Expert-Adviser of Baku based Center for Strategic Studies under the President of Azerbaijan Republic Fuad Shahbazov told Defence Blog that Azerbaijan ready or not to purchase JF-17 Thunder fighter jets from Pakistan.
Azerbaijan and Pakistan have a unique history of political relationship that has surpassed territorial boundaries and geographical distances. Pakistan was among the first states to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence following the 1991 Soviet collapse. The bilateral strategic cooperation between these two countries embraces economic, cultural, political and especially defence fields. Eventually, Pakistan is the only country that has not established diplomatic relations with Baku’s main foe – Armenia. Taking into account the close ties, the current level of military cooperation between Azerbaijan and Pakistan needs to be emphasized. Although, Azerbaijan defence industry holds strategic relations with various countries, official Baku seeks the ways of expanding military cooperation with Pakistan in last years.
Given the Pakistan’s status as a nuclear power, combined with its dynamic military muscle, the military cooperation can be seen as another fundamental building block of the bilateral relationship. The two countries signed a defence agreement in May of 2003 * which allows Azerbaijani military staff, in particular special force units to take part in annual military drills along with Pakistani Armed forces. As a part of the agreement, Azerbaijani naval personnel participated in a biggest Pakistani-led multinational exercise, AMAN-2013, held in March in the Arabian Sea. In addition to this, Pakistan and Azerbaijan will hold mutual military exercises said Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif during his official visit to Azerbaijan in October of 2016*.
Moreover, military and defence cooperation between Azerbaijan-Pakistan is signified by continuous dialogue in the form of high-level meetings, and military agreements such as the military cooperation agreement that was signed in February of 2014 in Islamabad. The same updated document was signed on April 1, 2015, during the Working Group meeting in Baku. Azerbaijan, which suffers from the long-term bloody conflict with Armenia for more than a decade, considers the further development of defence industry as a one of the main priorities.
Official Baku, which enjoys full diplomatic support of Pakistan over Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, meantime eyes to purchase JF-17 Thunder (also known as the FC-1 Xiaolong) multi-functional aircraft that was jointly developed by Pakistan and China. Although Azerbaijan has been expressing interest in importing JF-17 no significant deal has been reached yet. Nevertheless, Pakistani Ministry of Defence was invited to demonstrate JF-17 aircraft at the Azerbaijan International Defence Exhibition (ADEX-2016) for the first time, during which minister of Defence Industry Yavar Jamalov repeatedly has shown interest in importing new fighter jets *. In the same year, Azerbaijan’s First Deputy Prime Minister Yaqub Eyyubov attended the International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS), where he reiterated his government’s interest in buying new aircraft. Currently, Azerbaijan Air Forces operate mainly MIG-29, SU-25, and MIG-21 aircraft *.
The JF-17 aircraft had been produced as an affordable and modern replacement to French-made Mirage III and F-7 interceptors. Pakistan had long been trying to find countries to buy the JF-17 in order to reduce the per-unit cost the Pakistan Air Force pays. Thirteen countries have so far expressed interest in purchasing the JF-17 aircraft are Azerbaijan, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Sudan *. The lightweight, single-engine, multi-role combat jet, jointly developed by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Corporation, sells at an attractive price point, with a unit cost of just around $15-25 million*. According to Pakistani mass media, in addition to JF-17, officials in Baku seek to purchase also simple MFI-395 Super Mushshak trainer jets *.
The main reason behind Pakistan – Azerbaijan politico-military cooperation is the fact that the latter is still dealing with unresolved territorial conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh region. Official Baku does not try to hide the fact that it wants to muster all the backing in order to resolve Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In the case of Pakistan, official Baku fully supports the settlement of the Kashmir problem based on the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council, said president Ilham Aliyev during the joint press conference in Baku *.
Despite differences between militaries and defence industries, Azerbaijan – Pakistan military cooperation makes a significant contribution in terms of regional security. The source of concern for both of countries is border security, and growing global terrorism threat. Seemingly, Azerbaijan seriously rekindles its interest in purchasing JF-17 Thunder aircraft and most probably in 2017 a significant deal would be reached regarding the issue. Moreover, Azerbaijan is looking forward for starting joint production of small firearms, guided munitions, as well as, anti-tank missiles. Even though Azerbaijani defence industry was likely established in 2005, it has shown significant development. The country manufactures well-known Istiglal sniper rifle, which is also in the basket of Pakistani special forces since 2012.
No doubt that Pakistan will try to make additional inroads into the defence market of Azerbaijan, as it is economically and strategically important for Pakistan to find new means for importing of aircraft, missile systems, tanks, and another kind of military vehicles to Azerbaijan.