Understanding Pakistan’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Programme



This commentary delves into Pakistan's Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) programme, tracing its evolution as a purposeful and strategic initiative since the late 1990s. Positioned as the fourth-largest global operator of drones, Pakistan's trajectory unfolds through significant advancements in UAV capabilities.

The narrative explores key milestones, including the role of the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) in introducing the Satuma Jasoos II 'Bravo+' UAV and the subsequent integration of the Uqab series. The acquisition of Germany's Luna UAVs and the strategic utilization of US ScanEagle UAVs in the mid-2010s further enriched Pakistan's UAV capabilities, emphasizing operational flexibility.

There is also discussion on Pakistan's acquisition of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) and the strategic shift towards Chinese CH-3A UCAV, named Burraq. The Burraq UCAV's success prompted the development of the Shahpar series, signifying a commitment to technological modernization.

The commentary also discusses Pakistan's incorporation of Chinese-manufactured CH-4B UCAVs and the adoption of the Wing Loong I by the PAF in 2016. The subsequent introduction of the Wing Loong II in 2021 and its potential strategic advantages are highlighted. The concluding section draws a comparative analysis with India, emphasizing nuanced distinctions in UAV quantity, capability, and origin between the two nations.

This academic scrutiny offers a comprehensive insight into the evolving landscape of UAV utilization in the military arsenals of both India and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Programme

Pakistan's engagement with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has evolved into a purposeful and calculated venture, placing the nation as the fourth largest drone operator in the world, behind the US, the UK, and Israel. i This trajectory began in the late 1990s and witnessed significant advancements in the ensuing years. The Pakistani Air Force (PAF) took on an important role in the field in 2004 by introducing the Satuma Jasoos II 'Bravo+' UAV, marking a crucial moment in the integration of UAVs within the Pakistan Armed Forces. In 2008, the Pakistani Army followed suit with the incorporation of the Uqab P1 UAV, developed by Global Industrial & Defence Solutions (GIDS). This marked the initiation of the Uqab series, which later evolved into the Uqab P2, subsequently utilized by the Pakistani Navy in 2010. Its first indigenous drone, the Burraq, was built with Chinese help in 2009.

The reported acquisition of Luna UAVs from Germany in recent years has added a new dimension to Pakistan's UAV capabilities. The Pakistani Army wanted to acquire the Luna X-2000 built by EMT, a German company manufacturer, as its primary tactical UAV. Delays in the acquisition of Luna X-2000 by the Pakistani Navy had resulted in the interim utilization of the Uqab P2; however, ultimately the Luna NG was inducted in 2017, distinguished by its enhanced range and capabilities. This is primarily used for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA). Earlier, to address its operational needs, the Pakistani Navy had also integrated the US ScanEagle UAV into its fleet in the mid-2010s. This addition was made possible through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programme and it met the navy's strategic requirement of a maritime UAV, notable for its operational versatility demonstrated through catapult launch and retrieval via the Skyhook system.

Similarly, the Falco, a state-of-the-art medium-altitude endurance and tactical UAV manufactured by the Italian sensors developer Selex Galileo, was co-produced by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) at its Kamra facility in the Punjab province. This co-production commenced in August 2009. Falco is primarily utilized by the Pakistan Air Force for optronic and electronic surveillance applications, as well as for homeland security operations. Although the Falco UAV has the capacity to accommodate both a missile and targeting system, it is currently employed solely for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes. Plans are underway to equip the Falco UAV with laser-guided missiles in the future to enable offensive operations. It is equipped with one hard point on each wing and can carry a payload of up to 25kg.

Additionally, the Pakistani defense conglomerate introduced its latest domestically manufactured drone, the Ranger, at the World Defense Show, held from 4-8  February 2024 in Saudi Arabia. Described by Global Industrial Defence Solutions (GIDS) as a runway-independent tactical UAV, the Ranger was designed for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, reconnaissance missions, and artillery fire correction. GIDS asserts that the drone is capable of autonomous operation with artificial intelligence-enabled payloads. It features four small rotors for vertical lift, along with a larger pusher rotor for forward propulsion.

Pakistan has been in the manufacturing business for quite some time. In 2013, the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra formally delivered the initial set of components for the Turkish UAV (ANKA) to the Turkish Aerospace Industry (TAI) during a significant event at the International Defence Exhibition & Fair (IDEF) in Istanbul, Turkey. Following the signing ceremony, Mr. Muharrem Dortkasli, then President and CEO of TAI, expressed satisfaction with PAC Kamra's expertise and capability in handling such tasks and expressed intentions for further collaborative efforts in the future.

According to a senior researcher associated with the Rawalpindi-based online strategic think tank, Global Defense Insight1, Pakistan has made substantial investments in UAVs for both military and civilian applications, resulting in benefits for both the Pakistan Army and Pakistan Navy. The Pakistan Navy, for instance, currently utilizes multiple UAVs, including the Scan Eagle and Uqab, for surveillance purposes. Furthermore, reports suggest that Pakistan has established six drone facilities along the border, allegedly for smuggling arms and drugs into India via the Punjab province. Allegedly, these drone centers are operated by Pakistani Rangers in conjunction with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Pakistan's Acquisition of UCAVs

Pakistan’s encounter with US MQ-1 Predator UCAVs, which were used by the US from Shamsi airfield during the war on terror to neutralize terrorists in the tribal areas influenced the strategic calculus of the Pakistani Army, prompting endeavors to acquire armed drones of US provenance. Faced with challenges in this pursuit, the army pivoted towards the East, securing a licensing agreement for domestic production of the Chinese CH-3A UCAV, which were subsequently named Burraq. This strategic shift demonstrated resilience and marked a paradigmatic change in Pakistan's pursuit of advanced unmanned aerial capabilities. The Burraq UCAV continues to play an active role in both the Pakistani Army and Air Force, embodying strategic self-reliance and adaptability to regional dynamics. Its success inspired the indigenous development of the Shahpar-1 by Global Industrial and Defence Solutions(GIDS), which was integrated into the Pakistani Air Force in 2012, specializing in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. The subsequent introduction of the Shahpar-2 ISR UAV in 2021, coupled with the recent incorporation of an armed variant, signifies a dynamic evolution. This positions Shahpar-2 as a potential successor to the Burraq, underscoring Pakistan's commitment to technological modernization in the field.

The envisaged integration and eventual replacement of the Burraq by the Shahpar-2 align with contemporary Pakistani advancements in unmanned aerial capabilities, underscoring Pakistan's dedication to maintaining a lead position in technological innovation within the defence sector. The Burraq UCAV was complemented by the inclusion of Chinese-manufactured CH-4B UCAVs and this acquisition followed Pakistani Air Force's decision to adopt a distinct Chinese UCAV model, the Wing Loong I, in 2016. The Pakistani Air Force's procurement of the Wing Loong I was limited, primarily intended for training and doctrinal development. In 2021, the Pakistani Air Force received an unspecified quantity of Wing Loong IIs, potentially indicating plans for a larger-scale acquisition. Concurrently, the Pakistani Navy mirrored the choices of the Pakistani Army, opting for the CH-4B and reportedly acquiring substantial numbers of these UCAVs in late 2021.

Pakistan’s Chinese UCAVs

The initial verified detection of a Chinese Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) within the borders of Pakistan occurred in 2016 when such a vehicle crashed in close proximity to the Mianwali air base, attracting considerable media scrutiny. Subsequent examination of the wreckage confirmed the presence of the Wing Loong I in Pakistan. In both 2017 and 2018, two Wing Loong I UCAVs were identified through satellite imagery at the Mianwali air base, suggesting that these unmanned aerial vehicles were either undergoing evaluation or, more plausibly, were already in operational deployment.

Notably, by 2019, both UCAVs were no longer discernible in satellite depictions of the Mianwali air base, and no pertinent information was released until the reappearance of the Wing Loong Is in February 2021, marking a two-year hiatus. The entity or entities within the Pakistani Armed Forces responsible for the operation of the Wing Loong-I remain indeterminate, given the absence of official data on the subject. Nevertheless, the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) emerges as the most conceivable operator, particularly in light of their subsequent acquisition of the Wing Loong-I's successor, the Wing Loong II. In 2018, reports from Indian media suggested that Pakistan was in negotiations for the collaborative production of approximately 48 Wing Loong II unmanned aerial vehicles at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC). Despite the lack of official confirmation from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), this information was later found to be incorrect a year later. However, this discrepancy did not hinder the eventual procurement of the Wing Loong II by the PAF, albeit three years beyond the original timeline projected by Indian media.

By the beginning of 2021, reports surfaced indicating that the PAF had ordered Wing Loong IIs from the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). Although the order purportedly involved a substantial number of systems, there is presently no indication of plans for indigenous co-production of the Wing Loong II within the territorial confines of Pakistan. A noteworthy development occurred in July 2021 when a Wing Loong II was visually identified at Mianwali air base, the same location that had previously housed the Wing Loong I. The Wing Loong IIs procured by Pakistan reportedly incorporate Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) along with a diverse range of air-to-ground armaments. Equipped with six hard points for carrying guided missiles and bombs, the Wing Loong II provides the PAF with a strategic advantage over India, which currently lacks operational Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs), aside from two MQ-9B Sea-Guardians leased by the Indian Navy for maritime surveillance purposes.

Comparing UAVS of India and Pakistan 

The examination of efforts aimed at the use of UAVs by India and Pakistan in the military contexts reveals that there are subtle differences based on quantity, capability, and origin. Both countries utilize UAVs for various military purposes, such as reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, and strike missions. In terms of UAV quantity, India's inventory exceeds that of Pakistan, with approximately 200 Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAVs, 980 mini-UAVs, and various other operational or in-procurement variants. India also plans to introduce an estimated 5,000 UAVs over the next decade. In contrast, Pakistan possesses a smaller fleet, including around 60 MALE UAVs, 60 navy UAVs, 70 air force tactical UAVs, 100 army tactical UAVs, and an undisclosed number of mini-UAVs.

Aside from quantity, differences in UAV capability are notable. Pakistan has recently acquired advanced UAVs such as the CH-4 and Bayraktar Akinci models from China and Turkey respectively, capable of carrying munitions for strike missions. Pakistan also employs Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) in combat, following the lead of the United States, Israel, and China. India primarily relies on Israeli-made UAVs like the Searcher and Heron for surveillance and reconnaissance, while it is also developing indigenous UAVs like the Rustom and Ghatak.

The origin of UAV fleets is another point of distinction. India imports UAVs from Israel, Switzerland, Slovenia, and the United States, alongside indigenous development efforts by the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). Conversely, Pakistan sources UAVs from China, Turkey, Italy, and the United States, complemented by domestic development through the National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM) and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC).

Recent years have seen a significant increase in India's acquisition of UAVs, driven by border tensions with China. The Indian Army has ordered nearly 2000 drones to enhance surveillance, reconnaissance, and logistical support along the India-China border. Collaboration with companies like ideaForge, Raphe mPhibr, and NewSpace Research & Technologies has led to the development of specialized drones, including an offensive swarm drone system. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) supports the military drone ecosystem through initiatives like Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX), fostering innovation and indigenous development to strengthen India's defense capabilities.


In conclusion, Pakistan's Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Programme showcases a purposeful and strategic evolution, propelling the nation to become the world's fourth-largest operator of drones. Commencing in the late 1990s, the programme witnessed significant milestones, with the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) and Army playing pivotal roles in introducing and advancing UAV capabilities. The integration of diverse UAV models, including Satuma Jasoos II, Uqab P1, Luna, and ScanEagle, reflects Pakistan's commitment to technological modernization and operational flexibility within its defense apparatus.

The acquisition and development of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs), notably the Burraq, Shahpar series, and Chinese-manufactured CH-4B and Wing Loong I and II, signify Pakistan's strategic resilience and adaptability to regional dynamics. The emergence of the Wing Loong II, equipped with advanced features and armaments, underscores Pakistan's dedication to staying at the forefront of unmanned aerial capabilities. The juxtaposition with India's UAV program reveals distinctive approaches in terms of quantity, capability, and origin, further accentuating Pakistan's commitment to maintaining a leading position in technological innovation within the defense sector.

* Dr. Syed Eesar Mehdi is a Research Fellow at International Centre for Peace Studies, New Delhi, India.

** Toseef Ahmad Bhat is Associate Research Fellow at International Centre for Peace Studies in New Delhi.