French JF-17 Deal Could Anger India
By Michael A. Taverna (Paris / Feb 18, 2010)
Politics could yet derail French industry aspirations to upgrade Pakistan’s JF-17 fighter aircraft, even as the two sides near conclusion of a deal for the program.
While the project is supported by the administration of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, reactions in New Delhi and Washington will also influence its fate . The U.S. is concerned about technology leakage to China, and India is already a lucrative market for French industry. Enthusiasm for the JF-17 upgrade could be tempered if there were signals that this might jeopardize business in India.
The Pakistan air force wants to develop a “Westernized” version of its Chinese-made JF-17, fitted with European avionics, fire-control radar and weapons systems. The upgraded aircraft is intended not only for domestic service, but also for export.
A team led by ATE—a Paris-based company specializing in integrating systems and weapons onto military aircraft airframes of different origin—is tipped to develop and market the upgraded version of the JF-17 Thunder. The aircraft was developed by China in cooperation with Pakistan.
Other partners, according to sources close to the deal, include Thales, Sagem and missile-manufacturer MBDA. Among the losing bidders, they say, are Astrac, a Thales-Sagem joint venture also specialized in retrofits, and Finmeccanica. The winning team would not comment on the selection, which has not been officially announced.
Industry executives say the project has strong backing from the French government, which has adopted a more focused and muscular arms trade policy under the Sarkozy administration .
Pakistan has a large fleet of French Mirage III and V fighters which the JF‑17 is supposed to replace. However, the deal must still run a gauntlet of threats before it can become reality, and how long this will take is anybody’s guess.
Cash-strapped Pakistan may have trouble funding the deal, and it could also face pressure from its Chinese partners—who want to supply the aircraft with domestic systems and weapons—and the U.S., which is already supplying F-16s to the Pakistani air force.
But the biggest hurdle, the industry executive suggests, is any Indian pressure regarding the proposed deal.
The upgrade would involve 50 aircraft, plus another 50 on option, that would go into production in 2013, following delivery of the first batch of Pakistani air force JF-17s. The project could be worth up to €1 billion ($1.36 billion), more than double the $500 million that the JF-17 development reputedly cost.
The principal target markets for export are in Central Asia and Africa. Any sale would require case-by-case approval by the French government. Up to 400 JF-17s may ultimately be built.
While the exact makeup of the modernization package is not known, it is thought to include Thales RC400 fire- control radar and the MBDA Mica medium-range family of air-to-air missiles, as well as air-to-surface weaponry.
Paris is insisting on a complete package approach to try to protect against leakage of design secrets to China or other unauthorized users. However, Islamabad is also known to be discussing the separate supply of specific additional items, such as South Africa’s A-Darter short-range imaging infrared-guided air-to-air missile. ATE was previously headquartered in South Africa and most of its 400 employees are still based there.
China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corp. developed the JF-17 with support from the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC). The aircraft first flew in 2003 and has been in small-batch production at Chengdu since 2006. The first JF-17 to undergo final assembly at a purpose-built PAC facility was handed over to the air force in October of last year.
The first 50 aircraft for the Pakistani air force are expected to be delivered by the end of 2012. These aircraft will be fitted with Chinese avionics and radar, as well as radar- and infrared-guided short- and long-range air-to-air missiles and antiship weapons. China’s PL-12 radar-guided beyond-visual-range missile may be part of the package.
This capable missile is now in series production for the Chinese air force and it is not clear why Pakistan would want the Mica, whose range is inferior. Industry officials suggest the Chinese fire-control radar intended for the JF‑17 is unable to exploit the PL-12’s full capability.
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La Francia vuole concludere affari col Pakistan ..... ma la cosa non piace ad un potente vicino .....