Pak.-China plane project in trouble?

ISLAMABAD, MAY 7. A joint Pakistan-China fighter aircraft project, the Super 7, is in deep trouble following the refusal of European nations to ``provide avionics for the aircraft under U.S. pressure'', the Dawn magazine reported today.

This development is a major setback for the Pakistan Air Force, which was looking to the Super 7 to replace ageing fighter planes in its inventory. A letter of intent to produce the aircraft was signed between China and Pakistan in February 1998, with both agreeing to share the development cost equally. According to the report, bids for three avionics packages for the project, including radars, head-up and head-down displays, mission computers and inertial navigation systems were to be submitted by Thomson-CSF of France, Alena-Fiar of Italy and BAE Systems of the United Kingdom.

``Now, that (the supply of avionics) seems out of the question as European countries have started listening closely to U.S. concerns over Pakistan's foreign policy and supply of sensitive systems to China,'' the report said adding that the airframe of the Super 7 was to be developed by Chengdu, a Chinese firm.

``Earlier, the U.S. stopped an American Firm, Allied Signal, from selling Garett TFE731 engines for the Karakoram K-8 jet trainer to China over (sic) fears that some equipment in it could be used to build Cruise missiles. The decision hurt the K-8 project which was also financed by Pakistan,'' the Dawn said.

Though the Chinese have said they would turn to Russia to supply the avionics, the report said that given the situation in Central Asia and the role of the Taliban, Moscow ``would decline to send avionics to Pakistan''.

The delay in the project is an ``ominous'' development for the Pakistan Air Force. ``After the Pressler embargo, Pakistan has bought at least 100 fighter planes, most of them Chinese copies of MiG-21s known as F-7s and French Mirage IIIs first acquired by the PAF in the mid-sixties. These fighters, which lack the sophistication of new-generation jets, have been acquired only as an interim or stop-gap measure.''

``On the other hand, the PAF's chief rival, the Indian Air Force, has 100-plus MiG-29s and Mirage-2000s, the latter being updated to Dash Five version, and has recently acquired the formidable Sukhoi-30s.....''

The report quoted PAF officials as saying that the ``ratio of advanced platforms'' had increased to 7:1 in favour of India. ``The ratio is rising with the PAF operating with less than 30 F- 16s, which are fast becoming outdated. The delay in the FC-1 (or Super 7) fighter could now force the service to go for the F-7MG fighter, the newest version of the F-7s.