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 home-grown 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. It all comes together at an Air Force base in Kamra in northern Pakistan, 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 cell phone 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, 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.
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 product has been made so far, though a new batch will be completed in the next three months.
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.
Mr. Arshad said a second-generation PACPAD would be launched in the next three months, able to connect to the Internet via cell phone networks and other improved features. He said the Kamra facility could produce up to 1,000 devices a day.
During a brief test, the tablet with its 7-inch screen appeared to run well and the screen responsiveness was sharp.