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Pakistan aiming for jet boost to defence exports

The JF-17 'Thunder' fighter.

KARACHI (AFP): A revamped version of Pakistan's JF-17 jet fighter took centre stage at a defence exhibition in Karachi last 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 defence 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 USD 3 billion in November 2013, from nearly USD 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 (PAC) just west of Islamabad, was among the key exhibits at the four-day International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) event.

The plane will initially be handed over to the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), 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 home-made fighters.

After the Cold War ended Pakistan began to deepen defence 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 USD 42 billion in Pakistan mainly centred on the energy sector.


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