convert to the FC-1/JF-17 Thunder L-MRCAs), No.4 Squadron with four four ZDK-03 Karakoram Eagle KE-3 AEW & CS platforms, No.7 ‘Bandits’ Squadron with upgraded Mirage-3EA/Mirage-3DP MRCAs, No.8 ‘Haiders’ Squadron with Mirage-5PA maritime strike aircraft (to be replaced in the near future by up to eight FC-1/JF-17 Thunders armed with CM-802A and CM-400AKG anti-ship cruise missiles), and No.22 ‘Ghazis’ Squadron with Mirage-3D/E MRCAs.
Immediately west off Masroor air base is an underground base—one of three that Pakistan now possesses—housing some of Pakistan’s nuclear warheads and SRBM/TBM ballistic missiles, which are kept there in a semi-recessed state. It is for this reason that the Masroor air base is equipped to provide ‘hardened air-cover’ for such nuclear WMD storage sites. The other air bases tasked with providing hardened air-cover include the air base at Jacobabad, Rafiqui air base in Shorkot, and the air base at Sargodha.
The four ZDK-03 Karakoram Eagle KE-3 AEW & CS platforms worth US$278 million were ordered in early 2008 from prime contractor China Electronics Technology Group Corp (CETC). Xi’an-based Shaanxi Aircraft Corp built the aircraft. For operating these aircraft, the PAF secured approval for raising No.4 Squadron on November 27, 2010. This Squadron was raised on August 10, 2011 at the PAF’s Masroor air base. The first ZDK-03 Karakoram Eagle KE-3 arrived there on November 29, 2011, and its acceptance sorties was flown on December 29 the same year. The full-strength Squadron was formally commissioned on February 26, 2015.