Pakistan is expected to start mass production of its first locally built modern fighter jet by the end of this month, joining other countries that manufacture their own combat aircraft, the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) chief said on Saturday.
"We will start production of this aircraft from the 30th of this month (June) and, Insha Allah (God willing), the first Made in Pakistan JF-17 aircraft will fly in Pakistan's airspace by the end of this year," PAF chief Air Chief Marshal Qamar Suleman said.
The JF-17 Thunder is a lightweight and multi-role combat aircraft, a collaborative project between China's Chengdu Aircraft Corp and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex.
The first two aircraft, which were entirely made in China, were delivered to the PAF in March 2007. The following year, Pakistan started limited serial production, with plans for full-fledged production after completion of testing and avionics evaluation.
The announcement on starting mass production of the fighter jet comes as Pakistan has been increasingly relying on air power to defeat the Taliban militants in its northwestern region.
The air force has been increasingly used to dislodge militants from mountain tops and destroy their hideouts.
"PAF has extensively flown against the militants in Swat as well as in FATA and application of airpower has brought about tangible results," the air chief said, addressing a graduation ceremony.
The army and air force have killed nearly 1,600 militants in Swat and its neighbouring two districts since the start of military operations in April.
With the Swat operation nearing its end, Pakistan had announced similar operations in South Waziristan, one of seven tribal districts where Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud is based.
Mehsud commands thousands of fighters and had been responsible for numerous suicide attacks, plus the killing of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Since last week's decision to move against Mehsud, the air force has been pounding his hideouts on a daily basis.
"This is a new type of warfare, in which PAF has been participating for the first time during the last one year or so in support of the Pakistan Army," Suleman said.
The JF-17 is designed to be a cost-effective fighter which can meet the tactical and strategic needs of air forces of developing countries.
Pakistan plans to produce 25-30 planes annually.