PAC set for F-16 work as it shelves K-8 plans

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Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) has shelved plans to assemble Hongdu K-8 Karakorum trainers, but is poised to gain work from an expected upgrade to Pakistan's Lockheed Martin F-16A/B fighters.

Assembly of the K-8 jet trainer and Chengdu FC-1 lightweight fighter had previously been envisaged as part of both Chinese-Pakistani programmes, but a PAC official says that it is no longer viable to pursue local assembly of the K-8 because Islamabad is acquiring the aircraft too slowly. However, the company expects to begin assembling FC-1s from late next year.

Pakistan, which has already purchased 12 K-8s, has abandoned plans to acquire over 50 additional aircraft at an accelerated rate and will instead spread a 32-aircraft acquisition out over several years.

PAC will continue to supply Hongdu with K-8 subassemblies and will increase output of these components this year.

The company now manufactures Mushshak piston trainers and several K-8 components, while a separate factory located in Kamra focuses on rebuilding Dassault Mirage fighters and the Snecma Atar powerplants.

The latter also recently overhauled its first Rolls-Royce Allison T56 engine and hopes to expand into F-16 upgrades.

Pakistan last year sent a letter of request to the US government for an F-16 modification package, but discussions have progressed slowly and the US Congress has not yet been notified of the potential deal.

Industry sources say that Pakistan has yet to decide on a configuration and has also yet to draft a formal requirement. But the sources expect that 32 F-16s will be put through avionics and structural upgrades, with some of the work expected to be conducted by PAC.

Pakistan is also looking to acquire a further 11-18 used F-16A/Bs and 24-32 new F-16C/Ds and, during a US-Pakistan Defence Consultative Group (DCG) meeting to be held in Islamabad in early February, will reportedly press the USAto make available aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Pakistan has already committed to acquiring six additional Lockheed C-130B transports and is expected to sign a contract with the US government within two months to acquire eight ex-US Navy Lockheed P-3C Orion maritime patrols.

PAC lacks the capability to upgrade C-130s or P-3s and Lockheed is overhauling the former, the first of which will be delivered next month.

Several vendors, including L-3 and Lockheed, are competing to win the contract for the P-3 modernisation work.

BRENDAN SOBIE / SINGAPORE