Pakistan has begun the final assembly of the first Chengdu Aircraft/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex JF-17 fighter to be produced in the country, and aims to have the first flight by end-2009.
Islamabad collaborated with China in the design and development, and received its first two JF-17s in March 2007. It has since taken delivery of around a dozen JF-17s, which China has designated as the FC-1, says the Pakistani air force.
While PAC had work-share in the earlier examples and tried some limited assembly at its facilities in Kamra, Chengdu Aircraft was responsible for most of the production. The Pakistani company has now entered the full production phase with the aircraft and aims to deliver four to six JF-17s to the PAF before end-2009.
It then plans to produce 12 aircraft in 2010, 15-16 aircraft annually from 2011, and up to 25 a year eventually, says the service. Under the terms of its contract with Chengdu Aircraft, Pakistan will buy 150 domestically produced JF-17s. This could eventually go up to 300 fighters.
The JF-17s will replace the PAF's ageing fleet of Nanchang A-5s, Chengdu F-7s and Dassault Mirage III and Mirage Vs. The service says that they will be capable of carrying variety of conventional and precision guided bombs, and air-to-air and air-to-sea missiles of both short and beyond visual ranges.
"The weapon carrying capabilities of the aircraft would enable its employment in day and night multi-role tasks on land, sea and air. The aircraft would add to the PAF's operational capability manifold and help retain the much needed balance in air power in the sub-continent," Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, the PAF's chief of air staff, said at the inauguration ceremony.
While the Pakistani-built aircraft will have Chinese components, Islamabad had planned to raise the indigenous content to 60% of the airframe and 80% of the avionics by 2010. It has also been in touch with western radar, avionics, engines and missiles suppliers.
The first 50 JF-17s will be equipped with Chinese KLJ-10 radars and SD-10 and PL-8 missiles. But Pakistan is keen to acquire advanced AESA radars and had contacted France's Thales about its RC400. It also held talks with MBDA about Mica air-to-air missiles. The Klimov RD-93 turbofan will power the aircraft, but Pakistan has been sourcing for an alternative and the Snecma M53-P2 was touted as a possibility.
He said that the JF-17 programme had made "significant progress" towards meeting its twin objectives of strengthening Pakistan's national security and acquiring indigenous capability to manufacture fighter aircraft. He added that Pakistan and China were also hoping to secure third party sales "in big numbers".
Islamabad has also been negotiating the purchase of 36 Chengdu J-10 fighters from China. The aircraft will be designated as the FC-20 in Pakistan, and they will be upgraded versions of the fighter that officially entered into service with the Chinese air force in early 2007. Deliveries to Pakistan are likely to begin from 2014-2015, and the country is unlikely to have any work-share in this programme.