Many countries express interest in JF-17 Thunder

Updated: 2013-05-24 03:00

By Zhao Lei (China Daily)

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Numerous countries are interested in obtaining a fighter jet jointly developed by Pakistan and China, said a senior officer of the Pakistan air force.

"We've been receiving inquiries and expressions of interest on the JF-17 Thunder from many countries in the Middle East, Africa and even as far as South America," Air Marshal Sohail Gul Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, told China Daily on Thursday.

The JF-17 Thunder — or the FC-1 Fierce Dragon as it's known in China — is a third-generation multipurpose combat jet co-developed by Aviation Industry Corp of China and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, the leading aviation company in Pakistan, which is in charge of manufacturing and maintaining the Pakistan Air Force's aircraft.

Some of the inquiries were "very serious", he said.

"During my trips to many countries, almost everyone I've met asked me about the plane and many countries said they want to join the project," Khan said.

The JF-17 is an "extremely capable aircraft" and its maneuverability and avionics are excellent, he added.

Air Vice-Marshal Javaid Ahmed, chief director of the JF-17 project, echoed that view.

"The JF-17 is one of our top lightweight fighters, comparable to any advanced aircraft in the Pakistan Air Force."

Khan said the JF-17 project is a living example of the positive cooperation between the Pakistani and Chinese aviation industries, and that the achievements the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex has made over the past 40 years should be largely attributed to its cooperation with the Chinese aviation industry.

The complex has already produced more than 40 JF-17s, he noted, adding that the cooperation project between China and Pakistan on the aircraft is still under way with technicians from both nations focusing on the upgrading of weapons and avionics.

In addition, Khan said that the Pakistan Air Force has also been eyeing other Chinese military planes and may take part in the development of other aircraft in the future.

His remarks came one day after six JF-17 Thunder fighter jets escorted the Boeing 747 that transported Premier Li Keqiang when it entered Pakistani airspace. Li started his two-day visit to Islamabad on Wednesday.

After China Central Television broadcast footage of the JF-17s escorting Li's plane and of the premier waving to Pakistani pilots, many Chinese netizens said in online comments that the selection of the JF-17 Thunder symbolizes the two nations' close relationship in the defense sector.

"It's a great honor for us that our JF-17s were selected to welcome Chinese Premier Li Keqiang," Wing Commander Ronald Afzal, who leads the Pakistan Air Force's 16th Squadron, which is equipped with JF-17s, told China Daily in a phone interview. He led and took part in the escort operation, which lasted 17 minutes.

"We handpicked the best pilots in my squadron and started intensive training on escort formation at high altitudes and fly-past operations at high speeds as well as at very low altitudes — about 500 feet (152 meters) — one week ago when we were informed that the squadron would escort Li's aircraft," Afzal said.

"My fellow pilots were very proud and excited that we were given this opportunity to escort the Chinese premier and present to him the best image of our air force," he added.

Their pride is also shared by the aircraft's Chinese developers.

"As the developers, we feel pretty privileged to see our planes undertake such an honorable mission and believe that the Pakistan Air Force chose the JF-17 to welcome our premier partly because it has a lot of Chinese elements," said Yang Wei, the chief designer of the aircraft at the Aviation Industry Corp of China.

Yang's team will join hands with their Pakistani counterparts to develop future versions of the JF-17, gradually providing the aircraft with partial stealth and aerial refueling capabilities, he said.