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 PAF to seek more Chinese aircraft, says air chief

Thursday, March 29, 2007

our correspondent

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) aims to acquire 200-250 JF-17 Thunder (FC-1) fighter aircraft in place of the 150 originally envisaged, Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mehmood Ahmed has said in an interview published in the latest issue of the prestigious Jane’s Defence Weekly, an international defence magazine.

The PAF’s first two JF-17s were displayed publicly on 23 March following their arrival earlier in the month. The Pakistani Air chief also spoke about the controversy surrounding reports of the Russia engines intended to power the JF-17. “We haven’t contracted the Russians on this [the engine], so the deal is between Russia and China.We have no issues related to this, although there have been efforts to impede progress by creating some road blocks in this particular path,” said the Pakistani air chief.

According to Jane’s Russian sources had initially said emphatically, that the RD-93 engines supplied to China and meant to power the JF-17 could not be re-exported to Pakistan. This position was reversed in November 2006, when senior officials from Klimov and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group said during a joint press briefing at the Zhuhai Air Show in China that a re-export deal was nearing completion.

According to Jane’s the Pakistani Air chief’s reference to “efforts to impede progress” relates to strong lobbying efforts by the Indian government following the Zhuhai statement. JaneÕs adds that Indian sources say, Russian President Vladimir Putin subsequently “assured” New Delhi during his January visit to India that Russian engines would not power the PAF fighters.

But the publication goes on to say, Pakistani sources claim they have a clear understanding from Chinese authorities that there will be no Russian effort to block the supply of the RD-93 engines to Pakistan. “The Chinese have told us the Russians haven’t issued a written licence but the Russians will not block the supply of the RD-93 to Pakistan,” one senior Pakistani government official told Jane’s. Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mehmood Ahmed also told Jane’s that Pakistan should take delivery of another six or seven JF-17 aircraft before 2008, which would be used for testing. “These are all weapons that are on our inventory and we have lots of weapons,” he added, referring to the test programme’s weapon integration phase.

The Pakistani Air Chief expects the first JF-17s to be inducted in a PAF squadron by the end of 2008, with serial production to start at the rate of up to 20 annually. However, the programme’s planned enlargement could see an expansion of production facilities at the Pakistan Aeronautical complex in Kamra or some off-the-shelf acquisitions from China, Jane’s quotes the Pakistani air chief.

On other important projects with China, the Pakistani air chief also revealed that Pakistan is well advanced in negotiations with China on the possible acquisition of up to 40 J-10 fighters which are the most advanced fighter aircrafts so far produced by China. Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf was given a detailed briefing on the J-10 during his last visit to China.

“We are serious in our discussions and, as air chief, I look forward to getting this programme (of the J-10) to a stage where we can contract this. I am looking at two squadrons of aircraft, anywhere between 32 and 40 platforms,” said the Air chief.

The Pakistani Air chief also revealed in the interview to Jane’s Defence Weekly that China has offered Pakistan an airborne warning and control system aircraft. “We have tested and evaluated, finding it fairly good but there are areas where we definitely want improvements, both in the platform and in the radar,” he said, adding that all these objectives should be achievable.

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