The sky high cost of fighter aircraft acquisition is forcing developing countries to embark on their own programs in the process challenging the price and performance of American and European fighters.
Turkey, South Korea, India, China and Pakistan claim to beat out western aircraft on cost. Though their technology may be inferior to that of Western or Russian aircraft, the level of equipment and armaments on these aircraft is considered ‘sufficient’ for their air forces.
What should worry airplane manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Eurofighter, Dassault and Saab is that some of the fighter plane manufacturers from the developing countries are eyeing the export market for relatively lower-priced fighter aircraft. This has come at a time when some countries in Asia, Africa and South America are looking to replace their Vietnam-era planes such as the F-5s, Mirage F-1s and MiG-21s with more modern planes.
The South Korean KFX project which is aimed at producing F-16-class fighter jets is slated to fructify by 2023 and deploy 120 units over the following several years. “The KFX may prove that smaller nations, when combining funds and resources, can produce a near fifth-generation aircraft that approaches the capability of a fighter produced by countries with far greater resources, such as the U.S., Russia and China. But this is unlikely. KFX, if completed, may be appealing to less wealthy nations who cannot afford the F-35”, Richard Weitz, director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute was quoted as saying in the New York times.
Japan, whose military industry was blunted after World War II, is trying to get back into the global defence business. Its planned Mitsubishi ATD-X ShinShin developed by Japanese Ministry of Defense Technical Research & Development Institute is a first of its kind jet fighter with some advanced technology not even available in western fighters. This fighter plane is being developed as a 5th gen fighter to form the mainstay of the Japanese Self Defence Forces. Japan plans to replace its aging fleet of F-4s and F-15s planes.
The U.S. RAND Corporation published a report on China's arms exports, claiming that the J-10 fighter jet sold for less than US$40 million; whereas by contrast, the U.S. F-16, a similar class aircraft in active service, costs US$65 million. FC-1 fighter jets, K-8 jet trainer and light attack aircraft produced from joint research and design between China and Pakistan.
Reports say that Myanmar is looking to purchase a license to domestically produce the J-17 aircraft, which is called the FC-1 Xiaolong in China. If the report is accurate, it would make Myanmar the first foreign purchaser of the jet. Currently, only Pakistan’s Air Force operates the J-17.
The JF-17 is a lightweight single engine multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by China and Pakistan. It can be armed with a variety of bombs and missiles including PL-5EII, PL-9C and PL-12 AAMs, C-802A anti-ship missiles, general purpose bombs, and laser guided munitions and countermeasures on its 7 hard points (four under wing, 2 wingtip, 1 under fuselage). The aircraft’s standard set of armaments are supplemented by a 23 mm GSh-23-2 twin barrel cannon or 30 mm version of the same.
The standard export price for the JF-17 Block I is $20 million and Block 2 being $25 million. Pakistan Air Force is the lone operator of the JF-17 with 54 aircraft operational including 6 prototypes.
Pakistan is the most likely buyer for the J-31, at this moment following their joint development work on the JF-17 Thunder advanced fighter.
J-31 is a twin-engine, mid-size fifth-generation jet fighter. It is said to be equipped with twin Russian RD-93 engines.
Turkey hopes that the indigenous TF-X will fly by 2023. Turkey’s aerospace powerhouse, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), has been debating three designs. Turkey's Defense Industry Executive Committee (SSIK) decided to design, develop, and manufacture an indigenous next generation air-to-air combat fighter which would replace Turkey's F-16 fleet and work together with the F-35.
India’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) , also called Tejas has been long in development but the program has accelerated over the last few years with a limited series of aircraft flying with the Indian Air Force. The aircraft is the Saab Gripen class and is rumored to satisfy the Indian Air Force’s demand for a replacement for the MiG-21.