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Is This Country the Sino-Pak JF-17 Fighter’s First Customer?

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Asia Defense

Is This Country the Sino-Pak JF-17 Fighter’s First Customer?

The mystery continues: one media source claims that the JF-17 has been sold, another denies it.

Is This Country the Sino-Pak JF-17 Fighter’s First Customer?
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to Pakistani media reports quoted in Want China Times, Sri Lanka has decided to acquire the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex/Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (PAC/CAC) JF-17 Thunder combat aircraft. This would make it the first international customer of the fighter jet.

Sri Lanka plans to acquire 18 to 24 planes with the first deliveries beginning in 2017, Pakistan-based 92NewsHD reports. The article additionally notes that first rumors about a possible sale occurred earlier this month when a photo of the office of a Sri Lankan air force commander revealed a scale model of the JF-17.

The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) already operates some Chinese-made aircraft, including seven Chengdu F-7 (license-built MIG-21), nine Harbin  Y-12 turboprop military transport, plus one Chengdu F-7 and five Hongdu JL-8 jet trainers. Additionally, the SLAF has ordered two Xian MA 60 transport planes from China’s Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation.

However, as soon as the story broke in the Pakistani media, Sri Lankan officials adamantly denied that a weapons deal with Islamabad has been signed. Sri Lankan Air Force spokesperson, Wing Commander Gihan Senevirathne, as quoted by the Daily Mirror, emphasized that “although both Pakistan and China have indicated the availability of the fighter jet and proposals have been submitted on the availability of the aircraft, SLA has not made any decision on purchasing them.”

As I reported last week, a number of air forces are evaluating the purchase of the JF-17, and the media has so far named more than a dozen potential export destinations, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Bulgaria (see: “Pakistan and China May Finally Have a JF-17 Buyer”), Myanmar, Nigeria, the Philippines, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

In my previous post I noted that out of all the export destinations named, Myanmar appears to be the most likely. I cited a The Diplomat article from back in June 2014:

Although the report is unconfirmed, it is extremely plausible. To begin with, Myanmar has previously operated or currently operates a number of Chinese-made aircraft including: 48 NAMC A-5C fighters, 52 Chengdu F-7M Airguard fighters and 4 Y-8 medium lift transports. The Southeast Asian nation’s air force also recently purchased Sky 02A Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) from China, and built domestic copies of them.

Most notably, Myanmar is also believed to operate 4-10 Karakorum-8 (JiaoLian-8) jet assault and trainer planes, which were also jointly produced by China and Pakistan. Some reports indicate that the deal for the K-8s also included a license in-country component.

As of now, the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) is the only one to operate the aircraft.  So far, the PAF has received 50 Block I planes, and is scheduled to receive 16 Block-II JF-17s annually over the next few years.