Iran is considering the purchase of the Chinese Xian FB-7 strike aircraft, the Shenyang F-8IIM and Chengdu F-7 fighters, as part of a multi-billion dollar arms deal it is negotiating with Beijing.

Talks between Beijing and Tehran to cement the $4.5 billion deal have been progressing for several months, say sources. The deal, if concluded successfully, is likely to prove one of China's biggest single foreign-arms sales. Anti-ship missiles and submarines are also included in the package.

The deal would considerably bolster the capability of the Iranian air force, which operates a mixed fleet of Western and Russian combat aircraft. In recent years, Iran had looked to Russia for combat aircraft, buying the MiG-29 Fulcrum, but the USA has been exerting pressure on Russia to stop such sales.

The potential sale of the FB-7 marks a considerable reversal of fortune for the aircraft. Originally intended as a strike aircraft for the Chinese air force and navy, its development has been dogged by problems, with the air force apparently deciding against operating the type.

The F-8IIM is being developed with Russian assistance and is understood always to have been intended for the export market. The aircraft is fitted with a derivative of the Phazotron N-010 Zhuk multi-mode pulse-Doppler radar, originally developed for the Mikoyan MiG-29M Fulcrum. The radar is capable of supporting the Vympel R-27R (AA-10 Alamo A) semi-active radar-guided missile, and active radar-guided missiles.

The F-8IIM can also carry the Zvezda Kh-31 (AS-17 Krypton) air-to-surface missile. It is not known whether a Chinese licence-built anti-ship variant of this missile, possibly designated the YJ-12A, is included in the package or if the weapon under discussion is the indigenously designed YJ-2.

Development of the two-seat FB-7 has been under way since at least 1988. The programme has been hampered for years by a lack of suitable modern power plant, but it now appears China may have revived its original plan to fit the aircraft with the Xian WS9 - a locally produced variant of the Rolls-Royce Spey.

Source: Flight International