Pakistan’s fighter jet JF-17 has been inducted into the Nigerian air force last year. A sign of increasing confidence for Pakistan Aeronautical Complex on their product. Pakistan is already gearing up to sell the JF-17 thunder, jointly manufactured with China to different countries.
The story begins in the 1980s when Pakistan was closely allied with the United States against the Soviets in Afghanistan. It was then that the U.S agreed to sell Pakistan the latest F-16 fighter jets.
During this time between 1979 and 1989, Pakistan received three and a half-billion dollars in military assistance from the Americans. Meanwhile, by then Pakistan had developed its own nuclear weapons program without much resistance from the United States, but all this changed in 1990.
The U.S government sanctioned Pakistan under the Pressler amendment canceling the sales of several F-16s for which Pakistan had already paid to Lockheed Martin.
Pakistanis felt aggrieved that they were being unfairly punished by the Americans for the nuclear program. This setback made it clear to Pakistan that it could no longer rely on the Americans to meet defense needs.
Hence, in 1995 Pakistan and China signed a deal to jointly design and develop a new fighter jet. This effort led to the JF-17 Thunder; an all-weather dogfight capable 1.8-Mac beast that could get the job done on the cheap. The fighter jet costs between 18 and 25 million dollars per unit depending on the single or double seat variant.
It’s similar to the F-16 but the JF-17 block 3 the latest version is powered with additional weaponry, new tech, and a more advanced radar system. Around 150 of these fighter jets have been inducted across six air force squadrons at full operational capability in Pakistan. Similarly, two dozen are operating in Myanmar. Few are now in the Nigerian air force, which is looking forward to buying more JF-17 as it is undergoing a modernization program to upgrade its air fleet. However, Azerbaijan has also shown interest in purchasing JF-17 jets.
Pakistan’s offering is the most affordable in part due to China’s instrumental assistance. By the end of 2023, the JF-17 is expected to be the most commonly used Chinese-associated combat aircraft in service with foreign clients. Both China and Pakistan are hoping that the aircraft may build on its early accomplishments and match the export performance of its predecessors.
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The question is can Pakistan’s JF-17 fighter jet capture the market and beat innovation well. At the higher end of the market, we have the F-35 and Euro fighter going for 100 million dollars per aircraft, that’s the cost of 10 JF-17s while 122 million dollars for the latest F-35 versus 18 million dollars for the cheapest JF-17. Pakistanis are confident that this jointly manufactured aircraft can do most of the work for many developing countries looking to upgrade their air fleets.