A Ukraine Air Force (UAF) delegation headed by Colonel General Sergii Drozdov, UAF Commander visited Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAF) Kamra on March 06 this year setting off speculation that Kiev was looking at buying the JF-17 Block III, whose first flight had taken place in January.
“The visit is a lot more than just a photo-op,” said a Ukrainian industry source to defenseworld.net. The source who did not wish to be identified said, “the UAF is seeking to urgently replace an average 30 year old Mig-29s and Su-27s inherited from the former Soviet Union which are too old for major modernization."
The PAF’s media wing has released images of the UAF delegation visiting the plant with under-construction aircraft in the background, which look like fuselages of the JF-17.
Joint missile development:
The visit could have something to do with Pak- Ukraine cooperation in the field of missile development.
In 2018, Ukraine’s arms development and export agency, UkrOboronProm and Pakistan agreed to discuss “terms and conditions for launching joint Ukrainian-Pakistani production of precision rockets of different classes,” with an intent to “begin joint research and development work in the coming months,” according to a UkrOboronProm press release then.
A Ukrainian manufacturer, Yuzhnoye Design Office had displayed the mock-up of a new lightweight air-to-surface missile, ‘Bliskavka’ (Lightning) at Ukraine’s annual defence exhibition, Arms and Security 2019 with offers of joint production.
The Bliskavka also has an air-to-air version. In addition to Chinese supplied missiles, the JF-17 could benefit from third party weapons systems to make it more appealing to foreign buyers.
The JF-17 Block III has garnered considerable attention from potential buyers mainly due to its headline features- a Chinese supplied active electronically scanning array (AESA) radar, the latest targeting and electronic warfare systems analogous to those found on much more expensive aircraft such as the F-16 and Jas 39 Gripen.
Ukraine’s fighter aircraft buying plans:
The UAF had opened talks with Saab in 2014 to buy the Gripen but these did not progress to anything concrete. Kiev has also an interest in buying F-16 but budgetary constrains have kept it from any foreign purchases excepting for UAVs from Turkey.
Though the JF-17 Block III is yet to enter serial production, it has seen suitors from several countries in the Middle East, South East Asia and Africa show interest in the jet. Its main attraction is its price, expected to be less than half of the F-16 Block 70/72, the latest iteration of the US made jet.
The low price could be a factor in the UAF sizing up the JF-17 Block III. Kievpost newspaper reported in March 2019 quoting UAF’s chief aviation engineer Major General Petro Skorenkiy that, presently budget funding is insufficient either for foreign purchases or a full modernization of its own aircraft, and the national defense industry can provide only 30–35 percent of the work required by the UAF (partial modernization and repair).