Pakistan Air Force's JF-17 (Photo : APG)
China and Pakistan are eyeing international customers for their Chengdu/ Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) JF-17 fighter, which is making its Western air show debut at Farnborough.
The countries jointly developed the aircraft, with the Pakistani air force receiving its first Chinese-manufactured examples in 2009. PAC also began indigenous assembly of the aircraft last year, and could incorporate western avionics, radars and other systems into the fighter from 2012.
Pakistan could have around 28 JF-17s in service by year-end, and eventually induct up to 250.
Both Pakistan and China are keen to export the fighter, which they tout as a low-cost alternative replace aged Northrop F-5s and Lockheed Martin F-16s. China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corp, which markets Chinese-made military aviation products globally, is in talks with around six potential customers, while the Pakistani government has also held initial discussions with others.
"China wants to use the JF-17 as part of its plan to become a significant player in the global military aviation market, while Pakistan is keen for exports that will help it to reduce its unit cost at its indigenous assembly plants," says an industry source. "Negotiations have been ongoing for a while now and they will continue at Farnborough, which is a great opportunity to show off what the aircraft can do."
Industry sources add that China has held talks with countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Venezuela, while Pakistani officials have held discussions with Egypt and Turkey.
A customer that commits to a "significant number of aircraft" could get help to set up an indigenous assembly plant if it is keen to help its domestic industry, say officials. This is similar to the arrangement with Pakistan for the JF-17 and a Chinese deal with Egypt for the Hongdu K-8 trainer and light attack aircraft several years ago.
Getting a suitable engine could be a potential hurdle, however, with Russia unwilling to allow China to use the Klimov RD-93 engine beyond the aircraft's current buyers. China's Guizhou Aircraft has been developing the WS-13 Taishan for the fighter for the past 10 years, and a JF-17 reportedly made a test flight using the new powerplant in March 2010. However, industry sources say the company is still not ready for mass production of the engine.(Flight International)