The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) on 18 December rolled out its 50th and final JF-17 Block 1 Thunder fighter aircraft, and announced the launch of Block 2 production.
A ceremony to mark the event at PAC's Kamra facility north of Islamabad was attended by prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who also witnessed the Pakistan Air Force and PAC sign a formal agreement with China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC) for joint international sales and marketing of the aircraft.
Sharif said the success of the JF-17 programme, a collaboration between China's Chengdu Aircraft Corporation and the PAF-run PAC, "shows that our air force is fully capable of defending our country".
According to a PAF press release, Block 2 JF-17s "will have improved versions of avionics sub-systems, air-to-air refuelling capability, additional weapon-carrying capability, optimised maintenance facilitation and some operational capabilities".
The statement did not provide further details on any of these systems but added that "Pakistan's share in co-production of the airframe of the JF-17 aircraft is 58%".
PAF officials at the 2013 Dubai Airshow told IHS Jane's that a Block 3 variant of the JF-17 "exists in the form of a conceptual design and a list of mission requirements but no concrete decisions have been made about the choice and configuration of the onboard systems for the aircraft". IHS Jane's All the World's Aircraft notes that the Block 3 upgrade is planned to be launched in 2016, and in the meantime CAC and PAC are collaborating in developing a combat-capable, two-seat conversion trainer variant that is expected to enhance export prospects.
Air Vice Marshal Javaid Ahmed, head of the JF-17 programme for the PAF, told IHS Jane's that potential customers for the existing version of the aircraft were likely to come from South America, Africa, the Middle East or Southeast Asia. "These countries of the developing world will be attracted to this aircraft given its specifications and a competitive price," he said.
Western analysts in Islamabad who are familiar with the progress of the JF-17 fighter plane said the PAF/PAC collaboration with CATIC is built primarily on providing developing countries with a cheaper alternative to expensive Western aircraft.
Although neither China nor Pakistan have publicly disclosed a price tag, a senior Pakistani government official told IHS Jane's that it could be in the range of around USD25 million per aircraft. A Western defence official based in Islamabad added that this price "could be about half to one-third of the price of a comparable Western fighter".