CHINESE NEW FIGHTER AIRCRAFT OF THIS CENTURY



The FC-1 project has once again come into renewed scrutiny as it was announced that major changes were being made to the airframe extremely late into its development schedule. A little bit of background information on the FC-1 project is in order before I proceed further for those who aren't familiar with it. A project (Super-7) was started up in the late 80's to modernize China's ageing fleet of J-7's (Mig-21 derivatives) with upgraded avionics and weapons. The original plan involved U.S. assistance via Northrop-Grumman but this was subsequently scrapped following the chill in US-Chinese relations after Tiananmen. The Super-7 was subsequently continued without external assistance and ultimately involved the completion of an entirely new airframe, the FC-1.

The requirements of the aircraft was for a lightweight multipurpose air defense interceptor/light attack craft that would be above all cheap to replace the thousands of obsolescent aircraft. The dimensions and power plant of the aircraft bear this out as the plane is quite small with a limited payload capacity and utilizing only a single RD-93 (or possibly a WS-13A in the future. The RD-93 is a development from the RD-33; two of which power the mig-29). The closest equivalent aircraft would be the Swedish Gripen and the Indian LCA project both of whom are in the same weight category and have similar mission profiles. Needless to say, the FC-1 project has taken well over a decade and a half to get off the ground and the present concept of the plane has changed drastically from the original Super-7 project. However, as of late September 2005, the development of the FC-1 has hit another snag as even more significant changes are being made to the aircraft. The speculated reason for this sudden change is the changing requirements of the Pakistani Air Force who are partners in the program. Pakistan has recently concluded an agreement with the United States where the U.S. will provide a significant quantity of F-16's (70+). This has possibly lessened the impetus of the Pakistani Air Force in adopting the FC-1 to replace its older fighters. Thus revisions to the aircraft are being made to increase its performance but at the same time will delay its introduction.

For China, an equally important objective of the FC-1 in addition to added mass to the PLAAF is the export potential of the aircraft. From the outset, the FC-1 has been planned to be introduced by Pakistan and then other foreign customers. The performance is not by any means spectacular by Western standards, but it does provide significant benefits for many Third World air forces. The stated performance goal of the FC-1 is to be somewhat similar to the level of an early model F-16A first introduced in the 80's but at a significant cost savings. The aircraft is supposed to cost in between $15-20 million U.S. dollars, compared to the $60 million price tag of a block 52 F-16 C/D that the United States exports. The FC-1 would be particularly attractive to those countries not presently in good standing with Washington where the likelihood of arms sales are unlikely. Furthermore the FC-1 would have the advantage of new built airframes, reducing the cost of maintenance and an increase in service life compared to the purchase of used older model F-16's. There are a number of nations where the FC-1 could prove an attractive aircraft with which to replace ageing fleets of either U.S. made F-4 Phantoms or Soviet and Chinese made Mig-21's. Potential customers besides Pakistan could include Iran, Egypt, and even the possibility of the new Iraqi government, all of whom have purchased Chinese made aircraft in the past.

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