ISLAMABAD / ATTOCK: Pakistan launched on Wednesday production of an improved version of JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif performed the inauguration of the manufacturing of Block 2 of JF-17 at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in the town of Kamra.

Block 2 jets come with air-to-air refuelling capability, improved avionics, enhanced load carrying capacity, better weapon carriage and enhanced data link and electronic warfare capabilities.

The aircraft costs around $20-25 million apiece, compared to Block 1 which costs about $15m.

The Kamra production facility has been reconfigured for the production of the new version.

Production of Block 2 is expected to continue till 2016 after which manufacture of Block 3 is planned which may have new engine and different weaponry.

The aircraft jointly produced by Pakistan and China in 2003 was inducted into the Pakistan Air Force in 2007.

JF-17 is a cost-effective aircraft with multi-role capability. It participated in Dubai air shows and some 11 countries have expressed interest in purchasing it.

Speaking at the rollout ceremony of the 50th JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft at the Kamra complex, Prime Minister Sharif said production of JF-17 Thunder aircraft was a milestone towards self-reliance in the sector of defence production.

He said JF-17 was a symbol of growing Pak-China friendship, which he recalled had resulted in a number of other collaborative projects, including Gwadar Port‚ Chashma Nuclear Power Project and Karakoram Highway.

Mr Sharif said the government was committed to strengthening country’s strong defence.

He said a defence strategy was being prepared which envisaged upgradation of defence equipment and logistics.

Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt and the PAC chairman Air Marshal Sohail Gul khan said on the occasion that the signing of a sales and marketing agreement with China Aero-Technology Import Export Corporation was another major achievement.

APP adds: “The new technology and modern expertise have transformed our defence into a great force ... We want that our defence forces should be ever ready for any contingency,” the prime minister said.

He expressed satisfaction that the country’s military leadership was fully cognizant of the changing environment and was following an agreed and well-integrated approach.

“For this reason, we want to ensure that our forces are alert, active and fully equipped with necessary professional skills.”

Mr Sharif said the day marked a glorious milestone in the history of the country’s aviation industry as well as in the national quest for development and progress.

He congratulated the Chief of Air Staff and his team on successful completion of in-country production of the first batch of 50 JF-17 aircraft.

He said proud accomplishments marked the history of Pakistan Air Force showing bravado, commitment and courage. The skill and passion of ‘flying falcons’ to conquer the skies assured that the country’s aerial frontiers were safe and secure, he said.

Later during his interaction with newsmen, the prime minister said Pakistan desired peaceful relations with neighbouring countries, particularly India and Afghanistan.

“Pakistan’s intentions towards its neighbours are positive and it expects similar reciprocity from them.”

He welcomed the upcoming meeting of directors general military operations of Pakistan and India on Dec 24.

He said Pakistan and China were effectively translating their friendly and brotherly relations into development projects for mutual benefit of their people.

He mentioned the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor project, which would link Gwadar to China through Khunjrab Pass and said that economic zones would be set up along the corridor.

The project would have far-reaching impact on the future of both countries, he added.

Mr Sharif said cheap labour in Pakistan would also contribute to smooth materialisation of projects with China.

In reply to a question about the difficult procedure of PM’s Youth Loan Scheme, he said the conditions for getting loan would be reviewed and necessary amendments would be made accordingly.

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