By Bradley Perrett Feb 15, 2012
The Chengdu works of Avic’s combat aircraft subsidiary is developing a two-seat version of the JF-17 Thunder fighter in cooperation with the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, say Chinese industry executives.
The two-seater will be adaptable for conversion training and combat roles, they say, though as a fighter it will not perform as well as the single-seat version. The JF-17 is being built in a joint program with Pakistan for the Pakistan Air Force. The program, which began, unusually, without a conversion trainer, will deliver about 100 JF-17s to Pakistan, the executives say.
Development of the two-seater has not advanced to a point at which Avic International, the export division of Avic, could sign a contract for delivery, the executives say, adding that they were unsure when the aircraft would be available. The single-seat version was designed with development of a two-seater in mind, they say.
Attempts at exporting the JF-17 would be greatly helped by an order, and therefore endorsement, from the Chinese air force, but the service is still evaluating the JF-17. It began doing so three or four years ago, the executives say, adding that the air force was not even telling them exactly what it wanted.
The JF-17, also called FC-1 Xiaolong, is a relatively small fighter with a normal takeoff weight of 9.1 tons (20,100 lb.) and a single Russian engine, the 19,200 lb.-thrust Klimov RD-93, a derivative of the MiG-29’s RD-33. A key selling point of the JF-17 is that it is much cheaper than Western aircraft such as the Saab Gripen, says Avic International.
Chengdu is part of Avic Aviation Techniques (AAT), an Avic subsidiary which encompasses the group’s combat aircraft, trainer, drones and missile plants and which was formerly called Avic Defense
Another of its key export products, the L-15 trainer and light attack aircraft, would also be helped greatly by an order from the Chinese air force. The group is still looking for a first customer for the type, built by its Hongdu plant at Nanchang.
In its current form, the L-15 is subsonic but a supersonic version has been designed, say Chinese executives. They expect that it will be sold abroad mainly as a light attack aircraft.
Domestically it is competing for a volume production order against the JL-9 (or FTC-200), a very distant descendant of the MiG-21 capable of Mach 2 and built by another part of AAT, Guizhou Aviation.
AAT President Wang Yawei has identified after-sales support as a weakness for his company that must be fixed. The same message is often heard from other Avic subsidiaries.