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China, Pakistan set to supply JF-17 fighters to Nigeria

Myanmar is the only known export user of the JF-17

JF-17 fighter The Sino-Pakistani JF-17 fighter | Wikimedia Commons

The official Twitter handle of the Government of Nigeria on Tuesday announced that the country's air force was expecting delivery of three JF-17 fighters from Pakistan. The JF-17 is a light fighter that was designed primarily in China and is being built in Pakistan. Myanmar is the only known export user of the JF-17.

The Government of Nigeria Twitter handle quoted Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, chief of the Nigerian Air Force, as saying, "We are expecting 3 JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft from Pakistan, 12 A-29 Super Tucano from the United States, and one Mi-171E... A total of 200 personnel are receiving training in 9 different countries of the world on handling combat aircraft. They will soon join their colleagues in the fight against insecurity and in particular, insurgency in the North East."

There have been reports in recent months that the delivery of the JF-17 fighter to Nigeria could happen by November. In June, images surfaced of Nigerian pilots training on the JF-17 at the Pakistan Aeronautics Complex (PAC), the company that builds the aircraft. On November 10, the Nigerian Air Force's Facebook account tweeted that the Makurdi Air Base was being modernised to accommodate the JF-17 fighters. The Nigerian Air Force announced that Abubakar had commissioned a facility to accommodate "Pakistani pilots and technicians who would support the JF-17 aircraft during the first year of its operations in Nigeria".

Talk of a deal between Pakistan and Nigeria to supply JF-17 fighters was first reported in 2015-2016. In 2018, Pakistan's Economic Coordination Committee approved a deal to sell three JF-17 jets to Nigeria at a cost of $184.3 million.

Interestingly, China Economic Net, a Chinese state publication, reported on Tuesday that the deal to supply to JF-17 fighters to Nigeria was a joint venture between PAC and China's Chengdu Aircraft Corporation. "Each jet costing $61.2 million apiece includes a complement of missiles, laser-guided bombs and targeting pods supplied by China," China Economic Net reported.

With the JF-17 featuring a Chinese radar and Russian engine, the role of Pakistan appears to be limited to being the manufacturer of the airframe and provision of training. Nigeria could order more JF-17 jets if the initial batch meets its air force's expectations.

The JF-17 is expected to be Nigeria's most advanced supersonic fighter. The Nigerian Air Force currently uses the Chinese-built J-7 (a derivative of the MiG-21). The JF-17 would give the Nigerian Air Force the capability to fire beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles and also deploy precision-guided bombs for ground-attack missions against groups such as Boko Haram.

The JF-17 entered service with the Pakistan Air Force in 2010. Over 100 JF-17 fighters have been built and Pakistan and China have been engaged in developing an upgraded 'Block 3' variant that would feature advanced radar and other electronics. The Pakistan military had claimed that a JF-17 had shot down the MiG-21 of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman during the skirmish over the Line of Control in February 2019.


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