In June of 1995, Chengdu Aircraft (CAC) had teamed with Mikoyan MAPO to design and produce a single-engined fighter to replace China's then defunct Super 7 project. The cancellation of the project was the result of US sanctions and withdrawal of support. In a bid to find another country to co-develop the fighter with, CAC teamed up with Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and China National Aero-Technology Import and Export (CATIC). The result of the new project was the FC-1, a private venture funded by the fore mentioned companies. Pakistan and China have a 50% each share in the program.
The development of FC-1 began in 1991 and by the mid-90s it was in a detailed design phase. By that time two partial forward and rear fuselage mockups had been completed. Plans for a two seat version were also in progress. Design help had come in shape of Mikoyan who also provided a team of engineers to CAC. The new plane therefore has a resemblance to the canceled Mig-33, a design developed in the early 1980s for a lightweight dog-fight aircraft. The FC-1 however, differs from the original Mig-33 in its adaptation of twin side-mounted air intakes.
FC-1 has been designed around the 81.4kN (18, 300lb)- thrust Klimov RD-93 turbofan possibly to be licence-built by Liyang Machinery (LMC). The engine is an improved modular development if the RD-33 engine that powers the Mig 29 series if aircraft and was also intended to power the Mig-33. It also has mid-mounted delta wings that will have two under-wing and one wing-tip pylons for weapon carrying each.
The aircraft is primarily aimed for the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) which has a stated requirement for at least 150 aircraft. CATIC is pushing for support from the Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) and is confident of selling the lightweight fighter to China's PLA air force. However, there have been no public feedback from the Chinese air force on the matter. CATIC says Pakistan industry's involvement in manufacturing the aircraft is not yet decided, but it is likely to produce the wings and fin.
The FC-1 project was initially supposed to have the maiden flight in 1997 with production in 1999. However, these dates have slipped forward repeatedly and now the first flight is supposed to take place in 2001 and the planned induction into service by 2005 according to the CAC officials. The delays are partially due to non-availability of funding from Pakistan due to its financial constraints and reluctance of China to buy this fighter because of its development if the new generation F-10 fighter program.
Another reason for delay has been the decision of an avionics suite that will go into the PAF purchased fighters. As early as 1995 Pakistan was looking towards a number of European manufacturers to select a radar, avionics suite and a system integrator. That decision has still to be taken.
Pakistan's requirements are for a complete range of avionics, including multi-mode pulse-Doppler radar, stores management system, inertial-navigation system and radar altimeter, head-up display and multi-function displays. The terms of the FC-1 contract require that the successful contender be willing to invest as a risk sharing partner and recover its outlay over four years of production. The contenders are GEC-Marconi, Thompson CSF, FIAR and Phazotron.
GEC-Marconi is offering an avionics package featuring the light weight Blue Hawk multi-mode radar and integrated sensor suite. The first prototype of the GEC Ferranti Blue Hawk pulse-Doppler fighter radar underwent extensive system proving at the company's Milton Keynes site in the UK in 1992. Aimed at the light combat aircraft and retrofit market, the dual-mode air-to-air and air-to-ground radar is a new development based on the use of existing technologies. The company sees the Blue Hawk as a competitor to systems such as Westinghouse's APG-66, GE Aerospace's APG-67, ESCO's APG-69, as well as FIAR's Grifo and Elta's EL/M 2035.
GEC Ferranti's director of military marketing, AVM George Black, says: "Blue Hawk is designed for those nations seeking a cost-effective way to move into all-weather day and night-fighter operations. Whether the objective is met with new or retrofitted aircraft, they will require a modern pulse-Doppler radar."
Potential launch customers for the Blue Hawk, expected to be ready for service-entry around 1995, include operators of British Aerospace's Hawk 200; Chengdu Aircraft's Super 7 development of the F-7M Airguard (potential customers include Pakistan and China), and Shenyang Aircraft's J-8 II Finback B - if China decides to go ahead with an upgrade.
GEC Ferranti says the system features high, medium and low pulse- repetition frequency waveforms and automation to reduce workload. Full power is available in all modes of operation.
CATIC and CAC were expected to choose GEC-Marconi as its preferred radar and cockpit-avionics supplier by the end of 1996. The final decision, however, will need the end user's approval. In October 1996 PAF asked China to forward its recommendations for a supplier. The move is intended to speed up the program, which was than running more than a year behind its latest revised schedule.
Chinese industry sources said that familiarity with existing GEC-Marconi systems makes it China's preferred supplier. The UK company has already supplied the head-up display (HUD) and Skyranger radar for the CAC F-7M and multi-mode Super Skyranger for the follow-on F-7MG fighter.
CATIC has unveiled a mock-up of the FC-1 cockpit, fitted with a GEC- Marconi raster-compatible HUD, with 25o field of view, and twin multi- function head-down displays. There will also be a stores-management system, an inertial-navigation system, with an embedded global- positioning system (GPS), and an air-data computer.
French Thompson-CSF is proposing its RC 400 radar with an avionics package from Sextant Avionique. The Radars & Contre-Mesures (RCM) division of Thompson-CSF launched the series of a new airborne fire-control radar, RC 400 in July 1997. It is aimed to fill the gap in the current market between the company's lightweight RCD and the current RYD radar of the Mirage 2000.
The RC 400 is designed for lightweight fighter and trainer aircraft. It is of modular construction. The 287-lb (130kg) radar has a power consumption of 3.6kVA and is in the 55nm (102km)- range class in air-to-air mode. The RC 400 consists of a monopulse, flat, slotted-array (eliptical or circular) antenna unit with IFF transponder; an air-cooled X-band transmitter; a two-channel exciter/receiver with a wide dynamic range; and a signal/data processing unit of one G flop capacity. Flight testing of the radar began in 1998.
Italy's FIAR's Grifo radar is understood to be the favorite for the FC-1 for PAF. Pakistan already had selected the Grifo M and Grifo 7 versions respectively for its Mirage III and F-7 fleet upgrades. FIAR is proposing a Sagem avionics package allied with the Grifo S7 radar, similar to Grifo 7. It is a fire control radar with range-while-search, velocity search, track with scan, single target track situation awareness and air combat modes. FIAR has supplied 100 Grifo 7 and 65 Grifo M radars to Pakistan to date.
Russia's Phazotron has proposed fitting the FC-1 with its multi-mode Super Komar radar, based on the Kopyo radar offered on the upgraded Mig-21-93. The Super Komar equipment incorporates a new digital signal and data processor. This however will be an unlikely choice for Pakistan since the Kopyo radar also forms the basis of the Indian Air Force upgrade of its Mig-21 fleet.
The indigenous pulse Doppler radar, the JL-10A, being pursued by the Chinese electronics specialist CLETRI uses the planar antenna from Phazotron radar as its transmitter.
FC-1 is supposed to carry short and medium-range missiles on seven weapon stations in roughly the same class as the US F-16., along with a 23 mm gun. The main armament for the Pakistani planes will be Sidewinder class IR seeking missiles as well as BVR missiles from yet an undecided source. According to Pakistan's cheif of air staff Air Cheif Marshal Parvaiz Mehdi Qureshi PAF is looking at French (Matra-BAe) Mica, the Russian AA-12, South Africa's Denel Darter series and the Chinese PL-10 as possible options.
Early last year Denel offered Pakistan a package of air-to-air weaponry that included a proposed joint development of a datalink-equipped radar-guided BVR missile. Pakistan confirmed it is evaluating active-guided BVR missiles including the T-Darter developed by Denel's Kentron.
T-Darter is understood to be a further development of radar-equiped R-Darter now in low-rate production and ramjet-powered S-Darter or LRAAM. The missile would incoporate a datalink for mid-course guidance updates and effective target engagements at ranges in excess of 50km (27nm). Denel's proposal also includes the short-range A-Darter missile.
The UOMZ SH-3UMI helmet-mounted sight, used on the Mig-29, may also be integrated into the FC-1.
In March 1998 China and Pakistan signed a letter of intent (LOI) covering joint development and production of the FC-1, breaking a long hiatus in the program's progress. It also firmed up a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed an year earlier.
In July of 1999 an agreement was finally signed during the visit of Pakistan's Prime Minister to Beijing with Chinese premier Zhu Rongji. The details of the contract have not been released and according to CAC the workshare package remains to be worked out. The plane will fly in 2001 and should be in service by 2005. Atleast three flying prototypes will be built along with two static frames already completed. Production is planned to start in 2003. However, according to some industry sources this might be too optimistic as is the proposed price of $15 million.