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FC-20 / J-10CE Export Variant

The Chengdu FC-20 multirole fighter aircraft is the export version of the Chengdu J-10. State-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) has confirmed that it is actively seeking international sales for the FC-20. The corporation only received official approval to export the FC-20 a "few years" after 2010. The aircraft is being targeted for sale to customers in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America. At $50-60 million per aircraft, it might become attractive to countries like Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Malaysia and Indonesia.

As global attention was drawn to when China's in-service top-grade home-made J-10 fighter aircraft entered the international market, Ma Zhiping, vice president of the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC), disclosed recently that many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America had already enquired about price of J-10. According to Ma Zhiping, many clients have contacted to enquire the price of J-10 series fighters. These clients came from various countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America and include those traditional users of Chinese military aircraft as well as those countries which previously used Russia's series fighters and French fighters.

Ma Zhiping made a clear statement in an interview by reporters from Global Times on 25 September 2013 that: "We can say in a very responsible way that the J-10 fighter aircraft hasn't been exported to Pakistan. The export of a model of military aircraft has to be approved by the country first. However, J-10 hasn't acquired the related export license so far." Ma said on the sidelines of the ongoing 15th Aviation Expo/China 2013 in Beijing "Obtaining a national permit in advance of exporting it is top priority". Export would improve China's market competitiveness in the international arms trade as other countries, such the US and Russia, are eagerly promoting their third-generation jets - the F-15, F16, Su-27 and Su-30 - worldwide, while China's customers, in contrast, are still using the second-generation J-7 or J-8.

Developing countries that do not have close military attachments with Western countries will be potential buyers of China's FC-20 fighter jet. Du Wenlong, a military expert, stated in February 2016 that the export of FC-20 fighters is constrained by various conditions. First of all, member countries of NATO will not only pass on the fighter jet but will also go against it since China's fighter jet export takes market shares from U.S. F-16 fighters. Secondly, extremely wealthy countries will prefer more expensive and comprehensive fighters to the FC-20. However, it is undeniable that countries that do not have access to American fighters or look down on Russian ones will be potential buyers of China's FC-20.

Speaking about the differences between the FC-20 and its prototype, J-10, Du stated that the two versions mainly differ from each other not in appearance and basic performance but in functions. The J-10 fighter is a combat aircraft designed for the People's Liberation Army Air Force, while the export version of the fighter can adjust its configuration and performance to the demands of potential clients.

As for the advantages of the FC-20, Du stated that the aircraft is cheaper than its American and Russian counterparts. China is good at cost control when it comes to weapons manufacturing. Furthermore, China's export of weaponry will not be hampered at all by political pretexts. The U.S. regards arms export and military cooperation as important diplomatic indicators for friends and enemies; China, on the other hand, conducts military and technological cooperation with other countries as equals. What's more, if China sells an aircraft to another country, that country will provide technological or personnel support for application and maintenance.

Du also said that China's export of fighters still falls behind that of the U.S., Russia and other European countries, especially when it comes to main force fighters. The American F-16 and Russian Mikoyan MiG-29 are superior to China's FC-20 in terms of market shares. At present, the export of advanced Chinese weaponry is struggling to expand its market share in the face of established patterns.

The Royal Thai Air Force has reached a time when fighter planes need to be replaced, and it has clearly stated that it plans to introduce a new light fighter plane to replace the aging old models. Thailand is choosing from a variety of light fighters the model most suitable for the Royal Air Force. Among them, the J-10 fighter is one of the important options of the Royal Thai Air Force, and India is also ambitious, and intends to launch its own fighter competition order.

On 14 January 2019, the Royal Lao Air Force completed a test flight of the Yakovlev Yak-130 advanced jet trainer imported from Russia. In the past, a dominant view was that Laos would make the Yakovlev Yak-130 the main fighter jets in its air force. However, Laos’ domestic media recently conjectured that importing the Yakovlev Yak-130 was just a move to prepare for the purchase of new main fighter jets, which is likely to be China’s J-10C. Moreover, Laos' netizens posted many photoshopped images of J-10C fighter jets in the digital painting of the Royal Lao Air Force. Upon analyzing the demand of the Royal Lao Air Force, it isn’t totally a rumor that Laos will purchase J-10 fighter jets.

From both historical and geographical perspectives, Laos is a country lacking a sense of security. It borders comparatively powerful Thailand in the west and ambitious Vietnam in the east. The Royal Thai Air Force has long been equipped with US F-16 fighter jets and Swedish JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets. The Vietnamese Air Force is equipped with Su-27 and Su-30 fighter jets from Russia and is reported to purchase the latest Su-57 fighter jets. However, the main fighter jets of the Royal Lao Air Force remain the outdated MiG-21 fighters. Facing air threat in both west and east directions, Laos is in urgent need to introduce the advanced 4th-generation fighter jets to reinforce its air force. If Laos signs a contract to purchase China's J-10 fighter jets, the purchased volumes will be enough to equip only 1-2 squadrons (namely, 12-24 units of aircraft) considering the limited sizes of their air forces.

In 2018, the Bangladeshi Air Force sent a delegation to conduct a field survey of the performance of the J-10C. Then, Bangladesh became the first country to express the intention to purchase the aircraft. Of all international clients of Chinese military equipment, Bangladesh is an important but easily neglected country. In 2018, the Bangladeshi Army announced to cancel the contract of purchasing Russia’s T-72B3 tanks, but imported 300 heavily upgraded Type 59 tanks from China. the Bangladeshi Navy imported in 2018 two Type 053 H3 frigates from China to establish a main fleet, including five Chinese-made frigates as backbone vessels.

The Bangladeshi Air Force has realistic demand for J-10 fighters. The first batch of 36 Rafale fighter jets that India purchased will form two squadrons to be deployed near India’s borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh, respectively. Compared with that of Pakistan, the Bangladeshi Air Force is comparatively weak and lacks strong support from any third country. Facing the abruptly mounting pressure from the Indian Air Force, Bangladesh finds it necessary to commission the 4th-generation fighter jets with equal performance to the Rafale. If and Bangladesh signs a contract to purchase China's J-10 fighter jets, the purchased volumes will be enough to equip only 1-2 squadrons (namely, 12-24 units of aircraft) considering the limited sizes of their air forces. The United Nations arms embargo on Iran is about to expire on 10 October 2020. Iran is preparing to purchase a batch of modern fighter aircraft to replace the air force. Old F-4 and F-14 fighters. At the same time, Syria's funding situation has gradually improved after regaining Aleppo province, and it is determined to upgrade its national air force to counter the Turkish air force. It is reported that the Iranian Air Force's demand for new fighters is around 200, and Syria also needs 100. The J-10 fighters have the opportunity to obtain these two potential export orders.

The main opponents of Iran and Syria are the Israeli Air Force. The Israeli Air Force is equipped with a large number of F16I "Thunderstorm" fighters. The Turkish Air Force is also equipped with more than 200 F16C / D fighters. Therefore, Iran and Syria's first requirement for new fighters is to be able to suppress the F16. And the price is within their range, the two countries will give priority to buying medium or light fighters. Considering that the relations between Iran, Syria and the West are not harmonious, the F16, Mirage 2000, and JAS39 fighters must have been rejected. The remaining types of fighters to choose from are very limited.

Syria's requirements for new fighters are as cheap as possible, and performance must be stronger than F16C / D. At present, there are not many fighters that meet the requirements of Syria. The J-10 fighter is one of them. The positioning of the J-10 fighter is similar to that of the F-16. The latest J-10C fighter uses new avionics equipment. In addition, the J-10C can use the Thunderbolt 15 long-range air-to-air missile, which will suppress the F16C / D during beyond-horizon operations.

Compared with the original J-10, the J-10C has greatly improved both in terms of mobility and avionics level. It is entirely possible It can be regarded as one of the most advanced four and a half generation fighter aircrafts, and this fighter aircraft will not fall in the slightest even in the face of western gusts and typhoons, which is very helpful for improving the Iranian air force's combat effectiveness.

In addition to the J-10, Russia is also recommending MiG-35 fighters to Iran and Syria. The MiG-35 is a twin-engine medium fighter with a maximum take-off weight of 29 tons and a combat radius of more than 1,000 kilometers. The fighter aircraft ’s avionics system is relatively backward. It is equipped with Zhuk-AE active phased array radar, which is more advanced than the passive phased array radar used by Su 35. In addition, Syria and Iran are equipped with MiG-29 fighter aircraft. Continue to purchase MiG 35 will help pilots quickly dress up and form combat effectiveness.

However, the price of the MiG-35 will be more expensive, and the R73 and R77 air-to-air missiles used by the MiG 35 are not as good as the AIM120 air-to-air missiles used by the F16. The MiG 35 is still in the testing stage and cannot be mass-produced immediately. Zhuk-AE is the first active phased array radar developed by Russia. Russia's technology in the field of electronic technology is relatively weak. The reliability of this radar is still a problem.

The J-10C's active phased array radar technology is more mature, plus the J-10C is equipped with the Thunderbolt 15 air-to-air missile with a longer range, which can suppress the F16 fighter aircraft using the AIM-120. For Iran and Syria, the advantage of the J-10C is that it is cheap and the avionics system and airborne weapon performance are superior. The advantage of the MiG 35 is that it has better flight quality and is conducive to simplifying the logistics maintenance system. Which fighter can win? It depends on the specific test performance.

Europe’s Typhoon and Rafale fighters are notorious for their extremely high prices and maintenance costs (with a unit price of nearly US$100 million).Russian fighters lag behind in performance, and US fighter jets face high export barriers. Although those early aircraft models have grabbed large volumes of orders, they are considered “would-be foes” by latecomers, which makes it hard for them to win new clients. In this context, the J-10C fighter jets, which was born in a time when China’s overall jet fighter R&D capacity sees exponential growth, emits attraction and even becomes the only choice for a big proportion of customers in the international market.

Against the backdrop of counter-terrorism worldwide, the US and Europe loosened restrictions on arms export, and China’s fighter jets had yet to be mature in performance. But now the situation has changed. The contradiction between emerging demand and traditional supply in the international military aircraft market is becoming increasingly prominent, and the J-10 series has gradually become a jet fighter with global competitiveness after continuous improvements. In the future, if China's J-10 can be exported to Laos, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, it will be only a matter of time for the fighter to win more international orders.

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Page last modified: 11-03-2022 19:53:45 ZULU