in Defence / Features

Sudan's Chinese jet milestone

Posted 9 November 2017 · Add Comment

On June 5, China's state-owned Guizhou Aircraft Industries Corporation (GAIC) rolled out the first production FTC-2000 Mountain Eagle (Shanying) from its plant in Anshun. As Jon Lake reports, it was a particularly significant moment for Sudan.

The FTC-2000 is an advanced and lead-in fighter trainer and ground-attack aircraft marketed by the Aviation Industries Corporation of China (AVIC) and intended for the export market.
It is a derivative of the Guizhou JL-9 used by China’s PLA Air Force.
The aircraft rolled out in June was destined for the Sudanese Air Force, though this was not officially confirmed, with officials referring coyly to “an undisclosed export customer”. It wore the characteristic camouflage colours used by Sudan.
AVIC officials revealed that an undisclosed African country had ordered the FTC-2000 during the 2015 Paris Air Show. This marked GAIC’s first export order for the type, though the company has supplied small numbers of FT-7 trainers to a number of customers – most of them operators of the F-7.
Until now, the Hongdu Aviation Industry (Group) Corporation – formerly known as the China Nanchang Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation or CNAMC, GAIC’s sister-company within AVIC, has been responsible for most export sales of new generation Chinese jet trainers, selling large numbers of K-8 and L-15s.
Sudan was formally revealed to be the first customer for the FTC-2000 in an interview with GAIC director general, Wang Wenfei, published by China Aviation News on November 3 2016. He revealed that Sudan had ordered six FTC-2000 jet trainers.
Sudan is expected to use the type to replace its ageing Nanchang A-5 ‘Fantan’ fighter-bombers, which saw extensive service during the war in Darfur, but which have been sidelined in more recent operations in Yemen.
The FTC-2000 is the export version of the JL-9 trainer, which is, in turn, a derivative of the JJ-7/FT-7 – the Guizhou-built trainer versions of the Chengdu J-7/F-7.
The J-7 was China’s unlicensed copy of the MiG-21, which spawned a succession of lightly modernised and improved versions over the years.
The JJ-7 has been retired from Chinese service, though some later single-seat variants remain in service with the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army Air Force and Chinese Peoples Liberation Army Naval Air Force.
Though the JL-9 made its maiden flight on December 13 2003, and entered People’s Liberation Army Air Force service in 2011, the aircraft is very much a J-7/MiG-21 derivative. It retains the Guizhou Liyang WP-13 turbojet engine, empennage, and mechanical flying controls of the original JJ-7/FT-7, married to a new cranked Delta wing and a new forward fuselage with a large nose-mounted multi-mode radar and redesigned side-mounted bifurcated air intakes, and accommodating a new glass cockpit.
By comparison, the rival Hongdu L-15 is powered by a turbofan engine and has a modern digital flight control system and a clean-sheet aerodynamic and structural design.
As a relatively inexpensive and low technology J-7 derivative, the FTC-2000 is at the lower-end of AVIC’s portfolio, and is intended for developing nations and for existing users of the F-7, who can use much of their existing logistics and maintenance infrastructure to support the FTC-2000.
It is worth noting that Sudan is an existing F-7 operator, with about a dozen F-7s in service.
Wang Wenfei has indicated that other African countries, including Nigeria, have shown interest in acquiring the FTC-2000, but, even in Africa, the aircraft faces competition from more advanced Chinese jet trainers.
AVIC has sold six Hongdu L-15s to Zambia and is offering the JF-17 Thunder (in partnership with the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex) in the region.
Since the JL-9/FTC-2000 is intended to train pilots for aircraft like the Chengdu J-7, Shenyang J-8, Chengdu/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex JF-17, and Shenyang J-11, it has to offer a modern cockpit environment and representative systems.
The aircraft is, therefore, fitted with a modern multi-mode pulse Doppler radar, and features an integrated avionics suite with head-up displays, modern multi-function displays, mission and weapons computers and a GPS-aided inertial navigation system, as well as an electronic warfare suite with integrated countermeasures.
The aircraft has five hard points and a twin-barrel 23mm cannon for weapons training, and three of the pylons are ‘plumbed’ to allow the carriage of fuel tanks. All of these features give the FTC-2000 a robust secondary combat capability, with potential in both air-to-air and air-to-ground roles.
 

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