Is Cambodia the Mystery Buyer of China’s FTC-2000G Trainer/Fighter Jet?

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China announced on Sunday that FTC-2000G trainer/fighter jet has secured its first overseas customer less than two years from the launch of the aircraft.

While the buying nation was identified only as a “South East Asian nation” by the jet’s manufacturer, Guizhou Aircraft Industry Corporation (GAIC) chief Wang Wenfei, Cambodia could possibly be the mystery customer going by the close military and economic ties the two countries have forged in recent years.

There is some speculation that Myanmar could also be the customer. However, the Myanmar air force already has or has ordered the T-50 from South Korea as well the Yak-130 from Russia, both of which are direct competitors to FTC-2000G.

Cambodia -China ties

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had said in July 2019 that $40 million had been spent that year on top of a total amount of $290 million in previous arms deals with China. In March 2020, he was quoted in as saying that Cambodia intends to purchase L-39 trainer jets and light attack planes from the Czech Republic and China (respectively).

A Chinese company is building the Dara Sakor International Airport by clearing tropical jungles in Cambodia in addition to a naval base  believed to be a part of a larger China-Cambodia econo-military secret pact which will give China a foothold in the Gulf of Thailand.

Cambodia has been holding naval training exercise with China since 2016 besides regular delegation-level  visits to Chinese arms factories from Cambodian military officials.

Cambodian Air Force

Cambodia has no modern fighter jet in its air force. It only has five L-39 Albatros trainers bought from the Czech Republic in 1996. So buying the FTC-2000G trainer/fighter will give it an entry into the combat aircraft league without burning a hole in its pocket. Cambodia had  sent a full military delegation led  to two general-rank officials to the 2018 Zhuhai air show who  had shown “keen interest in Chinese  fighter  aircraft and drones,” a local  show  daily published at Airshow China had reported.

That Cambodia is banking on China to beef up its decrepit air force is no secret.  The FTC-2000G could accelerate  the process of building a combat-capable air force  by combining combat and  training in one aircraft and make the air force  future-ready for supersonic combat jets.

In August 2019, Royal Cambodian Air Force (RCAF) military officers were seen training on the Hongdu JL-8 Jet trainer in China giving wings  speculation that it was preparatory to buying the  J-10B or the JF-17 fighters. The RCAF posted some of the training videos  on Facebook.  It is possible that Cambodia ended ordering the FTC-2000G instead.Thailand-Cambodia border dispute

Cambodia has an ongoing border dispute with neighbor Thailand centered on the Preah Vihear temple area. While Thailand has cumulatively spent US$7.2 billion on defense equipment between 2015 and 2019; Cambodia has expended a mere $525 million on its military in 2018, and is projected to spend $507million by the end of 2020 on military modernization.

FTC-2000G production

The launch customer of the FTC-2000G has signed up to buy the trainer/fighter jets  even before the aircraft  has entered  Chinese air force service. There is also no word if the aircraft has completed its  mandatory certification which itself could take a couple of year going by the stringent certification requirements for  aviation products.  GAIC chief Wang Wenfei has said  in local  media interviews last Friday that teams from the customer had studied  the technical  and performance features and taken test flights of the aircraft before placing the order.

Wang Wenfei has also disclosed that following the deal signed in January this year, the aircraft will be delivered in batches, with a delivery time of 2 years. Even if the manufacturing rate is 4-5 aircraft a year, that still will make it an order of 8-10 jets at a conservative estimate.

FTC-2000G key features

At Airshow China 2018, the jet displayed weapons such as the SD-10 semi-active air-to-air missile (the export variant of the PL-12), the CM-102 anti-radiation missile, and various guided and non-guided bombs.

It is a twin-seat, fixed-wing, multirole combat plane tasked mainly with airstrikes against ground targets. It can also be used as a jet trainer aircraft, according to the Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC).

The jet can attain a maximum speed of 1.2 Mach, has a maximum takeoff weight of 11 metric tons, a maximum flight range of 2,400 km and an operational flight ceiling of 15 km.

Equipped with modern radar and fire-control systems, it is capable of staying airborne for three hours in a single operation and can carry as much as 3 tons of missiles, rockets or bombs.

“With proper equipment, the plane will also be able to perform reconnaissance or electronic-warfare operations,” Hu Jinxing, chief designer of the FTC-2000G at Guizhou had said in 2018.