KARACHI: A revamped version of Pakistan’s JF-17 jet fighter took center stage at a defense exhibition in Karachi this week, as the restive nuclear-armed state looks to boost its role as a military exporter on the world stage.
Pakistan’s large, well-funded military has long been a major importer of defense equipment, particularly from key ally China.
But Pakistan is hoping the updated JF-17, conceived and initially developed with the help of China, along with Pakistani-made tanks and surveillance drones, will help grow military exports and bring in much-needed foreign exchange revenue.
Pakistan’s forex reserves are slowly recovering after falling to just $3 billion in November 2013, from nearly $15 billion in 2011.
But the economy is still shackled by a long-running energy crisis and growth remains sluggish, predicted at 4.3 percent this financial year.
The new JF-17, which is manufactured at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex just west of Islamabad, was among the key exhibits at the four-day International Defense Exhibition and Seminar event.
The plane will initially be handed over to the Pakistan Air Force, which is currently carrying out air strikes against Taliban militants in the northwest.
“We will hand over 16 Block-II JF-17s to the PAF every year,” said Air Marshal Javaid Ahmad.
He said the first five would be delivered this month and the plant has the capacity to produce 25 aircraft per year.
The air force started using the first edition of the JF-17 in 2010, having historically relied on US imports during its wars with India.
It has deployed F-16s in recent attacks on insurgents in the tribal regions that border Afghanistan, but not its own homemade fighters.
After the Cold War ended, Pakistan began to deepen defense and economic ties with ally China, culminating in the test flight of the jet’s prototype in Chengdu in 2003.
China earlier this month promised investment worth $42 billion in Pakistan mainly centerd on the energy sector.
Ahmad did not disclose the jet’s sale price, but added: “Several developing countries have shown keen interest in buying JF-17s from Pakistan.”
Sources close to the issue said countries in Central Asia, South America and Africa have expressed interest.