Pakistan plans to push ahead with Chinese Super 7 fighter

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Paul Lewis/ISLAMABAD

Pakistan is preparing to push ahead with full scale joint development with China of the Chengdu FC-1/Super 7 fighter as the US Government agrees to refund payments made on 28 embargoed Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs.

The two countries are negotiating a detailed working agreement following the signing of a co-operation memorandum in late 1997. "A lot of work has to be done before you can enter into a detailed contract-I would say we're in the final stages of fixing up a contract for signature," says Pakistan air force Super 7 chief project director, Air Vice Marshal Hamid Khawaja.

Pakistan requires around 150 Super 7s to replace its earlier F-7P fighters and supplement 32 surviving F-16s, while China is believed to need a similar number. "We've been assured of this," says Hamid, responding to earlier reports casting doubt on the Chinese air force's commitment to ordering its own FC-1 version of the fighter.

US Congress legislation blocking the follow on sale of 71 F-16s as a result of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme has made the Super 7 a priority. Washington has agreed to a $324.5 million cash reimbursement on the $658 million paid by Islamabad for the first 28 completed F-16s. Another $157 million has already been refunded in the form of three Lockheed Martin P-3Cs and Raytheon AIM-9L air-to air missiles, while the remainder will be covered by the supply of wheat.

The planned Super 7 working agreement calls for an equal 50:50 share of the baseline fighter's development cost. The first single Klimov RD-33 turbofan-powered prototype is planned to fly 30 months from the launch of full scale engineering, with anticipated entry in service of around 2003.

Pakistan is negotiating more separate contracts covering a Western avionics and sensor fit and weapons package for its customised Super 7 version. "I would like to do it at the same time as the airframe contract, but it is likely to be done a few months after," says Hamid.

The three integrated avionics packages on offer to Pakistan are built around the Alenia Fiar Grifo S7 radar, the rival GEC-Marconi Blue Hawk and the Thomson-CSF RC400. A final selection will made on the basis of cost, performance, supportability and the transfer of technology. Access to source codes is viewed as critical.

Pakistan also wants the winning avionics contractor to take a risk-and revenue sharing stake in the project. "GEC for example does not have a radar. It has to be developed. There is a risk in the development and we would like them to share in that risk," explains Hamid.

The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra is expected to share in the Super 7 airframe and avionics work.