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Iran Is Looking To Buy Weapons From Pakistan

December 7, 2018

Via Wikimedia Commons.

Pakistan’s largest arms show attracted a fair amount of media coverage but one particular event did stand out amid the hustle and bustle surrounding IDEAS 2018. It looks like the Iranian delegation at the Karachi Expo Centre between November 27 until 30 weren’t just there to ogle the products on display but talk business. Iranian state media revealed a certain Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari met with top brass from Pakistan’s military about possible “cooperation.”

Now “cooperation” implies a whole range of activities in the global arms trade. While it’s true there’s remarkable overlap between the indigenous military industries of Iran and Pakistan, the two countries aren’t natural allies, and have much to disagree about.

But in the course of IDEAS 2018 frenzied speculation did erupt on Twitter about Iran’s alleged willingness to acquire single engine JF-17 fighters. The speculative nature of the claim, unsubstantiated anywhere else and thoroughly lacking detail, does cast doubt on whether an arms deal is in the works. Foreign guests who attend arms shows do ask a lot of questions about what’s on sale and unless an agreement is produced, discussions amount to nothing over time. For Iran’s peculiar air force to fancy the JF-17 is rather contentious since Tehran is obsessed with its homegrown efforts at a “world class” aerospace sector no matter how dubious the output.

The JF-17 is assembled in Pakistan and shopped around the world while the FC-1 is the Chinese-made variant offered for export.

An important clue about the speculative JF-17 acquisition is found in a very short update by Iranian media. It revealed Admiral Sayyari met twice with Pakistani generals but the substance of their discussions is not revealed. It’s important to note, however, that Sayyari spoke to a Pakistan Air Force Chief Marshal. The following was published by Mehr News on November 29:

On Thursday, Sayyari held two separate meetings with Pakistan’s Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee General Zubair Mahmood Hayat and Pakistan Air Force Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan on the sidelines of the 10th edition of International Defense Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS).

In the meeting with Hayat, Sayyari highlighted the need for boosting bilateral cooperation in manufacturing defense-related equipment. The officials also conferred on ways to enhance military cooperation between the two countries.

In the next meeting between Anwar Khan and Sayyari, the two officials stressed the need for further enhancing cooperation between Air Forces of the two nations. [Emphasis by 21AAR.]

The two countries have the mechanisms and capacity for ensuring the security of the region and they will not allow foreigners to interfere and sow discord between them at all, said Sayyari.

Heading a senior military delegation from Tehran, Rear Admiral Sayyari is participating in Pakistan’s 10th International Defense Exhibition and Seminar, IDEAS 2018 in Karachi.

The JF-17 is manufactured by the state-owned Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and is an attractive model for developing countries who want to boost their air forces. If Iran plans on adopting JF-17’s their role will be to replace either two dozen Chinese-made J-7 fighters or a similar number of hand-me-down Mirage F1EQ’s that used to be flown by the Iraqi air force. These models are the most problematic among Iran’s combat aircraft since very little has been done to upgrade them. The same may apply to the Soviet vintage Su-22 and Su-24 ground attack aircraft that are inadequate against the fourth-generation aircraft flown by Gulf militaries. As for Iran’s nearly 200 US-made twin engine fighters–unequal numbers of Phantoms, Tomcats, and Tigers–are too vital for defending national airspace hence it’s unlikely they’ll be replaced soon.

If a deal for a specific number of JF-17’s is already in the works another hurdle Iran must find a way around is payment. One alternative that Tehran can exploit is a barter agreement where exports are offered in lieu of cash. It’s also possible for PAC to just transfer the assembly of JF-17’s to Iran. It wouldn’t be the first time the two countries embarked on a military-to-military project. At some point in the late 1980s Pakistan did share its nuclear weapons research with Iran and the ballistic missile programs of either country share a common heritage. (North Korea!)

Whether or not Tehran pays for a few squadrons of JF-17’s there’s surprisingly little to stop it from doing so. Its secretive military industries have managed to assemble cruise missiles, jet-powered combat drones, and third-generation main battle tanks. A low-cost multirole fighter isn’t beyond reach.

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