Procurement: The Strange Journey Of The JF-17

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August 18, 2011: During the last two years, Pakistan has manufactured 26 JF-17 jet fighters. The first JF-17s were manufactured in China. But the plan was always to shift production to Pakistan, with the original goal of 25 a year being produced by this year. This goal was not achieved, but production has been established in Pakistan, and it is growing.

The Chinese designed JF-17 (also known as FC-1) is also manufactured in China, which is trying to export it to Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Burma, Iran and Sri Lanka as an inexpensive alternative to American and Russian fighters. So far, no takers. The hundreds of JF-17s built in Pakistan are mainly composed of Chinese parts, and the Chinese Air Force has not shown any interest in obtaining the aircraft for its own use. Officially, the Chinese Air Force is still “evaluating” the JF-17, but unofficially, Chinese air force commanders consider the JF-17 a failed design.

Last year, Pakistan signed a deal to buy the next 42, of 300, of these jets from China. These 42 will cost $14.3 million per aircraft. The final 250 will cost $12 million each. The aircraft is assembled in both Pakistan and China, with the engines coming from Russia, and most of the other components from China (which calls the aircraft the FC-1).

When the first JF-17 fighter arrived in Pakistan four years ago, it ended over twenty years of development for what was first called the Super 7 fighter. The JF-17 was developed by China in cooperation with Pakistan, which originally only wanted to buy 150 of them. All this came about because Pakistan could not get modern fighters from anyone else, and turned to China. At the time, China had nothing comparable to the early model F-16s Pakistan already had.

The 13 ton JF-17 is meant to be a low cost alternative to the American F-16. The JF-17 is considered the equal to earlier versions of the F-16, but only 80 percent as effective as more recent F16 models. The JF-17 design is also based on a cancelled Russian project, the MiG-33. Originally, Pakistan wanted Western electronics in the JF-17, but because of the risk of Chinese technology theft, and pressure from the United States (who did not want China to steal more Western aviation electronics), the JF-17 uses Chinese and Pakistani electronics.

The JF-17 can carry 3.6 tons of weapons and uses radar guided and heat seeking missiles. It has max speed of nearly 2,000 kilometers an hour, an operating range of 1,300 kilometers and a max altitude of nearly 18,000 meters (55,000 feet). China says it does not want to use the JF-17 itself because its own J-10 (another local design) and J-11 (a license built Russian Su-27) are adequate for their needs. The J-10, like the JF-17, did not work out as well as was hoped, but that's another matter. Meanwhile, Pakistan has one squadron in service, and another being formed.

 


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