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Unforeseen Shift: Pakistan’s JF-17s to Replace Iraq’s Aging F-16 Fleet in a Game-Changing Move

In an unexpected turn of events, Baghdad has inked a deal with Islamabad after two years of diplomatic discourse to purchase their combat aircraft. As reported by The News International [Pakistan], Iraq has joined the growing list of countries, becoming the fifth nation to acquire the JF-17 Thunder fighter jets from Pakistan.

A joint venture between Pakistan and China, the production of these aircraft is driven by a keen export strategy. The JF-17 Block III, their latest model, has been snapped up by Iraq, Malaysia, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, and Myanmar, with Argentina also showing interest in the past. Reflecting on this growing trend, the author notes, “The power of the Thunder fighter has caught the attention of many countries, leading to a surge in interest for Pakistan’s aircraft family.”

While the specifics of the deal remain confidential, it’s rumored that Iraq has acquired 12 JF-17 Thunder Block III fighters, with the price tag speculated to be around $664 million. These new additions are set to take over from the US F-16s, currently the only type of fighter jets in Iraqi service. Unfortunately, these F-16s quickly deteriorated into a non-operational state after their handover from the US, requiring expensive repairs.

Before this, Iraq had considered acquiring Russian aircraft. However, given the stringent sanctions imposed on the Russian military-industrial complex by Washington, Baghdad likely decided to avoid any potential complications and opted not to engage with Moscow.

Why are Iraqi F16s not flying?
There are several reasons why Iraqi F-16s are not flying. One of the main reasons is the lack of spare parts and maintenance support. The F-16s were purchased by Iraq from the United States, and due to political tensions between the two countries, the US has been reluctant to provide Iraq with the necessary spare parts and maintenance support.

Another reason is the lack of trained personnel to operate and maintain the F-16s. The Iraqi Air Force has been struggling to train and retain skilled pilots and technicians, which has resulted in a shortage of qualified personnel to operate and maintain the F-16s.

Furthermore, the F-16s are aging and require extensive maintenance to keep them operational. The Iraqi Air Force has been unable to keep up with the maintenance demands of the F-16s, which has resulted in a decrease in their operational readiness.

Given these challenges, Iraq has turned to Pakistan for assistance in replacing its aging F-16 fleet with the JF-17 Thunder, a multi-role fighter aircraft jointly developed by China and Pakistan. The JF-17 is a cost-effective alternative to the F-16 and is expected to provide Iraq with a more reliable and sustainable air defense capability.

JF-17 and F-16

The JF-17 and F-16 are both multirole fighter aircraft designed for air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. Both aircraft have a similar size and weight, with the JF-17 being slightly smaller and lighter than the F-16. Both aircraft are equipped with advanced avionics and weapon systems, including radar, missiles, and bombs.


However, there are also significant differences between the two aircraft. The F-16 is a more advanced and sophisticated aircraft, with a longer range and greater payload capacity than the JF-17. The JF-17, on the other hand, is a more affordable and cost-effective option, with a lower maintenance and operating cost than the F-16.

Why JF-17?

The JF-17 is a newer aircraft than the Iraqi F-16s, which were first delivered to Iraq in the 1980s. As a result, the JF-17 benefits from more advanced technology and design features that were not available when the F-16s were first produced.

The JF-17 is equipped with a more modern and advanced avionics suite, which includes a digital cockpit display and advanced radar systems. This allows the pilot to have better situational awareness and to engage targets more effectively.

The JF-17 also has a more advanced weapons system than the Iraqi F-16s. It is capable of carrying a wider range of weapons, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, and precision-guided munitions. This makes it a more versatile and effective platform for a wide range of missions.

Finally, the JF-17 is a more cost-effective option for Iraq than upgrading its aging F-16 fleet. The JF-17 is a relatively inexpensive aircraft to produce and maintain, which makes it an attractive option for countries with limited defense budgets.

About JF-17

The JF-17 Thunder is a lightweight, single-engine, multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex [PAC] and the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation [CAC] of China. It is designed to be cost-effective and can perform a variety of missions, including air-to-air combat, ground attack, and reconnaissance.

The JF-17 has a length of 14.93 meters, a wingspan of 9.45 meters, and a height of 4.77 meters. It has a maximum takeoff weight of 12,700 kg and can carry a variety of weapons, including air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, bombs, and rockets. The aircraft is powered by a single Russian RD-93 turbofan engine, which provides a maximum speed of Mach 1.6 and a combat radius of 1,350 km.

The JF-17 is considered to be a cost-effective aircraft, with a unit cost estimated to be around $25-30 million. This makes it an attractive option for countries with limited defense budgets. In addition, the JF-17 has a low maintenance cost, which further adds to its cost-effectiveness.

The JF-17 has demonstrated its combat capability in various exercises and operations. It has been used by the Pakistan Air Force in counter-terrorism operations and has also participated in international airshows. The aircraft has been praised for its agility, ease of maintenance, and reliability. However, some experts have raised concerns about the JF-17’s avionics and weapons systems, which may not be as advanced as those of other modern fighter aircraft.