China's FC-1 Fighter Enters Production for “Poor Countries”

(c) K.B. Sherman

The China Daily reported in June that China's next-generation fighter aircraft, the Super-7, may go into production after its first test flight this year. A prototype of the aircraft, organically designed and built by China, was recently completed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Group (China Aviation Industry Corporation 1), quoting Senior Project Engineer Gao Zhicong.

The FC-1 has a choppy history. Originally envisioned as gradually replacing the F-7, MiG-21 and Q-5 fighter jets currently in service in China and with some of its allies, the single-seat, single-engine multi-role fighter aircraft derived from the Chengdu J-7 (F-7) has largely been overtaken by events and technology. The F-7 is China's version of the 45-year-old MiG-21. The Q-5 is the Chinese bomber version of the even older MiG-19. The FC-1 – said to be similar in performance to the MiG-27 -- is designed to carryout the dual missions of air-to-air and air-to-surface attacks.

Back in the Détente Days of the 1980s, China signed a $550 million agreement with Grumman to modernize its J-7 fighter under the so-called "Super-7" upgrade, but this agreement was cancelled in early 1990. China turned to its Russian semi-allies and, as a substitute for the original Super-7, China developed the FC-1 (Fighter China-1) lightweight multipurpose fighter initially based on the design for the Super-7.

Development of the fly-by-wire, 1.6 mach-capable FC-1 has reportedly cost approximately $150 million, with half coming from Pakistan, which will replace its F-7M/P airplanes. Unit costs have reportedly risen from $ 10 million to $ 15 million per copy, although the “stripped” export version of the US F-16 goes for $ 20 million. The Russians are using the FC-1 as a continuation of the scrapped MiG-33 (R33) program developed in the 1980s.

In the past 17 years, as China's enthusiasm for the FC-1 has cooled, Pakistan has grabbed the baton, perhaps to counter India's Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Project, and plans to buy as many as 150. While final systems are uncertain, the FC-1 may carry the Israeli Elta 2032 or Italian FIAR Grifo S-7 fire-control radar. The Grifo S-7 is specially designed for the FC-1/Super-7, with lookdown, shoot-down capability, plus single-target ground strike mode. According to some reports, Pakistan’s anti-Israeli politics dictate that the PLA Air Force variant of the FC-1 would never be fitted with any Israeli system, but rather, either the Russian Phazotron Kopyo radar or Italian Grifo. The FC-1 has seven stores stations and can carry the AIM-9P, PL-9, and Magic-2 short-range AAMs, plus the AIM-7E and Aspide.

Just to drag this saga out even further, latest reports say that Russia is now refusing to supply the airplane’s RD-93 engine. If this additional hurdle is overcome, not just Pakistan is a likely customer. Beijing is reportedly targeting “poor countries” for the FC-1, said The Guangzhou Daily recently.

The MiG-27 -- the standard to which the FC-1 aspires.