Warplanes: Buy Your Way In

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May 14, 2020: China recently announced the first export sale of its FTC-2000G jet trainer/attack aircraft. The buyer was only identified as a Southeast Asian country (Cambodia seems likely). China had announced a 2016 sale of six to Sudan but that order was for the trainer only version. The G model is equipped to also operate as a combat aircraft. The FTC-2000G is a 9.8 ton two-seat aircraft with a top speed of 1,000 kilometers an hour, cruise speed of 870 kilometers and minimum speed of 210 kilometers an hour. That slow minimum speed is an advantage for a ground attack aircraft. The G model carries a 23mm autocannon and up to five tons of bombs and missiles on five attachment points on the wings and fuselage.

As a trainer, endurance is about three hours but when carrying weapons it is more like two hours. The aircraft can also carry three external fuel tanks instead of weapons. The FTC-2000 electronics include a radar, GPS/INS navigation and a HOTAS (Hands on Throttle And Stick) joystick that not only allows the pilot to maneuver the aircraft but also includes buttons for controlling communications, fire control, speed and other functions. There is also a glass cockpit with flat-screen displays replacing the traditional mechanical dials and switches.

It was only in 2017 that China released photos and other information about the first production FTC-2000. The first flight of the G model took place in 2018.

The FTC-2000 is the updated export version of their JL-9 single-seat jet trainer. What is distinctive about the JL-9 is that it and the FTC-2000 use a single Chinese WP-13 jet engine. This is a big deal because China is largely dependent on Russian jet engines for its warplanes. Efforts to build Chinese jet engines have been slow, especially when it comes to reliability. The 1.1 ton WP-13 is rated at 2,200 flight hours and is also used in the JF-17 China builds for Pakistan, which is largely assembled in Pakistan, the only customer so far.

The eight ton JL-9 is an upgraded version of the older JL-7 trainer, which was based on the J-7 (a Chinese copy of the Russian MiG-21). The JL-9 has side air intakes and a radar dome upfront. It doesn't look a lot like a MiG-21, and is somewhat easier to fly. JL-9 has five hardpoints for additional fuel tanks, bombs, or a 23mm autocannon pod. This makes it useful in training new pilots in ground attack techniques as well as providing export customers with an inexpensive attack aircraft. The export version can be equipped with non-Chinese electronics to suit customer requirements.

The JL-9 entered service in 2011 with the Chinese air force and navy. The JL-9 is several million dollars cheaper than the twin-engine JL-15, which is made by another Chinese firm and is now aimed at the export market (mainly as a light attack aircraft). Apparently, the Chinese believe that it's better, and cheaper, for new J-10 and J-11 pilots to learn in these aircraft, rather than spending more time in the pricey, but similar in performance, JL-15s.

The JL-9 is competing with a lot of more popular Western trainer designs. These are generally more expensive and have many satisfied customers. But the Chinese know how to buy their way into a market. The Chinese sell the FTC-2000G at about half the cost of a comparable Western aircraft and the Chinese are willing to make modifications and, more importantly, sell to anyone who can pay.

 


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