As PAC starts the production of second block of JF-17, it’s good to take a look at where the project is right now. I won’t go over the history of the project, since that can be found online or any of the many forums. At this point, PAF remains the only operator of JF-17. They have finished the production of the first block of 50 JF-17s out of the 150 they ordered. There have been persistent news coming out of Pakistan that more will be ordered, but I don’t think that’s finalized. By all account, PAF has been fairly satisfied with the performance of the aircraft and the project as a whole. I don’t have the latest number, but PAC is now capable of producing most parts of JF-17 with engine been the lone major subsystem that is outside their expertise. There have been numerous reports of sales to other country, but none of them have concluded. There were the 12 JF-17s to Zimbabwe and the 24 JF-17s to Azerbaijan, which never came to fruition. There were also the more persistent stories of concluded sales to Egypt and possible sales to Argentina. In the former case, China lost the deal after Mubarak and the new government is now picking Mig-29s over JF-17s. In the latter case, Argentinian economy has bigger issues like hyperinflation to deal with and will not have the ability to purchase fighter jets anytime soon. The problem for JF-17 has always been finding the right customers. China’s traditional customers don’t have the need or the money for something like JF-17. They have most opted for J-7s and K-8s in the recent years. L-15 is fighting the same issues. In the more affluent markets, JF-17 has been fighting against used F-16s, Mig-29s and other better known 4th generation fighter jets with more customers. It’s hard to make the case for JF-17 while PAF remains its only operator. Having said that, I think JF-17 still has a bright future. PAF have really made JF-17 project what it is today by discovering/expanding the flight envelopes of the aircraft and working with various Chinese firms to add support for SD-10A, SRAAM, C-802A, various PGMs and the infamous mach 4.5 CM-400AG. We’ve heard recently that Saudi Arabia is interested in getting involved in the JF-17 project. Certainly, if KSA does purchase JF-17, that would be a huge shot in the arm for the entire program and its export prospects around the world (especially the rest of Muslim world). More importantly, I think PLAAF will be placing orders for JF-17 in the next few years. In a recent interview from Singapore Air Show, the VP of AVIC-1 said that domestic engine options should be available for JF-17 soon. I have talked in the past that PLAAF is looking for a stripped down version of JF-17 that it can replace all the retiring J-7 regiments. There were a total of 10 J-7E and 3 J-7G regiments produced for PLAAF/PLANAF. Based on the year they entered service and orbat data, most if not all of them should still be in service. There are also 10 or more J-8 regiments still in service including the very ancient J-8B aircraft. All of these regiments will need to be replaced. Although some of those regiments may be disbanded, there are not likely going to be enough J-10B and J-16 production to replace all of those retiring aircraft. There will probably be a total of less than 10 regiments of J-10B/J-16. By the time domestic engine (let’s say WS-13) becomes ready for JF-17, some of the older J-7E regiments should be ready to retire. If CAC can meet PLAAF’s cost requirements, then I think there will be order for several regiments of JF-17. Once PAF and PLAAF operate JF-17, I think you will see some export deals.
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