Steeped in financial debt amid worsening economic woes, news of Iraq making up its mind to buy 12 Pakistan-made JF-17 ‘Thunder’ Block III fighter aircraft for its beleaguered air force, ending a two-year-long negotiation process, maybe the source of big relief for Pakistan.
At the same time, the reported deal signals a very rare story of the success of the Pakistani military industry. The catch, however, is that the JF-17 is a product of a collaboration by Pakistan with China.
Fitted with a Russian-made aero-engine, about 42 per cent of the aircraft parts are China-made, while 58 per cent of the manufacturing is done in Pakistan.
The deal, believed to be valued at about $1.1 billion, may be the biggest arms sale ever in Pakistan’s history.
However, the exported JF-17 has not been without problems with reports of the entire fleet in Myanmar being grounded due to technical malfunctioning.
In effect, Iraq would become the fifth country to buy JF-17s from Pakistan after the combat aircraft has made it to the air forces of Malaysia, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, and Myanmar.
A formality remains in the form of a ratification of the deal by the Iraqi parliament.
The hitches to the deal are understood to have been overcome during Pakistani foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s three-day official trip to Iraq from June 5-7. A joint statement signed by both sides referred to the agreement to expand bilateral cooperation in defence production.
The Iraqi air force has an aircraft strength of less than 200 platforms of which 34 US-supplied F-16s were the mainstay. But in recent times, hit by a shortage of spare parts and other aircraft supplies, the F-16 fleet had reportedly become defunct for all practical purposes due to readiness issues.