After eleven years and half a billion dollars, the first prototype of the Chinese FC-1 (or Super 7) fighter made its first test flight on September 3rd. The 13 ton warplane is meant to be a low cost ($20 million) alternative to the F-16. The FC-1 is considered the equal to earlier versions of the F-16, but only 80 percent as effective as more recent F-16 models. The FC-1 uses the same Russian engine, the RD-93, that is used in the MiG-29. The FC-1s design is based on a cancelled Russian project, the MiG-33. Most of the FC-1's electronics are Western, with Italian firms being major suppliers. The FC-1 can carry 3.6 tons of weapons and use radar guided and heat seeking missiles. It has max speed of Mach 1.6, an operating range of 1,300 kilometers and a max altitude of 55,000 feet.
Pakistan contributed at least half of the development money, and agreed to order 150 of them. The Chinese air force has refused to buy the FC-1, preferring to develop their own advanced fighter, the J-10. But the J-10, which began development in 1988 and first flew in 1996, appears to be a bit of a disappointment. The J-10 is based on the abandoned Israeli Lavi (an improved F-16) project. The J-10 is also using a Russian engine (the AL-31F, the same one used in the Su-27), and was planning on using Israeli electronics. But the United States has been leaning on the Israelis to back off making the Chinese air force too lethal, given the probability of American pilots possibly having to fight the Chinese air force some day. The Chinese are developing their own avionics, based on Russian equipment. But this work is not going well. So while about a dozen J-10s have been built, the Chinese air force is considering buying 200 FC-1s. At this point, at least the Chinese have some choices. The FC-1 was meant to be an export item, and that is an attractive prospect. The more FC-1s that are sold, the cheaper the price for the Chinese air force. All the Chinese are really interested in is getting enough modern fighters to match the Taiwanese F-16s and Mirage-2000's.