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By Bulbal Singh, India

04 Jul 05. Pakistan is jointly developing with China a multi role fighter aircraft which is designated as JF-17 in Pakistan, code named Thunder and is basically the FC-1 (Fighter China-1) of China. The programme also called the Super-7 aircraft is being manufactured in joint production of the fighter jet by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and Chinese Aircraft Industrial Corporation in which the Chinese company has 50 % stake.

The aircraft which is now slated for induction in the Pakistan Air Force by 2007 and will be christened as J-9 when it becomes operational, revealed a Pakistani diplomat in New Delhi. The first prototype of thunder flew its maiden flight in September 2003 at Chengdu, China.

However, the programme itself has run into delay reveal sources as the Russians have refused to give the engine and the Pakistanis are now trying to buy a French engine, which will ultimately jack up the price of the aircraft.

The Russians have refused to supply the RD-93 aircraft engine for the Super-7 aircraft and Pakistan is negotiating Snecma’s M-58 engine which is being used on Mirage 2000. This may delay the project beyond 2007 and the first batch of 16 aircraft will roll out only in 2008-9.

The Super-7 project received a set back two years ago following refusal of avionics from the Thales of France, Alenia-Fiar of Italy and BAE Systems of UK. Thales had proposed a system built around the RC 400 radar.

The Super 7 project commenced in 1991 and was originally being developed solely for the Pakistan Air Force. However China agreed to give orders for its own Air force which result in lowering the per unit cost of the aircraft due to economies of scale. The Pakistan Air Force is expected to induct between 150-200 Thunder (Super-7) in its fleet of combat aircraft. The Super-7 currently has an estimated price tag of around $ 11 million which is half the price of the F-16 , claimed the Pakistani diplomat in New Delhi.

The aircraft would be fitted with BVR (Beyond Visual Range) capability for which Pakistan is buying equipment from BVR capable Chinese PL series AAMs (Air to Air Missiles), French MICA AAMs, British MBDA AAMs and is considering co-developing the T-Darter BVR capable active radar guided AAMs with Denel of South Africa.

The Super-7 will replace the F-7, MIG-21 and Q-5 series aircraft that are currently in service in both China.

The production of JF-17 would lessen the dependability of Pakistan Air Force on the fleet of the US made F-16’s as the first choice for combat operations as the new aircraft is designed to meet the requirements of the contemporary battle space with an ability to carry the latest BVRs (Beyond Visual Range Missiles claimed the diplomat. Besides the BVR missiles, the aircraft will also carry anti-radiation missiles, high and low drag bombs, laser guided, runway penetration and cluster bombs. The JF-17 would also carry H-2 and H-4 bombs.

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