Sunday, September 02, 2007, Shaaban 19, 1428 A.H. Editor-in-Chief: Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman 
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 JF-17 engine row resolved: Air chief

Mayed Ali

KAMRA: Air Chief Marshal Tanveer Mehmood has said the issue involving the engine of JF-17 Thunder aircraft has been resolved amicably and there is no immediate threat vis-a-vis availability of the Russian RD-93 engines for the aircraft.

While addressing the queries of media at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) in the first ‘Meet the Press’ here Friday, the Air chief seemed confident that the joint venture would never be sabotaged, regarding the controversy attached to the supply of engines.

Admitting India had been trying hard to dash the future prospects of the JF-17 Thunder, Tanveer made it clear that the Chinese authorities had given concrete assurances after having sorted the issue with the Russian counterparts. He maintained China was responsible for the supply of engines for it had entered into an agreement with the Russian firm, manufacturing the RD-93 engines.

Asked if Pakistan and China were looking for alternatives, he said such an initiative could be fruitful for both the producers as the project envisaged large number of combat aircraft production in the years to come. As aircrafts needed new engines twice in its operational service, the production of new engine could help smooth supply, besides making the project more cost-effective.

Asked about his fears vis-a-vis the possibility of negative Russian intervention, Tanveer said: “Yes, it’s a Russian engine. And yes, the notion about the Indian endeavours is partly true. But one must understand that the engine is a contract between the Chinese and the Russian governments. We are not a party to that contract. Subsequently, the re-exporting of these engines to Pakistan is the issue between Pakistan and the Chinese industry. They have ensured us there would be no impediment in this regard. We hope this engine issue will cease to be an issue.”

Asked about the cost of a JF-17, the Air chief said the cost per piece was almost half of any of the compatible fourth generation fighter jet in the market. He said the advanced platforms cost anything between $45 million to $150 million. He believed the potential of the aircraft was much greater when compared to the cost on one unit.

Elaborating on the JF-17’s induction schedule, the Air chief said the PAF had acquired two planes on March 2. These two aircraft sailed the Pakistan’s skies on March 10 for the first time. He said the biggest challenge after assembling the jets was to make the fighter’s first public appearance on March 23 a great success.

Tanveer hoped the PAF would acquire six of these planes by the end of this year. He added Pakistan intended to go into formal production of Thunders at the PAC Kamra next year, whereby achieving the objective of 50 per cent share in the manufacturing of these platforms in Pakistan. He said the PAF looked forward to the production of 15 new Thunders produced in Pakistan next year.

The Air chief was sure the PAF would replace all its aging fleets of Mirages, F-7s (advanced versions of Mig-21) and A-5s (fighter-bombers) by 2015. He believed the PAF would acquire around 200 Thunders till that time, depending on the pocket of the country and the desire for the replacement.

He said the PAC would produce between 25 to 30 Thunders every year if required. He said Pakistan had the resources for financing 150 aircraft initially. Speaking high of the platform’s potential, Tanveer made no bones in claiming the Thunder would be a lethal weapon in the PAF’s inventory in the years to come. Believing it to be slightly superior to the existing fleet of F-16s (till refurbished by the US under the new contract), the Air Chief was optimistic about the JF-17’s capability even if the PAF did or didn’t have the Block 50-52 F-16s.

He said the PAF had a high-tech, all weather, day and night multi-role platform which would be able to carry a vast range of air-to-air, air-to-ground and maritime payload. He didn’t deny the fighter would have the nuclear delivery capability.

For the air-to-air combat, Tanveer said the platform would have a reasonable and sophisticated Beyond Visual Range (BVR) tracking and delivery system, fifth generation short-range missile system and state-of-the art avionics to support the weapon delivery. He said the Thunder would have a wide-range of standoff weaponry for air-to-ground missions, besides having complete prowess to support the Pakistan Navy in maritime operations.

Asked about the PAF’s plan to induct the Chinese J-10 in the fleet, he said the air force looked forward to it. However, he maintained that the J-10, at present, didn’t have the configuration required by the PAF. He said the PAF people had already demanded a better radar and avionics on the J-10, and the proposals to this effect were expected to be finalised by the mid of the next year.

Speaking about the induction of the latest versions of F-16 Fighting Falcons in the PAF’s inventory, the Air Chief Marshal was hopeful the induction of used Block-50-52 state-of-the-art fighters would start this year and the process might be completed in 12 to 18 month’ time.

“The F-16s are believed to be delivered in the first and second quarter of 2010. As for the used aircrafts, those are expected to be delivered in the next 12-18 months, depending on the availability of the aircraft.”

He said the PAF planned to buy 18 new and 24 used F-16s, besides going for mid-life upgrades on the existing fleet. He believed the PAF would learn a great deal about the latest avionics and advanced weapon systems after acquiring the latest Fighting Falcons. He said the training to be provided to the PAF personnel in different departments by the US on the new F-16s would go a long way in improving the vision of the PAF engineers and pilots, which would be helpful in taking a leap forward in understanding the advanced air warfare.

He also explained how the PAF was working in advance on the air-to-air refueling project as the Thunders would become the first platforms, having this capability. He said the pilots and the air and ground crew was already at work to make the project a success.

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