Dawn News

PAC builds the PACPAD with a company called Innavtek in a Hong Kong-registered partnership that also builds high-tech parts for the warplanes. - File photo

KAMRA: Inside a high-security air force complex that builds jet fighters and weapons systems, Pakistan’s military is working on the latest addition to its sprawling commercial empire: a homegrown version of the iPad.

It’s a venture that bundles together Pakistani engineering and Chinese hardware, and shines a light on the military’s controversial foothold in the consumer market. Supporters say it will boost the economy as well as the nation’s self-esteem.

It all comes together at an air force base in Kamra, where avionics engineers – when they’re not working on defence projects – assemble the PACPAD 1.

“The original is the iPad, the copy is the PACPAD,” said Mohammad Imran, who stocks the product at his small computer and cellphone shop in a mall in Rawalpindi.

The device runs on Android 2.3, an operating system made by Google and given away for free. At around $200, it’s less than half the price of Apple or Samsung devices and cheaper than other low-end Chinese tablets on the market, with the bonus of a local, one-year guarantee.The PAC in the name stands for the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, where it is made.

The PAC also makes an e-reader and small laptop.

But the other side of the affair produces a different reaction.

“I just can’t figure it out,” said Jehan Ara, head of Pakistan’s Software Houses Association, said of the PACPAD. “Even if they could sell a billion units, I can’t see the point. The air force is supposed to be protecting the air space and borders of the country.”

Supporters say the foray into information technology is a boost to national pride for a country vastly overshadowed by arch rival India in the high-tech field. Tech websites in the country have shown curiosity or cautious enthusiasm, but say it’s too early to predict how the device will perform. Sceptics claim it’s a vanity project that will never see mass production.

Only a few hundred of each products has been made so far, though a new batch will be completed in the next three months.

“The defence industry is trying to justify its presence by doing more than just produce weapons,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc., a critical study of military businesses.

“Some smart aleck must have thought we can make some money here.”

PAC’s website at http://www.cpmc.pk says the goal is “strengthening the national economy through commercialisation” and lauds the collaboration with China – something that likely resonates among nationalists.

China is regarded as a firm ally by Pakistan’s security establishment.

PAC officials suggested the programme that produces the PACPAD was modelled in part on the Chinese military’s entry into commercial industry, which lasted two decades until it was ordered to cut back lest it become corrupted and lose sight of its core mission.

The tablet and other devices are made in a low-slung facility, daubed in camouflage paint, near, a factory that produces J-17 Thunder fighter jets with Chinese help.

“It’s about using spare capacity. There are 24 hours in a day, do we waste them or use them to make something?” said Sohail Kalim, PAC’s sales director. “The profits go to the welfare of the people here. There are lots of auditors. They don’t let us do any hanky-panky here.”

PAC builds the PACPAD with a company called Innavtek in a Hong Kong-registered partnership that also builds high-tech parts for the warplanes.

But basic questions go unanswered. Maqsood Arshad, a retired air force officer who is one of the directors, couldn’t say how much money had been invested, how many units the venture hoped to sell and what the profit from each sale was likely to be.

The market for low-cost Android tablets is expanding quickly around the world, with factories in China filling most of the demand. Last year, an Indian company produced the ‘Aakash’ tablet, priced at $50, and sold largely to schoolchildren and students.

Mr Arshad said a second-generation PACPAD would be launched in the next three months, able to connect to the Internet via cellphone networks and other improved features. He said the Kamra facility could produce up to 1,000 devices a day.—AP

Comments (31) Closed

Feb 20, 2012 11:44am
I cannot belevie in that the Avionics engineers are developing this. They may be jus tassembling it. This is really a dumb move by airforce. If there is any collaboration then it must be in the public sector so that the local industry , manufactures , students etc can get benefit from it. Who authorized this? Who put money in this? Is it not the money of tax payers from which airforce is getting profit????
Feb 20, 2012 12:01pm
I have no words except why the hell is the military establishment making these rather than allowing private companies to do this with the government encouraging them through incentives. It is that the army has become a multi billion dollar corporation rather than the protectors of the country. They can't even keep tabs on Osama i donside the country yet they foray into this.... Do your job first and then once you are good at your job then get involved in this stuff
Feb 20, 2012 12:29pm
Use the spare hours to improve the Air Force instead!
Kashif Janjua
Feb 20, 2012 01:10pm
Great Pakistan.... Great Pakistan Air Force... Carry on & Go on .... PAK, China Friendship Zindabad ...
Shahid Rehman
Feb 20, 2012 01:27pm
I think it is a great achievement.We should diversify our already installed resources and skilled manpower for the betterment of our countrymen where ever possible. Defense industry,everywhere,is the precursor of commercially useful technologies.So,why should not Pakistans' defense industry also follow the same principle.
Feb 20, 2012 02:46pm
This is the most dumb idea. Matter of fact manufacturing of clone of ipad with free OS will not boost the economy but waste the precise time and focus of aviation engineers.
Naqi Akbar
Feb 20, 2012 03:15pm
for the information of respected readers, the TCP/ IP protocol which is the backbone of internet was developed by the US MOD way back in 1970. same is the case with electronic mail that was initially used in USS carriers. So if PAC has done something, no point in getting overtly skeptical!
M. Hanif
Feb 20, 2012 03:15pm
its positive step! if private sector wants to do such activates they should come up! Army never stop any private org. to come forward for something good! Best of Luck PAC! we expect a lot more from you in the future!!
Sulman Rahman
Feb 20, 2012 03:46pm
The Pakistan airforce should first learn to do its own job properly. This is the airforce that was sleeping while American commandos voilated Pakistani territory and killed people in the heart of the country. The military has become too focused on making money and forgotten it is created to defend the country - not make copy iPads!
Imtiaz Bashir
Feb 20, 2012 03:48pm
As Shahid Rehman said, most of the available commercial products were invented/developed by army of superpowers long before they were introduced for public consumption. Internet is one of them. Don't criticize our armed forces for the sake of criticism. Long live Pakistan and its forces.
Feb 20, 2012 04:10pm
How will it be different from countless other Chinese iPad clones out in the market?
Tariq Mahmood
Feb 20, 2012 05:17pm
Congrats good effort, A thousands mile journey start with first step. weldone PAC
Feb 20, 2012 05:33pm
I believe avionic engineers should be doing something else, keep this baby stuff for the public sector..
Feb 20, 2012 05:41pm
I've been in this industry for about two decades, and for your info, no one in private or public sector has the equipment to design and manufacture the electronics involved. And yes, PAC does have all those facilities. So if they are doing it, what's the problem with that?
Fuzail Z. Ahmad
Feb 20, 2012 05:54pm
Some of the comments are really unkind for PAF. I am also disappointed to read Jahan Ara's views in the news story itself. What is wrong with you people? What about the national pride that results from someone in Pakistan making a PACPAD? PAC does not fight wars; PAF does. PAC is a tech center and all Pakistanis should be mighty proud of the work they do. If we lose our pride in our own eyes, we lose the right to exist as a nation.
Feb 20, 2012 05:53pm
Good to show your skills. But I would prefer PAF making a super drone then a copy of IPAD. BTW, drone will have more margin to make money the PACPAD.
Feb 20, 2012 05:58pm
This is not original research and devp like the pioneering work done fot the TCP/IP. This is just copying!
Feb 20, 2012 05:59pm
Imtiaz Bahi, most things were not developed by military but by NASA. Though a government org but not military. The internet was actually a useful tool for the military for communications. And in fact was an invention and not a rip off. All this does is tell the world we are good at copying! If they want to manufacture something at least come up with original useful stuff.
Feb 20, 2012 06:43pm
The internet created by MOD was created for defending US and its spill over was handed over to commercial use later.PAC must first learn to do its core job i.e. create technology for defending the country. Secondly investing defense budgets in commercial ventures(NLC scam) is always a bad idea.Fist learn to do your core job.
M. Asghar
Feb 20, 2012 06:53pm
This is a good development, but now the "product" should be contracted over to a private enetreprise for improvements and commercialisation.
Feb 20, 2012 07:12pm
Excellent work Keep up the good work. Contine to make high teck projects. Forget the hypcrits and the complainers. GO GO PAC. This is great for the country and for the economyAyesha Siddiqa. If private sector could do this why did not they. Down with Ayesha Siddiqa who is a anti Pakistani anti Muslim Kafir collaborator. The country needs to rise in education, industry, hi tech no matter who does it.
Feb 20, 2012 07:33pm
Fyi PAC is also not military
Madiha R.
Feb 20, 2012 10:04pm
Exactly my thought. Thank God we still have people who think positive.
Feb 20, 2012 11:34pm
People who cant do anything themselves only criticize others. Forget the PAC what have you done. And secondly android was also a copy of the same idead of apple, but see how much market share they have.
Feb 20, 2012 11:50pm
Why are people being so negative? It is a very good thing for Pakistan - Well Done!
Feb 21, 2012 10:53am
Its a good job done to boost the Nations's morale, however, PAC should either sublet the manufacture of the tablet to a private sector outfit or should create a subsidiary to enter into this market segment.
Feb 21, 2012 12:33pm
May be good job done by PAC, but need to set the priorities, why not working to build a super drone insted of iPAD colon. It will strengthen our national security.
Feb 21, 2012 07:03pm
I just dont get it - why are the educated and the so called intellectual elite of Pakistan so bent on criticizing the armed forces no matter what they do. The unfortunate fact is that the armed forces in Pakistan spend more on R&D in the country and employ more scientist and researchers than anyone in the private sector - the country should be proud and stand by the forces as they do here in the west. (I would like to ask Ayesha Sidiqa or Jehan Ara how much of their own money they would invest in a high risk startup that will carry out high risk research in Pakistan). These pseudo intellectuals understand nothing about the real world, and how innovation starts....  instead just swallow and try to promote western ideals in Pakistan.....they should also remember that the internet itself, the first computer and these days cloud computing (amongst many other things we enjoy) were first developed by the US military. From there American companies such as IBM, Microsoft, and now Google / Facebook were able to take them on and bring them to market to the world, ultimately benefiting the US people (wonder where the US would be if it was blessed with these intellectuals). Please put things in perspective before trying to act broad minded and criticise whatever little innovation that IS happening in the country, and whoever is doing it.
Feb 22, 2012 12:54pm
Very good effort. Keep the inventions coming, it's a moral booster for the country that is struggle very badly in the hands of corrupt politicians in the name of democracy. We should encourage army for their service and invention; not criticize. In addition, when these products hit the market we should purchase these gadgets instead of othere products from foreign manufacturers.
Raja Fayyaz
Mar 04, 2012 11:20pm
Good job, wonderful work done by the PAF Engineers. Please Appreciate them instead of just negative propaganda against them as well against this great nation please. please leave us now and go to hell if you cant appreciate the good work done for this great country. The enemies like Aesha Sidiqa and jahan Aara type pseudo intellectuals have already taken much of this country for writing always for their masters. Keep it up PAC Well done.
Arshad Mehmood
May 17, 2012 08:01am
PAC is a separate institution i.e affiliated with PAF which is playing a vital roll in the defence of PAKISTAN. it is very easy to criticize on any issue presently in PAKISTAN. There is need to appreciate and to resolve the crisis which is PAKISTAN suffering