The Pakistani government, according to the local press, would have reached an agreement to sell 12 JF-17C Thunder Block III fighters to Iraq.
Priced at US$1.1 billion, the deal could be the biggest military sale in Pakistan’s history.
According to the media in the country, the agreement was closed during a recent visit by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, head of Pakistani diplomacy, to Baghdad.
The purchase of the supersonic jets has not yet been confirmed by Iraqi official sources, however, the progress of such a negotiation depends on the approval of the Iraqi Parliament.
Pakistan Aeronautical Complex reached an agreement with the Republic of Iraq for the sale of 12 PAC JF-17 Thunder Block III 4.5 generation multirole fighter aircraft.
— Pakistan Republic (@republicdotpk) July 8, 2023
Joint project with China
Considered the most affordable supersonic fighter in the world today, the JF-17 Thunder is a Sino-Pakistani aircraft. About 40% of the jet’s components are produced by Chengdu, a state-owned manufacturer in China (the same company that produces the J-20, the first Chinese fifth-generation fighter).
The manufacture of other items and the completion of the plane is the job of Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), a company controlled by the government of the Asian country.
The JF-17A Block III, offered to Iraq, is the most advanced version of the Thunder. The single-engine fighter variant (powered by a Russian Klimov RD-33 engine) includes AESA (electronically scanned array) radar, enhanced avionics, IRST (infrared search and tracking) sensor and aerial refueling probe.
According to the manufacturer, the aircraft reaches a maximum speed of Mach 1.6 (1,975 km/h) at an altitude of 17,000 meters.
Attractive to nations with limited defense budgets, the JF-17 Thunder has become an interesting export product for Pakistan, which has already sold the fighter to Nigeria (three aircraft) and Myanmar (nine aircraft).
The fighter is also competing to equip the Argentine Air Force, which has been looking for a new air superiority aircraft for some time.
Rafale fighters are also of interest to Iraq
Pakistan’s possible agreement to sell fighter jets to Iraq could disrupt France’s business, which has been negotiating the Dassault Rafale with the Iraqis for some years.
In August 2022, the Iraqi government offered France oil in exchange for 14 Rafale fighter jets, each valued at approximately $240 million.
Such a negotiation, without involving a currency, would suffer less impact from the global economic crisis, especially in the current context of the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis in Europe. The talks, however, have not progressed for the time being.
But the Rafale is still not completely discarded by Iraq, even if the country chooses to purchase the JF-17A Thunder. In May of this year, Major General Yehia Rasool, spokesperson for the Iraqi Armed Forces, commented that the country was considering purchasing “modern military equipment” from France, as reported by Forbes.
Currently, the Iraqi air force’s main fighter aircraft is the Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52. Iraq also has Russian-made Sukhoi Su-25 attack jets, but the aircraft are grounded for lack of spare parts.