02 Februari 2017
JF-17 Thunder (photo : The life pile)
After deciding to purchase 16 JF-17 Thunder multi-role combat aircraft in 2015, Myanmar is now in advanced negotiations with Pakistan to also licence-build the third-generation fighter, defence industry sources in Yangon and sources close to the Myanmar Air Force (MAF) told Jane's in mid-January.
If an agreement is reached, Myanmar's bid to manufacture the single-engine combat aircraft - co-developed by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and China's Chengdu Aerospace Corporation (CAC) - could mark a significant step forward in the country's efforts to expand its local defence industry.
As the MAF phases out its obsolete fleet of F-7M Airguard and A-5C 'Fantan' combat aircraft purchased from China in the 1990s, licensed production of the JF-17 Thunder would also mean that the aircraft will likely become the MAF's workhorse over the coming decades in much the same way as it has moved to prominence within the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
At least 70 of the fighters are in service with the PAF, with the first ones having entered service in 2009. Expectations are that the PAF will induct up to 150 JF-17 Thunder fighters in the coming years.
The first of 16 imported JF-17s ordered by Myanmar are expected to go into service with the MAF later this year. Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources told Jane's that these aircraft will be of the Block II variant, which was first rolled out from the PAC's Kamra plant in 2015 and which, unlike the Block I variant, features an air-to-air refuelling capability and improved avionics and electronics.
It is unclear whether later deliveries to the MAF will include the far more advanced Block III variant being produced at Kamra since last year. Sources told Jane's that in the context of ongoing negotiations on licensed production, Myanmar is seeking to produce the aircraft's Block III variant.