Saudi Arabia Interested in JF-17 Thunder Further Development and Joint-Production

Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra ,is a busy place these days, because it has become a go to place for many Middle Eastern air forces to visit the manufacturing process and the products of the organization. Numerous high level, Middle Eastern air force delegations, including Jordanian, Iraqi, Yemeni and most recently the Royal Saudi Air Force delegation, have visited the PAC in Kamra. They expressed keen interest in the products and services offered by PAC, especially the JF-17 Thunder multirole fighter aircraft, which is the most high end product of PAC.


Saudi Arabian defense delegation at  Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra
Saudi Arabian defense delegation at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra

This week a high profile Saudi Arabian defense delegation lead by the Deputy Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud, visited Pakistan after the two countries agreed on 'enhanced defence ties' during a trip by Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal to Islamabad earlier. The two countries described the warming of bilateral defense ties as the beginning of a ‘new era in the strategic partnership’ between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The delegation stayed in Pakistan for three days and was hosted at the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army, Air Defence Command of Pakistan Air Force, Pakistan Ordnance Factories at wah and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra, the home of JF-17 Thunder aircraft. The Saudi defense delegation also included the members of the Royal Saudi Air Force, during the visit to the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. Reportedly, Saudi Arabia has expressed interest in joining the JF-17 program with Pakistan during the visit.


The Royal Saudi Air Force, is one of the most advanced and professional air forces in the region which employs some of the most advanced fighter, attack and early warning aircrafts like the Boeing F-15 Eagle, F-15 Strike Eagle, Eurofighter Typhoon, Panavia Tornado and E-3 sentry. It has also recently ordered, much advanced F-15 SA aircraft from Boeing, which pack an advanced array of onboard systems like AESA radar and other upgrades like, signature enhancements, Infrared Search and Track, Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System and upgraded engines.

Saudi Arabian defense delegation at  Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra
Saudi Arabian defense delegation at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra


In that context the Saudi Arabian interest in the JF-17 Thunder program, might raise some eyebrows in certain countries and among certain experts. It must be understood that by expressing interest in the JF-17 Thunder program, the RSAF might be opting for a 'hi-lo mix' doctrine. The RSAF is operating its advanced fleet of fighter and attack aircraft for frontline duties, while the JF-17 might become its workhorse for training, conversion, Combat Air Patrol, Point Defence and Close Air Support, much like the Lockheed Martin F-16.



The JF-17 is a cost effective platform, with minimum operating and maintenance costs as compared to RSAF's front line fleet. It means that RSAF can save the airframe hours on its frontline jets as well as save on operating and maintenance costs by having its pilots fly the much cheaper and easier to maintain JF-17 Thunder aircraft. What also is noteworthy, is that the JF-17 Thunder will offer and 'open architecture' to RSAF for weapons and software integration, which means that the RSAF would have a level of freedom in open source weapons and software integration it has never enjoyed before. This feature will offer RSAF to integrate any open market weapon system, avionics and electronics it wants on its JF-17 fleet, giving it a great control over the platform to carry out a variety of missions.

Pakistan is the sole producer and operator of the JF-17 Thunder aircraft, therefore it has the industrial expertise to share with Saudi Arabia, which the Kingdom needs to develop its aviation industry. Unlike the western suppliers which more often are extremely reluctant to share the critical aspects of technology, Pakistan will be willing to offer a full transfer of technology in all aspects of the program. By 2016 a majority of work on the JF-17 program will be carried out by PAC, including critical aspects like, structural, electronics, avionics, testing and evaluation as well as weapons integration.

The time of the visit is a critical factor to be noted as PAC has just recently rolled out the 50th JF-17 Thunder for the Pakistan Air Force and has started the production of an upgraded Block-II variant, featuring in flight refueling, enhanced avionics and self protection systems to name a few. PAC is also in the process of initiating a conceptual set of requirements for the Block-III variant which will be the most advanced of the JF-17 family. If the Saudi Arabia joins the program at this point in time, it will be possible to tailor the Block-III to the exact requirements of the RSAF.

JF-17 Cockpit At Zhuhai Air Show
JF-17 Cockpit At Zhuhai Air Show


By the this process, Pakistan will transfer its technology to Saudi Arabia as well as help its close friend develop its industrial potential in major aspects of aviation engineering which other suppliers are reluctant to offer. This would mean that the Kingdom would be able to acquire the knowledge, skills and the technology to a level where it can realize its dream of building an indigenous aviation industry. A joint research and development effort will also develop skilled professionals in Saudi Arabia to carry out future ventures.
Such a deal would not only be beneficial to the Saudi aviation industry, but also would become a lifeline for Pakistani aviation industry. If RSAF being a high end operator opts for a JF-17 variant, it would build confidence in the program and would become an export success as other nations would feel more confident to opt for the JF-17 platform. For Pakistani aviation industry, it would mark a good omen and would help Pakistan foster its aviation industry and be recognized as a reliable supplier of high end defense products.

Pakistan Air Force is an organization that has to operate in a high threat environment against heavy odds, including budgetary limitations. JF-17 sales would help PAF develop its capabilities further and opt for a joint venture with its most trusted ally the People's Republic of China for a 5th Generation stealth aircraft project, which PAF direly needs in order to effectively counter the growingly sophisticated threats posed by hostile air forces. Such a deal with Saudi Arabia will help PAF in bolstering its war fighting capabilities as well.

Such a deal is more than likely to cement an already close relationship between the two countries. Both nations share a historic relationship that has stood the test of time. This deal, should it go through would mark ' a new era ' in Pakistan-Saudi Arabia defense cooperation as this program will come with a long term commitment. It would also help develop more synergy and interoperability between the PAF and RSAF. Over all such a deal will be a 'win win' for both friendly nations and would open up gates for further cooperation in defense industry sector.

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