Pakistan is on the verge of joining an elite group of countries capable of manufacturing unmanned aircraft capable of killing as well as spying, according to a senior defence official.
Pakistan, which opposes lethal drone strikes carried out by the CIA in its territory, said it is only developing remote-controlled aircraft for surveillance purposes. However, during a major arms fair held in Karachi last week, military officials briefed some of Pakistan's closest allies about efforts by the army to develop its own combat unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), reports The Guardian.
"The foreign delegates were quite excited by what Pakistan has achieved. They were briefed about a UAV that can be armed and has the capability to carry a weapon payload. It does not have the efficiency and performance as good as Predator. But it does exist," said the official, referring to the U.S. combat drone widely used to attack militant targets.
The official said Pakistan wanted to demonstrate to friendly countries, namely Turkey and the Gulf, that it can be self-sufficient in a technology that is revolutionising warfare and which is currently dominated by a handful of countries that do not readily share the capability.
Huw Williams, an expert on unmanned systems at Jane's Defence Weekly, expressed doubts that Pakistan could have succeeded in progressing very far from the "pretty basic" small reconnaissance drones, which the country publicly exhibited at the weapons show.
"The smaller systems are not greatly beyond that of a model aircraft. But the larger, long-endurance drones are a step up in technology across the board," he said.
Only the US and Israel are currently believed to have drones that can fire missiles. China and Turkey are also working on large-scale combat drones.
Raja Sabri Khan, chief executive of Integrated Dynamics has been deliberately refocusing his company's efforts on smaller drones, many of which are launched by hand, which are mostly intended for civilian use.
"We have these small drones, but not enough of them and we do not always get them when we have operations. They are excellent for observing the Taliban, their movements and deployments," said a Pakistani army colonel attending the exhibition.