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In a move that could reshape the regional balance of power, Azerbaijan has reportedly signed a $1.6 billion deal to purchase JF-17 Block III fighter jets from Pakistan. This historic export agreement marks the biggest in Pakistan’s history and could significantly bolster the Azeri air force.

Currently, Azerbaijan relies primarily on aging Soviet-era fighter jets like the MiG-29 and Su-25, limiting its air capabilities. While it has acquired drones from Israel and Turkey in recent years, the JF-17s would provide a significant leap in technology and firepower.

The potential for this purchase has been simmering for years. Back in 2011, reports emerged of an agreement between Azerbaijan and Pakistan, but no concrete contract materialized. Concerns about Russia’s potential objections, due to the JF-17’s use of a Russian engine (RD-33), were cited as possible roadblocks. However, China’s development of an indigenous engine could pave the way for future exports.

Azerbaijan also evaluated Russian fighter jets like the MiG-35 and Su-35, known for their range and payload. However, the JF-17’s single-engine design translates to lower acquisition and maintenance costs, making it a potentially more attractive option. Additionally, China is known for offering favorable financing terms, further solidifying the appeal for Azerbaijan.

This deal, if confirmed, could have significant geopolitical implications. It would strengthen Azerbaijan’s position vis-à-vis its neighbor Armenia, with whom it has a long-standing conflict. It could also potentially complicate relations with Russia, given its historical ties to both Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The JF-17 deal, if finalized, would mark a significant milestone for both Pakistan and Azerbaijan. It would showcase Pakistan’s growing defense exports and bolster Azerbaijan’s airpower. However, the deal’s impact on regional dynamics remains to be seen, and the potential for future developments, such as China’s indigenous engine, adds another layer of complexity to this evolving situation.