China and Pakistan may finally have their first customer for the jointly developed Pakistan Aeronautical Complex/Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (PAC/CAC) JF-17 Thunder combat aircraft.
According to Chinese media reports, a deal was signed during the Dubai Air Show this month with an unidentified Asian country.
It remains unknown when the contract was signed or how many aircraft were sold. Khaleej Times quotes Air Commodore Khalid Mahmood, head of sales and marketing for the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, who once more noted that “a contract has been signed with an Asian country.”
However, the Pakistani officer made the exact same announcement during the Paris Air Show in June 2015 (See: “Confirmed: Sino-Pak JF-17 Fighter Jet Has its First Buyer”).
Back then Khalid also refused to name the country. He also did not specify the number of planes sold, although he stated that deliveries would likely begin in 2017. (China Daily also noted a 2017 delivery date this Wednesday.)
The periodic announcements of the signing of a deal with an Asian customer could thus just be a clever marketing ploy in order to make the plane more attractive to other countries.
“Several potential buyers have expressed to us their strong intention of introducing the aircraft, and they have performed comprehensive assessments of the plane,” Liu Yu, deputy head of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China’s military aircraft trade wing, told China Daily during the air show.
In June, reports circulated that Sri Lanka was planning to acquire 18 to 24 planes with the first deliveries beginning in 2017. This, however, was later vehemently denied by the Sri Lanka Air Force.
As I reported last week (See: “Outwitting Pakistan: India Offers Sri Lanka its Newest Fighter Jet”), in an attempt to outdo its archrival Pakistan, India is now also trying to sell the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft to Sri Lanka.
Myanmar appears to be one of the most likely Asian customers, given that its air force is operating a number of Chinese-made military aircraft.
A number of air forces are currently considering acquiring the JF-17, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Nigeria, the Philippines, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.
The plane is manufactured at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) west of Islamabad, which has the capacity to produce 25 aircraft per year.
However, as I reported back in April of this year (see: “China Will Supply Pakistan With 110 New JF-17s”), Pakistan’s military aircraft industry appears unable to keep up with domestic demand for the aircraft.
Pakistan’s military recently placed an order of 110 additional JF-17 aircraft from China, which calls into question the true export capacity of Islamabad’s aircraft industry.