PAC readies for assembly ramp up

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BRENDAN SOBIE / SINGAPORE

Pakistani company will construct lightweight fighters and trainers for air force at Kamra factory and aims for exports

Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) is preparing to begin assembling next year its first Chinese-developed FC-1/JF-17 lightweight fighters and K-8 Karakorum basic/ advanced trainers for the Pakistani air force and for potential export customers.

The company's aircraft manufacturing plant in Kamra aims to build 50% of each aircraft sold outside China. It produces just under 20% of the K-8, and participates in the Chengdu Aircraft-led FC-1/JF-17 development programme.

Chengdu is responsible for building all five prototype fighters for the joint Sino-Pakistani programme. But PAC will be in charge of final assembly for eight of the 16 initial production aircraft, which are due for completion by early 2007. Serial or high-rate production of the design will begin late the same year.

PAC plans to build capability on the design gradually, starting with final assembly operations next year and later adding the manufacture of major components such as the wing, so that it can build half of each JF-17 from about 2009. "We have to prepare ourselves, [and] that work has already begun," says Air Cdre Zakir Khan, managing director of the Kamra factory.

PAC is drawing on its experience in building Mushshak piston trainers and K-8 subassemblies. The company will roll out its first Kamra-assembled K-8 in 2006, a few months before completing its first JF-17.

PAC already supplies China's Hongdu Aviation Industry with K-8 front fuselages, horizontal stabilisers and other components that combined account for 18-19% of the aircraft. It will also assume responsibility for structure/wing fabrication, final assembly and testing. A Pakistani air force requirement to replace its Cessna T-37s and Shenyang FT-5s with 55 K-8s from 2007 is driving this expansion in PAC's K-8 capability.

Pakistan's army operates eight Hongdu-assembled K-8s. Other operators include China, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Zambia. A joint PAC/Hongdu marketing team is promoting the design to several African and Middle Eastern countries, with the option of Chinese or Pakistani assembly. A PAC/Chengdu team has begun marketing the FC-1/JF-17 to other nations with the same assembly options.