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Pakistan sees Middle East potential market for JF-17.

Summary: DUBAI - Joint Fighter-17 combat aircraft, popularly known as JF-17 Thunder, made its Middle East debut at the Dubai Airshow and attracted visitors, media and air force officials.

DUBAI - Joint Fighter-17 combat aircraft, popularly known as JF-17 Thunder, made its Middle East debut at the Dubai Airshow and attracted visitors, media and air force officials.

The new generation multi-role and light combat aircraft, which is co-developed by Pakistan and China, put on static and aerial display at the airshow for the first time in the Middle East region.

Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, Chief of the Air Staff of Pakistan Air Force, and officials from aviation industry of China underlined the importance of the new fighter jet at the air show. "The aircraft performance is far exceeding our expectations," Suleman said at a Press briefing.

Pakistan Air Force has inducted JF-17 Thunder in its fleet as part of its multi-phase plan to replace 250-275 fighters in coming few years. The air force has already raised two squadrons equipped with the JF-17 Thunder combat jet and plans to add third squadron by early next year.

"It is an excellent aircraft designed to meet the demands of current and future threat scenarios. We are satisfied with the performance of JF-17 Thunder and made the Middle East debut at Dubai Airshow to explore the Gulf market," Air Commodore Khalid Mahmood told Khaleej Times.

The JF-17 Thunder made its international flight debut at Farnborough Air Show last year. In November 2010, three JF-17 flew over to China to participate in Zhuhai Air Show and performed aerobatic display for the first time. Before participating in Dubai Airshow, the multi-role combat also attended 100-year celebration of Turkish Air Force in June this year and performed aerobatic and static display.

"The aircraft received a good response from the visitors, air force officials and participants of the Dubai Airshow. Initial response from Far East and Latin America is also good and we may mature some deals in near future," Air Commodore Mahmood, who is also deputy project manager of JF-17 programme, said.

He said Middle East is a big potential market for JF-17 Thunder and Mushshak -- a light, robust, trainer and utility aircraft.

"The Middle East nations have shown interest in the aircraft," he said, but declined to elaborate. He said JF-17 Thunder specifications can be modified as per the demand of customers.

"We develop the aircraft as per the requirement of Pakistan Air Force, but we can modify the specifications to accommodate the customer demand and requirement."

In reply to a question, he said JF-17 Thunder production capacities at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex can be increased to fulfil the future export orders.

"The initial production is actually sold out to meet the demand from Pakistan and China, but we have capacity to increase the production in case we mature a deal in coming days."

The JF-17 programme was started by Pakistan and China in 1998 and the detailed design was finalised in September 2001. The serial joint production of the aircraft started in Pakistan in 2009 after extensive flight tests and the limited production of eight jets in 2007.

"The JF-17 Thunder has a very bright future ahead if Pakistan can get one export order. At present defence budgets across the globe are under pressure due to economic challenges, it is however hard to see a widespread interest," Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at FBE Aerospace London, told Khaleej Times.

He said the fighter has to continually perform and demonstrate its theatre capabilities if it aims to secure business from overseas countries. "With the Middle East engaged in political change, there is the distinct possibility that an order could be attained by more stable regional governments such as the UAE, Jordan or Saudi Arabia."

Pakistan has been promoting the JF-17 as a cut price aircraft for developing countries. "The JF-17 aircraft stands prominent in its own class of fighters. It is affordable, economical, easy to maintain and easy to operate," Air Commodore Mahmood said.

"The JF-17 offers a highly cost-effective solution with cutting edge capabilities," he said.

The JF-17 is an-all weather, multi-role and light combat aircraft, which is equipped with a digital fly-by-wire flight control system, a complete glass cockpit and self-protection suit that enhances its combat potential. It is also equipped with fourth-generation avionics systems, wide range of conventional and smart weapons, long-range glide bombs, beyond visual range and short range air-to-air missiles, anti-ship missiles and air-to-surface missiles.

The fighter jet requires remarkably short length of runway for take-off and landing and also has air-to-air refueling capability.

muzaffarrizvi@khaleejtimes.com

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Nov 16, 2011
Words:779
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