China has agreed to expedite the delivery of 50 fighter jets to Pakistan, a Pakistani government minister confirmed on Friday, as Islamabad tries to deepen ties with Beijing as an alternative to increasingly fragile relations with the United States.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has been holding talks with Chinese leaders during a visit that comes as ties with the U.S. have faltered after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan this month.
Pakistan’s Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar told media that his country was aiming to receive “50 aircraft in six months” from China at between $20 million and $25 million per aircraft.
The Wall Street Journal originally quoted an unnamed high-ranking Pakistani Air Force spokesman, in Beijing with Gilani, as saying the jointly developed JF-17 jets would be in addition to another batch of the same aircraft that is currently being assembled in Pakistan.
The JF-17 “Thunder” program dates back to 1999 and is aimed at reducing Pakistan’s dependence on Western companies for advanced fighters.
The jets are a single-engine, multi-role combat aircraft, that Mukhtar said are being jointly produced between China and Pakistan.
“There was a loan given for starting the manufacturing of this because the Chinese will also buy these aircraft,” he said on Chinese financing for the order.
The Pakistani Air Force has ordered 150 “Thunders”, which it may increase to 250. The 50 mentioned in the report are likely part of the larger order.
In February 2010, Pakistan fielded its first JF-17 squadron with 14 aircraft.