Pakistan/China Thunder over Africa?


Having successfully developed a number of military aircraft together, the Pakistani/Chinese partnership is now actively courting African countries looking for a modern, budget friendly fighter.

Exhibiting for the first time at this year’s 2016 Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition at Air Force Base Waterkloof was the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex – Kamra (PAC).

Besides displaying the Super Mushshak light basic piston trainer which undertook daily displays, Chairman of PAC, Air Marshal Arshad Malik, told defenceWeb that together with the Pakistan Air Force, they wanted to impart the knowledge they have gained to other African air forces. The PAC sees AAD as an opportunity to interact with potential customers.

This sentiment is echoed by Rana Tanveer Hussain, Pakistan’s Federal Minister of Defence Production. In an exclusive interview with defenceWeb, Tanveer says although Pakistan has an advanced technology industry, AAD also provides an opportunity for Pakistan to familiarise themselves with technology from other countries in the defence sector.

Tanveer led a Pakistani delegation attending AAD comprising representatives of Pakistan Ordnance Factory, PAC, Heavy Industries Taxila, National Radio Telecommunications and Defence Export Promotion Organisation.
“The AAD exhibition is the biggest defence exhibition on the African continent,” Tanveer explained, “We have a large display of our advanced technology in this sector, allowing visitors to see our capability and what facilities and technology we have in Pakistan.”

Having exhibited at AAD before, China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) is a Chinese state-owned defence company with a core business in aviation defence products. This year, CATIC was represented by both the K-8 Karakoram training jet, the export version of China’s JL-8, also manufactured by the PAC, flown by the Air Force of Zimbabwe and the L-15Z Advanced Fighter Trainer from the Zambia Air Force.

The latest aircraft the PAC and its Chinese partner, CATIC, have jointly developed is what Tanveer describes as “the pride of Pakistan”: the JF-17 Thunder multi-role light fighter.

It was evident at AAD that both partners view Africa as an important market place for their products.

At a briefing hosted by CATIC and the PAC, military representatives from Malawi, Senegal and Zimbabwe were informed of the co-operation between the two companies and the capabilities of the JF-17.

Developed at the request of Pakistan for a new generation lightweight, single-engine, multi-role combat aircraft, the Thunder is replacing the Chengdu F-7 (over 190 of these Chinese built MiG-21 fighters were delivered to Pakistan) and the 75 Dassault Mirage IIIs still in service.

Featuring an advanced glass cockpit and modern avionics and radar, the aircraft is agile, has sub-transonic manoeuvrability and STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) capabilities. It is also capable of carrying a wide range of weapons, including BVR (Beyond Visual Range) missiles and an integrated self-protection suite.

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) embarked on the new programme in 1998, with China supporting design, development and production. The first prototype flew in 2003, with serial production commencing in June 2009. The first PAF squadron was formed in February 2010.

The JF-17 can be used for aerial reconnaissance, ground attack and aircraft interception. The JF-17 is to become the backbone of the Pakistan Air Force, complementing the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon whose performance it roughly matches, but as both Tanveer and Malik proudly point out, at one-third the cost.

Pakistan plans to induct 200 Thunders into service, with 70 aircraft having already been delivered to three squadrons and the Top Gun School. The fleet has flown over 24 000 hours in PAF service and the ease of handling is exemplified by new pilots only having a minimum of 250 hours prior to conversion to the Thunder.

Development of the JF-17B dual-seat variant is “progressing on schedule” for the end of 2016. The fighter is expected to stay in the PAF for 25 to 30 years.

It is the advanced capabilities, light weight and low cost that makes it attractive to African air forces. Besides Malawi, Senegal and Zimbabwe, other African countries interested in the JF-17 include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal and Sudan.

China and Pakistan will jointly market the aircraft, with China having experience in sales and marketing in Africa, whilst Pakistan has operational and maintenance experience on the JF-17. In the last decade, China supplied 10 K-8 Karakoram training jets to Zimbabwe in 2006 (with two of the latter aircraft attending AAD) as well Zambia receiving 16 K-8 Karakoram and six recently delivered Hongdu L-15 twin-engined lead-in fighter trainers, of which two attended AAD in their first public air display.

Pakistan already conducts tactical and security training with Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) recently finalising the purchase of 10 Super Mushshak basic training and utility aircraft. Deliveries are expected in early 2017.

The PAC/CATIC has confirmed the first JF-17s for a third-party customer will be delivered in 2017. It is thought Nigeria has signed for three, although Tanveer told defenceWeb Nigeria “are thinking of procuring the JF-17 fighter aircraft, but this is still in negotiation.”

President of CATIC, Yang Ying, says there is a good relationship between China and Pakistan and the F-17 Thunder is “perfect for countries with a middle class economy which have a fighter requirement.”

He says the aircraft has a respectable payload, excellent BVR and WVR air combat capability and full air-to-surface mission capability, all with low acquisition and operating costs.

The co-operation between both nations in marketing the JF-17 Thunder is underscored by each country being paid a commission for sales by the other.

Tanveer said: “There is a clear scope for co-operation on the African continent and a lot of potential in Africa.”

The designation ‘JF-17′ by Pakistan is short for ‘Joint Fighter-17′, while the designation and name ‘FC-1 Xiaolong’ by China means ‘Fighter China-1 Fierce Dragon’.

Founded in 1971 by the PAF, the PAC develops and builds aircraft and avionics systems for the Pakistani armed services, as well as providing performing maintenance and upgrades to military and civilian aircraft. It is owned by the PAF and all personnel are serving members of the PAF.