Pakistan is preparing its JF-17 Thunder fighter plane to carry an air-launched cruise missile that is designed to carry conventional or nuclear warheads, Defense News reported on Wednesday.
It remains to be seen, though, if the Thunder would take over for Pakistan's aging Mirage 3 fighters as the air leg of the nation's nuclear deterrent.
“The Mirage is a tested and well-integrated platform, it would take some time to have the Thunder in large numbers to do the job," Mansoor Ahmed, an expert with the Defense and Strategic Studies Department at Quaid-e-Azam University, said of the aircraft developed jointly by China and Pakistan.
The Mirage aircraft already carry the Hatf 7 missiles, also known as the Raad. While that plane line is not "less credible as a nuclear deterrent in any way," according to former air force flier Kaiser Tufail, "the JF-17 would certainly be a better and more modern platform, about which there should be no debate."
Pakistan is seen to be making a number of moves to augment its nuclear strength against longtime rival India, including introduction of a short-range ballistic missile.