As Pakistan surprised the global aviation community by displaying the JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft at Farnborough Air show 2010, its partner in the aircraft’s development, Chengdu Aircraft Industries Corporation (CAC) of China might be getting ready to laugh all the way to the bank. Thanks to Islamabad’s close relations with the Gulf states, notably Saudi Arabia, U.A.E and some other Islamic countries, there is a good chance the JF-17 may find an international buyer.
According to a senior source, Turkey and a range of Middle East and African states are interested in the fighters. The money from any sales will be steered into the country’s air force.
The JF-17 has been jointly developed by CAC and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and is based on the Chinese Chengdu FC-1 Xiaolong, which like all Chinese fighters has its origins in Russia. The FC-1 is said to be a based on the SU-27 fighter.
The JF-17 Thunder is classed as a multi-role fighter and can be loosely compared to the F-16 or several other light and agile fighters in the world such as the Gripen.
The JF-17, though only on static display at Farnborough, has attracted considerable interest from the international aviation community.
Informed sources said the reason for exhibiting the fighter at Farnborough was to get the international vendor community interested to help in its future development and to make it compatible with existing air assets of some of the potential customer-countries.
About 50% of the on-board equipment and avionics for the fighter is manufactured in Pakistan at the Kamra plant, while the rest of the assembly parts come from China.
Pakistan has commenced serial production of the fighter and plans to build 250 of them for its own use. The JF-17 has its origins during the era when the U.S. denied Islamabad sale of F-16 fighters after Lockheed Martin obtained a contract but had to mothball the fighters following refusal of the U.S. government to give the go-ahead for delivery of the fighters to Pakistan.
Islamabad then went to China to seek co-production of the FC-1 in Pakistan with unique specs due to which it re-designated the fighter as JF-17.
However, key systems and sub-systems including the engine, avionics, weapons control systems and key airframe components are being imported from China.
The exact deal between Pakistan and China is not known but if exports happen, the latter should get a price for the components it has supplied.
However, some analysts contend that the JF-17 is merely an assembly job with the principal components brought to Pakistan in a semi-knocked-down condition.
An unnamed PAC official has been quoted by the Pakistani Dawn newspaper that Turkey and some countries of the Middle East and Africa were taking keen interest in acquisition of the aircraft.
The first squadron of JF-17 has already joined the fighter fleet and the second squadron will be inducted by the end of the year, the official is reported as saying.