2012-07-04 — (flightglobal.com and by Greg Waldron) — The atmosphere in the Dubai air show briefing room in November 2011 was electric. Journalists occupied every seat and photographers squeezed into the back of the room. Also present were a dozen senior Pakistan air force officials, who were forced to stand along one wall, as well as several Chinese executives in business suits.
The occasion was a briefing about the Chengdu/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex JF-17 Thunder fighter.
The Pakistani air force is the first customer for the JF-17
Yang Wei, the designer of the JF-17, Chengdu J-10 and China’s stealthy J-20, gave a presentation about the JF-17′s features and capabilities.
The head of the Pakistan air force used warm words about the aircraft, and commended the close relationship between Islamabad and Beijing.
The good turnout reflected the defence media’s love affair with the JF-17 as the successor to cheap, value-for-money Cold War fighters such as the Northrop F-5 and Mikoyan MiG-21. While the new model has yet to make a mark on the world stage, it is the most prominent element in the broader story of China’s military aircraft exports.
Although the importance of the JF-17 in China’s future export efforts cannot be disputed – Pakistani officials take pains to stress the joint nature of the programme – Beijing is quietly trying to sell small numbers of different types of aircraft, including advanced jet trainers, utility helicopters and transport aircraft.
The awkwardly named China National Aero-Technology Important & Export Corporation (CATIC) is the government-owned company tasked with selling China’s military aircraft abroad. Over the past 30 years it has sold more than 1,400 aircraft to international customers and boasts 35 representative offices globally.
“In 2011, CATIC’s major successes included a follow-up contract for the JF-17 with Pakistan and various contracts for the [Shaanxi] Y-8 transport aircraft, the [Xian] MA-60, and [Harbin] H425 helicopter,” says Zeng Wen, vice-president of CATIC.
The company, however, declines to comment on specific deals. So far this year, for example, it has officially announced just a single transaction, the sale of eight Pakistan-made Hongdu K-8P Karakorum intermediate trainer jet trainers to Zambia, which will bring the country’s total inventory of the type to 15. In 2011, there were reports of a Y-8 sale to Venezuela, though neither Beijing nor Caracas has officially confirmed them. From time to time emerge sketchy reports of other transactions, usually for a limited number of aircraft, in African or South American nations.