KAMRA: The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) on Monday rolled out the 16th JF-17 Thunder fighter built in the calendar year, reaching its production target for indigenous manufacture of the aircraft in 2015.

At a ceremony held at the PAC in Kamra on Monday, the recently constructed jet was inducted into the Pakistan Air Force.

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“I will appreciate the vital role played by our time-tested Chinese friends for the success of JF-17 programme. Their support at PAC Kamra and in so many other projects is cherished and highly valued by every Pakistani,” said Defence Production Minister Rana Tanveer.

The JF-17 was jointly developed by PAC and the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) in China. The first JF-17, produced by Chengdu, entered into service in March 2007. The PAC started indigenously producing the aircraft in June 2009.

Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Sohail Aman expressed his satisfaction with how the JF-17 programme was progressing. He noted the professional competence and commitment displayed by PAC personnel in meeting milestones of the programme.

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Comparing the JF-17 to the F-16, the Air Chief said Pakistan’s joint fighter would replace the PAF’s ageing fleet. “The replacement programme would continue till 2020.”

“By the year 2020, PAF will say goodbye to some of its old fighter jets, including the Mirage.”

In addition to meeting its production target, the PAC on Monday announced operation of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) technology for the joint fighter as it handed over the first-ever JF-17 aircraft to be overhauled in Pakistan back to the PAF.

Asked about the export order for JF-17 secured this year, the PAF chief said that negotiations were ongoing with friendly nations around the globe for its sale.

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Later, a PAF spokesperson said that in light of the interest in JF-17 shown by various countries, it had been decided that production capacity at the PAC Kamra will be expanded.

In April this year, China said it will deliver 50 JF-17 jets over the next three years.

Speaking to the media, Air Marshal Aman said that his country was in talks with the US to procure F-16 fighter jets but noted that it may take a while before a deal could be struck.

“We are in talks with US defence officials to acquire the latest F-16s but the deal may take some time,” the air chief said without specifying the number of aircraft or their status.

Pakistan had been looking to buy eight F-16s from the US, with the Obama administration hoping that Congress clears the sale.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th, 2015.