Warplanes: China Rules the Bargain Basement


March 1, 2006: Russia does not own the market for bargain basement warplanes, it still has to compete with China. A recent example of that was Bangladesh buying sixteen F-7s fighters from China. The aircraft, which are basically Chinese clones of the Russian MiG-21, are being sold for $6 million each. That's about a tenth of what a new F-16 would cost, or a fifth of what a used F-16 would cost. The F-16 is not ten times better than the F-7, but it's at least three times better. While the F-7 can carry the latest radars and air-to-air missiles, Bangladesh is not buying them to fight F-16s. No, Bangladesh wants some cheap, easy to maintain fighters to deal with more likely, and less well armed, opponents. These include nearby Burma and India, which both use the MiG-21. Burma operates F-7s, while India has Russian Mig-21s.

More immediate foes include Islamic terrorists, and some tribal separatists, who often operate from rural camps. These are best reached, and attacked, with something like the F-7.

The MiG-21 is a 1950s design. The Chinese copy, the F-7, first appeared in 1965. About a thousand of them are still in service (half of them in China), and China still produces about a hundred a year. The F-7 has a max takeoff weight of eight tons, and carries two 30mm cannon (with 60 rounds each) and two air-to-air missiles (or about a ton of rockets and bombs instead.)


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