ISLAMABAD — Analysts say confirmation of the first JF-17 Thunder export order could encourage other potential buyers to step forward, but they acknowledge many factors could complicate a deal.
Analyst and former Air Force pilot Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail is optimistic that JF-17 will now attract further customers.
"I am sure that after the deal that has been signed with the hitherto unknown 'Asian' country, the aircraft sales will surely get a big boost, and many Asian and African countries might be interested in it," he said.
The customer in question is believed to be Myanmar, and the head of the country's Air Force, Gen. Khin Aung Myint, was in Pakistan at the end of May for a four-day visit at the invitation of the Pakistan Air Force. He met senior defense officials and toured various bases and installations, though little more was said about the trip at the time.
Details, such as cost and the number of aircraft involved, are not known, but deliveries are expected to commence in 2017, according to information made available by Air Commodore Khalid Mahmood, head of the Air Force's sales and marketing effort for the aircraft type.
When Defense News asked Mahmood if he thought potential customers would be encouraged by the deal, and how soon this would be, he was optimistic, but also realistic.
"The first deal will certainly encourage other potential customers to conclude deals with us," he said.
"However, it is difficult to give a timeline because there are many variables and mostly they depend on the customer countries. Sometimes it seems that the deal is around the corner but because of reasons like political instability in the country or in the neighborhood or for some other reasons, the timelines are pushed.
"So one is never sure unless the contract is inked," he added.
Similarly, in spite of the first export success, analyst author and former Australian defense attache to Islamabad Brian Cloughley says things will not be so simple.
"I think [China] and Pakistan will redouble efforts to sell the JF-17 but that in spite of this modest success will continue to find it difficult to do so," he said.
However, Cloughley still believes "given the reasonable price, absence of the usual technology-transfer strings attached, and overall effectiveness of the system, very attractive offers could be made."
Adding, "Central America and Africa might be good markets, especially given China's most active presence in both regions."
Argentina and Nigeria have previously been linked to potential orders, with the latter widely speculated to have been on the brink of signing a deal at the end of last year during Pakistan's biennial defense exhibition, the International Defence Exhibition And Seminar.
Argentina is still believed to be heavily targeted as it attempts to modernize its airpower, which has suffered from a lack of investment since the country's defeat in the 1982 Falklands War with the UK.
One target customer that may have slipped through the net is Egypt, which became the first export customer for France's Rafale and has recently been linked to a deal for MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters from Russia.
With large numbers of legacy Mig-21/F-7 and Mirage 5 fighters to be replaced, it would have been a lucrative customer, but Tufail believes the opportunity has gone, but it has been a missed opportunity for both.
"I think Egypt does not have the money to buy more fighters after the Rafale purchase," he said. "I think they would have done well to have gone for the JF-17, as they could have bought almost a 100 of them for the price of far fewer Rafales."
Nevertheless, three JF-17s are at the Paris Air Show, with one participating in the aerial display, and one in the static park, in continuing efforts to attract more customers who may now be more interested after a first export deal has been confirmed.