Joint design on track for 2005 delivery to Pakistan, but J-10 remains elusive
Chengdu Aircraft is on schedule to deliver the first FC-1/Super-7 light fighter to the Pakistani air force next year, having already racked up over 300 flight test hours on three prototype aircraft.
Pakistan is the only country to have placed an order for the FC-1, having agreed to take 16 aircraft equipped with Chinese radars. Eight of these will be assembled by Chengdu and eight by the Pakistani Aeronautical Complex (PAC). Pakistan has an ultimate requirement for about 150 of the aircraft, which is also being evaluated by China and Egypt. Chengdu expects a market for at least 300 FC-1s and a joint Chengdu-PAC sales team plans to accelerate an export campaign after first delivery in the third quarter of 2005.
China also requires hundreds of new lightweight fighters but has several other options.
"This is a light aircraft, so there are many competitors," says Le Qiang, vice-director of Chengdu's trade department. One option is to revive the Chengdu F-7MF programme, a 100% Chinese effort the government launched as an alternative to the joint Sino-Pakistani FC-1. Chengdu test flew the F-7MF in 2002, but the aircraft has since been parked. Chengdu continues to make improvements to the aircraft and is lobbying the government to fund more flight tests.
The FC-1 and F-7MF offer a leap in capability over the existing Chengdu F-7MG because they can accommodate more weapon systems and support four engagements simultaneously compared with two on the F-7MG. Le says F-7MG production will continue for several years as there is still a requirement in China and sales could potentially be made to six foreign militaries. The aircraft is already operated by China and Pakistan and Le says the first of 12 aircraft on order for Bangladesh will be delivered by early 2005.
Le says four FC-1 prototypes, "three flying and one test article", are now being tested and the flight envelope should be completed by next October. "We plan to complete all of this by next year, maybe the third quarter," he says.
Pakistan considered a European radar for the FC-1, but at least for the first batch has chosen to stick with Chinese-developed systems. Chengdu had hoped to fly one of its FC-1 prototypes at the Zhuhai air show last week but did not get the necessary approval from the Chinese government.
Also absent at the show was Chendu's J-10 multirole fighter. The company has been hoping to take the wraps off the design for the last few years, but China remains reluctant to even acknowledge the programme exists.
BRENDAN SOBIE / ZHUHAI