Pakistan has submitted its request to buy 75 new and upgraded F-16C/D Falcon fighter aircraft after the Bush administration announced it would resume sales, said US Defence Security Cooperation Agency head Air Force Lt-General Jeffrey Kohler on Wednesday. Kohler told reporters in Washington that Pakistan had also asked about buying 11 used F-16s.
Earlier press reports said Pakistan was seeking to buy only 24 then 55 F-16s. But the numbers cited by Kohler suggest that Pakistan wants to make the F-16 a mainstay of its combat aircraft fleet. As part of the Pakistan Air Force’s fleet modernization program, Pakistan is also buying the JF-17 Thunder light fighter aircraft jointly developed by China and Pakistan. Pakistan has ordered 150 JF-17s. The JF-17 is a Mach 1.6-Mach 2 aircraft, with advanced avionics and excellent handling capability. Although it is not in the same league as fourth- and fifth-generation western fighters like the F-16 Block 50/52 or the French Mirage 2000-5, it is more than a match for India’s indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) that is expected to be the mainstay of the Indian Air Force in the future. At $ 15 million per copy, the JF-17 is also much cheaper than the F-16. The F-16C/D Block 50/52 sells for $ 40 million to $ 45 million each, depending on avionics and other options. So 75 of these F-16s would cost Pakistan between $ 3 billion to $ 3.375 billion.
As against this, 150 JF-17s will cost Pakistan $ 2.25 billion, in nominal terms. But the net cost to Pakistan will be considerably less. Under the terms of the income-sharing formula agreed between the Chinese manufacturer, Chengdu Aircraft Group of Companies, and the PAF’s Aircraft Factory at Kamra (which will supply manpower, aircraft components and other inputs), 50 per cent of the proceeds from all JF-17 sales will come to Pakistan as its share. Thus, the net cost to Pakistan of the JF-17s ordered by the PAF could be reduced by as much as $ 7.5 million per copy, bringing the cost of the aircraft down to $ 7.5 million — for a total net price tag of $ 1.125 billion for 150 J-17s.
Kohler said that Pakistan had requested prices for F-16c/D Block 50/52 aircraft, the most modern F-16s flown by the United States Air Force and the current production standard. He said similar aircraft have been exported to Poland, Greece, Chile, Oman and Israel. Only the United Arab Emirates flies a more advanced variant, Block 60, with improved radar, defence and range. The UAE acquired eighty Block 60 F-16s under a deal with the American manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, concluded in 2000, at a total contract price of $ 8 billion, or $ 100 million per plane. But this price tag included the cost of missile systems fitted to the aircraft.
The US was initially reluctant to supply the missile systems. But it agreed to do so after UAE officials said they were not interested in buying the F-16s if the deal did not include the missile systems. Kohler said he had held arms-sales talks with Pakistani Defence Ministry officials last month. He said, "I think when we go back and talk to them about the cost of the new systems my guess is that they will downsize slightly the request for new aircraft and may increase slightly the used."
A team of executives from Lockheed Martin’s F-16 assembly plant in Fort Worth, Texas, is due in Islamabad shortly to discuss the proposed sale. Meanwhile, the good news from Pakistan’s point of view is that the Chinese Air Force has now also decided to buy 200 JF-17s, in a deal that could be worth up to $ 3 billion. Under the income-sharing formula agreed between the two countries, Pakistan’s share of revenue from the sale to the Chinese Air Force could total as much as $ 1.5 billion, making the deal an important new source of foreign currency earnings for this country.
Moreover, the sale to the Chinese Air Force is expected to greatly boost the prospects for the JF-17 on the world market. Sales to other countries would substantially add to Pakistan’s foreign currency earnings in the years ahead, which would help to reduce its trade gap and improve its balance of payments. China and Pakistan tested the first prototype of the JF-17, also known FC-1 or the Super-7, on August 25, 2003. A publicly held test flight was made in Chengdu, capital of southwest China’s Sichuan province, on September 3, 2003, with Pakistan Air Force Chief of Staff Air Chief Marshal Kaleem Saadat attending the ceremony. The Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that the maiden eight-minute flight of the plane, named Xiaolong (or Fierce Dragon), proved highly successful at Wenjiang Airport in Chengdu.
During the test flight, the plane demonstrated its outstanding mobility, and good interception and ground attack capability. With its advanced design and state-of-the-art manufacturing technology, the JF-17 has the combat capability of a third-generation fighter plane and is on par with the world’s most advanced light fighter aircraft. With its small size and relatively low cost, the plane is suitable for modern combat operations and ideal for sales to developing countries that cannot afford to pay the much higher prices of western jet fighters in the same category.
The JF-17 has some features like advanced avionics and cost effectiveness that give it an edge over India’s indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft. From Pakistan’s perspective, this makes the JF-17 an attractive option to replace its ageing fleet of Mirages, F-7s and A-5s. The JF-17 is a light weight, all-weather, multi-role aircraft with a speed of Mach 1.6-Mach 2 and a high thrust-to-weight ratio. It has the ability to engage targets at all speeds and altitudes within the conventional flying envelope. In surface attack and interdiction roles, the aircraft can strike at long distances. It can also carry high- and low-drag bombs, laser-guided bombs, runway-penetration bombs and cluster bombs. Its engine is of Russian origin, and is being made in China under license. China and Pakistan have invested more than $ 500 million in the development of the aircraft. The JF-17 project has been completed in a record time of four years.
Following the September 3, 2003 maiden test flight, the aircraft began undergoing a validation process, which is expected to take two-and-a-half years. Serial production is due to start in January 2006. The JF-17 has an advanced flight control system, which is a mix of conventional and fly-by-wire controls, making it highly agile and manoeuvrable. It is capable of carrying a variety of weapons systems including short-range missiles, beyond-visual-range missiles, anti-ship missiles and anti-radiation missiles. The JF-17 would meet the PAF’s bulk requirement, while induction of the fourth-generation F-16s offered to Pakistan by the United States in March 2005 would give the country’s air defence a cutting edge. In addition to the fourth-generation F-16 Block 50/52, other fourth-generation options being considered by the PAF include the French Mirage 2000-5, the Russian SU-30 and a Swedish aircraft.
China and Pakistan plan to also target markets in the Middle East, Africa and South America for sales of the plane. Any reduction in the $ 15 million per plane cost due to an increase in the production run would make it an even more attractive proposition for overseas buyers. The JF-17 fighter is also expected to be attractive for overseas buyers due to its advanced avionics and high maneuverability.China is Pakistan’s main defence supplier. The two countries have cooperated on a number of projects, including joint production of the K-8 jet trainer aircraft. The K-8 has been inducted into the Pakistan Air Force and has also been sold to several other countries. A $ 40 million deal for the sale of ten K-8s to Saudi Arabia was finalized in September 2003.