China is in discussions about selling the Chengdu Aircraft/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex JF-17 Thunder fighter to up to eight countries.
The third-generation, single-engine fighter, which was jointly developed by Pakistan and China, is being pitched as a replacement for several existing types. These include the RSK MiG-21, Dassault Mirage 5, Northrop F-5 and Chinese models, such as the Nanchang A-5 and Chengdu F-7.
“We’re talking with six to eight countries about the JF-17,” says Zeng Wen, vice-president of the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC), which markets military aircraft overseas on behalf of the country’s manufacturers. “It is a low cost solution for developing countries.”
Zeng declines to specify which countries are considering the aircraft. Officers from several African air forces, however, were having discussions with CATIC officials at the company’s chalet at Airshow China in Zhuhai. Other countries that could be keen include Egypt, Sri Lanka and Venezuela, all long-time customers for Chinese military aircraft.
Pakistan, China’s “50:50” partner in the project, is playing a big role in helping CATIC market the aircraft abroad, says Zeng. Three Pakistan air force JF-17s, along with a number of other Pakistani aircraft, are in Zhuhai and a JF-17 participated in the flying display. There were also around 170 officials from the service at the show.
Pakistan has confirmed orders for 50 JF-17s, but Zeng feels the south Asian nation could eventually buy up to 200. At the beginning of 2010, Pakistan had 14 operational JF-17s.
China's People’s Liberation Army Air Force has not yet signed up for the fighter, but Zeng says: “We believe the PLAAF will consider the JF-17. They are watching the programme very closely.”
Zeng says CATIC is serious about support, and provides training for both flight crews and maintenance personnel. “During the design phase we also talked with many customers,” he says. “A lot of expertise from Pakistan was also included in the aircraft's design.”
Technology transfer is also on the table, says Zeng, who adds: “If a customer requires technology transfer, then we will do our best to meet their requirements.”
Chinese officials have said in the past that for JF-17 customers, they could set up an assembly line or produce components for the aircraft, just like some Western suppliers. This would include both traditional and non-traditional clients.
"We provide very capable aircraft at a very reasonable price compared to what else there is in the market,” said CATIC president Ma Zhiping recently. “One of the biggest problems for many of our customers is financing. Many are developing countries and their payment abilities are limited. We work with the Chinese government in these cases to help them get cheap credit."