Pakistan on Monday rolled out its first indigenously assembled version of the JF-17 combat jet developed jointly with China.
The JF-17 Thunder jet was rolled out at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra, the country's main facility for building and maintaining combat aircraft. The Pakistani air force plans to make the first JF-17 squadron which will officially become operational between 2010 and 2012.
The jet, which was completed after being in development for almost a decade, is a lightweight, all weather, day-night multi-role fighter.
"We are living in challenging times. The fast changing technology-intensive battle arena requires intense involvement of airpower that has emerged as a major player in conflict scenarios," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in his address.
"The role of the air force also becomes vital in tackling the threat posed by the forces of extremism and militancy. Under these circumstances, a modern air force is a national requirement, and for this reason, I firmly believe in a strong and well-equipped Pakistan air force," he said.
The PAF worked with the army in its drive against militants, he added. Gilani described the rolling out of the first JF-17 jet assembled in Pakistan as a 'momentous occasion' and 'an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to attain self-reliance'.
As the jet matures, it will become the 'mainstay for the PAF', he said. He praised China for supporting several mega projects in Pakistan, including the Gwadar deep sea port, Karakoram highway, Heavy Mechanical Complex and Saindak copper project.
"These have become symbols of the exceptional ties between our two countries," he said.
The JF-17, which has a maximum speed of Mach 1.6 and is designed to carry short and long-range air-to-air missiles, will replace the PAF's ageing A-5, F-7P and Mirage jets.
PAF chief Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman said 10 JF-17s are currently in service with his force and the first squadron equipped with the jets would be raised by the first half of next year.
The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex will produce all but two of the 42 jets ordered by the PAF and the use of indigenous components will be progressively increased from 20 per cent to 58 per cent, he said.