After high expectations for a deal to pull through, Pakistan was successful in securing its first ever export order for its JF-17 Thunder fighter on Monday at the first day of the International Paris Air Show.
Air Commodore and Pakistan Air Force officer dealing in sales and marketing, Khalid Mahmood said “A contract has been signed with an Asian country.” However the name of the country was not disclosed and deliveries are likely to begin in 2017.
The report added that 80 people were promoting the JF-17 in Paris this year, reflecting a significant marketing push.
Due to security concerns and client sensitivities, Mahmood chose not to specify the name of the customer and the number of aircraft it will obtain from Pakistan.
Further, speaking to AFP from the Paris Air Show by phone, Air Commodore Syed Muhammad Ali said an order for the plane had been finalised but declined to give details.
“That’s the case, we’ve finalised the order,” he said, citing sensitivities for not naming the client, the number of aircraft or the date of delivery.
Mahmood further stated that the sales for the JF-17 had been delayed due to the political turmoil in numerous countries in the Middle East.
Having brought three aircraft to the show this year, one of them will make its flying debut.
Commenting on the success of the show, Mahmood said the choice of venue in terms of meeting prospective customers from French speaking countries is a good one.
Analysts believe the major selling point of the JF-17 is its cost, which is likely to be substantially less than the $16-18 million cost of an US-made F-16.
The latest models of the jets, which are locally produced in cooperation with China, are lightweight multi-role aircraft capable of Mach 2.0 (twice the speed of sound) with an operational ceiling of 55,000 feet.
With a total 11 countries including Pakistan, China also markets the aircraft.
Updating the guests and media on Pakistan’s induction of the type, he claimed that a total of 54 examples of JF-17 have been delivered till date. Out of which the first 50 were delivered in a Block I configuration and an update of these to a Block II standard is underway.
The Block II configuration features improved avionics and better software, and adds a fixed air-to-air refuelling probe. The JF-17 is powered by a single Klimov RD-93 engine.
An addition of Block III configuration with 50 aircraft and 46 aircraft delivered in the Block II configuration is expected to push Pakistan’s fleet to 150 examples, aiming to be delivered by the end of 2018.
“Though the aircraft’s developers are still working out the specifications of the Block III aircraft, upgrades are likely to include an active electronically scanned array (AESA) or Passive electronically scanned array (PESA) radar”, Mahmood said.
Further, the configuration could also include an infrared search and track (IRST) sensor, stations under the forward fuselage for various pods, and expanded precision weapons capabilities.
With the aim to serve mainly as a trainer, a two-seat variant is also planned by the developers. Pakistan produces 58% of the airframe and China 42%.
Pakistan was eager to secure its first-ever order for the JF-17 at the international event as Canada’s Bombardier is particularly hungry for sales, after its new C Series aircraft struggled through development delays and difficult market conditions.
Airbus has also confirmed it will display its A400M military transport plane for the first time since a fatal crash in Spain last month caused by a massive engine failure.
With air passenger numbers set to double to six billion annually by 2030, the world’s premier air show in Paris will next week focus on green issues even as the aircraft sales war remains centre stage.
The Paris Air Show brings together some 315,000 visitors and 2,260 exhibitors from 47 countries, with much of the attention focused on which big manufacturers, particularly Airbus and Boeing, will land the most orders.
Pakistan’s large and well-funded military has long been a major importer of defence equipment, particularly from China.
The Paris Air show runs from June 15 to 21, with the final three days open to the public.