May 1, 2006:
On April 29, 2006, China had the first test flight of its FC-4 jet fighter. The FC4 is an advanced model of the FC1, which is already being built in cooperation with Pakistan. The 13 ton FC1 is also known as the JF17, and is meant to be a low cost ($20 million) alternative to the American F16. The JF17 is considered the equal to earlier versions of the F16, but only 80 percent as effective as more recent F16 models. The JF17 uses the same Russian engine, the RD-93, that is used in the MiG29. The JF17 design is based on a cancelled Russian project, the MiG33. Most of the JF17 electronics are Western, with Italian firms being major suppliers. The JF17 can carry 3.6 tons of weapons and use radar guided and heat seeking missiles. It has max speed of Mach 1.6, an operating range of 1,300 kilometers and a max altitude of 55,000 feet.
The JF17 first flew in 2003, and Pakistani test pilots are now participating in further flight tests. The aircraft is expected to enter service in 2006, but this may be delayed by problems a new engine China is trying to build for the JF-17. Pakistan plans on buying 150 of the JF17s. The Chinese air force does not want to buy the JF17s because so much of the production is outside the country (in Pakistan).
The FC4, with engine, airframe and electronics improvements, is expected to build on the success of the FC1/JF17. The Chinese air force is supposed to get 200 FC4s, if the aircraft gets through development successfully. China is using aircraft like the FC1 to build a warplane development capability. Mistakes are made, but key skills are gained.