The JF-17 was developed primarily to meet the requirements of the Pakistan Air Force for a low-cost, medium-technology, multi-role combat aircraft as a cost-effective replacement for its ageing mixed fleet of Nanchang A-5, Chengdu F-7P/PG and Dassault Mirage III/V fighters and also have export potential to air forces of other developing countries as a cost-effective alternative to hi-tech but expensive Western fighters.
Pakistan and China signed the Letter of Intent for the joint development of the JF-17 (then called "Super-7") in 1998, followed by the signing of the Contract in 1999. The project got delayed due to the inability to find an avionics and radar package. In 2001, the Pakistan Air Force recommended that the airframe design be de-coupled from the avionics and radar systems for the aircraft to avoid further delay. This resulted in a fresh impetus to the project and the design was finalized and 'frozen' in 2001. The maiden test flight of the first prototype took place during 2003 in China, later test flights with a modified design with Diverterless Supersonic Intakes (DSI), and a modified tail design took place in 2006. Deliveries to the Pakistan Air Force for further flight testing and evaluation began in 2007, the aircraft's first aerial display also taking place that year in Islamabad, Pakistan. The Pakistan Air Force officially inducted its first JF-17 squadron on 18th February 2010.
The JF-17 is expected to cost approximately US$15 million per unit. The Pakistan Air Force has announced that it has a confirmed order for 150 JF-17s, which may increase to 250 aircraft. The JF-17 will replace Pakistan's MiG-21-derived Chengdu F-7, Nanchang A-5 and Dassault Mirage III/Mirage V aircraft currently in service. Azerbaijan, Zimbabwe and eight other countries have expressed interest in purchasing the JF-17 at a recent military exhibition in Pakistan, according to an official. (Photo: Graham Detonator)