Date Posted: 20-Nov-2009
Jane's Defence Weekly
Pakistan unveils first domestically assembled JF-17
Farhan Bokhari JDW Correspondent - Islamabad
The first fully Pakistan-assembled JF-17 aircraft, built in collaboration in China, is scheduled to be formally unveiled on 23 November - almost two decades after Islamabad and Beijing agreed to jointly build a fighter.
According to officials from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), up to 250 examples of the JF-17 (also known as the FC-1 or 'Thunder') will be inducted into the air force in the next six to eight years, giving the aircraft a key position as the main second-line fighter to replace older Chinese F-7 fighters and A-5 ground attack aircraft. The PAF's older French-built Mirage IIIs and Mirage Vs are also planned to be phased out.
The PAF currently operates 45 F-16A and B models, mostly aircraft sold by the US in the 1980s. Last month the first of 18 F-16C and D models, currently on order from the PAF, formally rolled out in the US.
In a related development in mid-November it was revealed that Pakistan had finally reached an understanding with China for Beijing to sell Pakistan at least 36 of its J-10 fighters. On 18 November a PAF official told Jane's that the technical negotiations for the J-10 were complete and that commercial negotiations for a final price "are in the concluding stage".
On 20 November a Pakistani government official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity told Jane's that the two JF-17 and J-10 programmes are now the "centrepiece of our strategy on the PAF's future development".
The JF-17, the unveiling of which was scheduled to take place at the PAF-run Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) north of Islamabad, joins the eight JF-17s built in China and delivered to the PAF in 2008.
Between December and June 2010 the PAF is understood to be looking to induct eight to 10 more JF-17s to form the PAF's first full squadron of the type.
Western observers of the PAF in Islamabad said the JF-17's launch will probably be followed by Pakistan seeking to test a variety of Chinese munitions and avionics to fit both the JF-17 and the J-10. These developments are expected to increase the PAF's reliance on China as the primary source of its military hardware.
"In the next few years, the Chinese influence on the PAF will deepen significantly," said one Western defence official. "While the PAF will still be quite keen to receive US equipment wherever possible, its reliance on China is bound to grow."
China and Pakistan first began work on a fighter in 1990 when the US imposed sanctions on the latter in relation to Islamabad's nuclear weapon programme.
After the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks brought Pakistan in from the cold as a US ally in the 'global war on terror', the US administration of former president George W Bush lifted restrictions on military sales to Islamabad and allowed the sale of new F-16s to Pakistan.
Since 2001 Pakistan has received 14 older F-16s, which were declared as excess defence articles (EDAs) by the US. Under Pakistan's status as a non-NATO US ally, it has the privilege of receiving EDAs free of cost, although it must pay for upgrades.
In addition to the new F-16s on order, Pakistan and the US are currently also negotiating for Islamabad to receive up to 15 additional older F-16s declared EDAs by the US Air Force.