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K-8 Karakorum Program Developments

The K-8 is a multi-role aircraft that can serve as a trainer, fighter, or light ground attack bomber. The K-8 project was initiated by the PRC around 1987, and later became a joint effort with Pakistan. China and Pakistan agreed to jointly develop the K-8 Karakorum jet trainer. Karakoram-8 (K-8), Basic Cum Advance Jet Trainer, was co-developed by Aircraft Manufacturing Factory (AMF), Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, Kamra, and China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC). This aircraft was designed by Hongdu Aviation. Manufacture of four prototypes started January 1989, and the first flight test was conducted on 21 November 1990. The design finalization was in December 1992. Thousands of on-land test and flying test show that its combined properties are better than all the other jet trainer all over the world.

A total of 12 aircraft (six each to China and Pakistan) were delivered by end of 1996. Pakistan decided against domestic series production in 1994. While the original plan involved up to 75 aircraft for Pakistan, by early 1996 as many as 100 were reportedly desired to replace aging Cessna T-37 trainers. The Chinese requirement was thought to range up to several hundred, which would be powered by the Progress AI-25 turbofans imported from Russia beginning in 1997.

The PLAAF version of the K-8, known as JL-8, first flew in December 1994. Six planes powered by AI-25TLK were delivered to the PLAAF in June 1998. The further development variant L-11 powered by an indigenous WS-11 turbofan (a Chinese copy of the Ukrainian AI-25TLK) was first tested in December 1998. By the end of 2003 around 100 examples had been delivered to several PLAAF flight schools. Egypt is China's biggest customer for these trainers. In December 1999, CATIC signed a contract with the Egyptian Defence Department to export 80 K-8 aircraft and its production line. With authorization from China, the Egyptian Air Force has manufactured 80 K-8s, and in 2008 was negotiating a deal for the production of a second batch of 40 aircraft.

In March 2003 China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corp (CATIC) agreed to buy 100 K-8 aircraft from the Hongdu Aviation Industry Group for export. Several Middle Eastern countries had shown strong interest in the K-8 jet. Other Southeast Asian and South American countries are also interested in purchasing the aircraft. The Chinese built K-8 intermediate pilot trainer aircraft is used in the Sri Lanka Air force training squadron.

In December 2005 Zeng Wen, vice president of the export department of the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC), said that it will sell 250 more K-8 training jets in overseas markets in the next 10 years. He revealed the ambitious plan at the final day of the 2005 Forum for K-8 International Customers in Cairo. "CATIC has sold 249 K-8 trainers since 1994 to our clients across southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa," said Zeng. "We aim to sell 250 more in the next 10 years so that by the year 2015 the total number of K-8 exported will probably reach around 500," Zeng added.

China has exported K-8 aircraft to Zambia and other African countries. Africa is the main recipient of the Chinese trainer aircraft; China claims that 80 percent of the trainer aircraft in African air forces are K-8s. In May 2006 Ghana said it had accepted an offer from the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation to trade-in the Gulf Stream GIII aircraft for four K-8 military aircraft and one K-8 flight simulator for the Ghana Air Force. The acquisition in 2008 of the K-8 aircraft will enhance the operational efficiency of the Ghana Air Force. It will also be useful for maritime and land surveillance as well as for collection and collation of data and information.

In 2008 China's official media released photos of K-8 fighter trainers demonstrating impressive attack power against land-based targets. The aircraft are the same model that China exported to Sudan. However, the K-8 trainers are like standard attack aircraft, and their tactical application in the Sudanese Air Force is for training but also for land attack operations. Although all trainer aircraft have some land-attack capability, the K-8 aircraft that China has sold to Sudan are different from those in service in China's PLA Air Force in that they are fitted with 23-mm machine-gun pods. Along with the trainer planes, HF-20 rocket launchers were also exported to Sudan.

In February 2009 it was reported that Zimbabwe would spend US$240 million on 12 K-8 jet trainer aircraft from China. Six of the 12 aircraft were already in the country, with the remainder set to be delivered in two months. Several western countries, notably Britain, had imposed an arms embargo on Zimbabwe over complaints about human rights violations in the southern African country. President Robert Mugabe has reacted to the targeted sanctions on his regime by urging the country to 'Look East', reference to Asian countries which have pledged their support for his regime.

A lot of six planes, model K-8, out of the 18 aircrafts purchased by the Venezuelan government from China will arrive in January 2010 to be used in counter-narcotics efforts, reported a high-ranking military officer. "In January 2010, we will have the first six in Venezuela and before mid 2010, the 18 planes will be flying in the Venezuelan air space," said General Jesús González, the official responsible for the Operational Strategic Command, stated on February 11, 2009.

By 2015 AVIC Hongdu had exported more than 300 K8s to 10 different countries. K-8 has a multi-role capability for training and, with little modification, can also be used for airfield defense. Different variants of K8s had been manufactured for domestic Chinese user and foreign users with different powerplants and avionics. On 18 November 2014, after a series of flight test, State Owned Aerospace Defense Company – AVIC Hongdu delivered 5 K8s to the Republic of the Sudan. Successful flight test and the delivery of K8 to the Republic of the Sudan marks the another milestone and laid the solid foundation in the export of K8 to foreign users. The JL-8 is for the domestic Chinese market and its export variants, K-8E and K-8P, have different powerplants and avionics.

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