Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder attack fighter is at the Paris Air Show to woo further export customers. Improved, Block II aircraft are now being delivered to the home air force.

With one signed export contract already secured, Pakistan’s JF-17 is cavorting in Parisian skies this week, intent on tempting additional sales, most particularly from Africa. Earlier appearances at Farnborough, Dubai and Zhuhai have played their part in publicizing the attack fighter’s capabilities. But, according to Air Commodore Khalid Mahmood, CEO of JF-17 Sales and Marketing, Paris is the place to meet Francophone potential customers.

The identity of the first export buyer remains a closely guarded secret and might not be divulged any time soon. Maintenance of the veil of discretion is assisted by the fact that media reports have identified countries (literally) between Argentina and Zimbabwe as being Thunder purchasers. “Hiding in plain sight,” indeed.

“We are talking intimately with a dozen possible customers,” says Mahmood, “and there are many more who are interested. Around the world, there are about 4,000 such aircraft that need replacing, particularly by budget-limited air forces. We expect to take a big share of the market, as the JF-17 costs only a third as much as some Western fighters.

“What we offer is cutting-edge technology at affordable cost,” he said.

Designed (as the FC-1) in Chengdu, China, to a Pakistani specification, the Thunder is built exclusively at Kamra, Pakistan. It is from this production line that export orders will come, with the Chinese supplying 42% of the aircraft’s components. This may vary slightly as customers are offered two basic avionics packages: one exclusively Chinese; the other combining local, Western and Chinese kit. Engines (RD-93s) come from Klimov in Russia.

The first customer has ordered “several batches” of Thunders, apparently including the long-awaited tandem-seat trainer version. The prototype is scheduled to fly in December 2016.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan air force (PAF) has equipped two squadrons and a tactics training unit with its first 50 Block I Thunders. Four improved, Block II aircraft have now been accepted by the PAF and the remaining 46 are following at the rate of three per two months. Inflight refueling probes will be installed on the second half of this batch.

Mahmood confirms that early work is being undertaken on a Block III configuration, probably to include enhancements to radar, avionics and weapons in conjunction with “chin” stations for sensor- or targeting pods. He was unable to confirm any connection between this program and the JF-17 weapons integration testbed (numbered 0213) which was built in China late last year.

Will export customers find, like some for U.S. aircraft, that certain high-tech equipment items are denied them? “The Americans are worried that, one day, they might find themselves fighting their own technology somewhere in the world,” explained Mahmood. “We don’t have that problem.”