Procurement: Egypt Building Chinese Warplane Under License

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March 6, 2006: Egypt has finally worked out a deal to manufacture Chinese JL-8 jet trainers. This is an extension of a purchase deal, from 1999, in which Egypt agreed to buy 80 JL-8s for about $4.4 million each. It took six years to work out the details of the technology transfer and foreign (in Egypt) manufacturing part of the agreement.

China put a lot of effort into this deal, winning out over other aircraft builders (the Czech L-59, Italian Aermacchi 211, and Brazilian Embraer Tucano) by agreeing to take part of the payment in Egyptian products and share aircraft technology, and the actual manufacturing. Egypt has a similar deal with the United States, for assembling U.S. M-1 tanks in Egypt. In both the JL-8 and M-1 deals, some Egypt parts are used, and most of the labor is Egyptian.

The JL-8 is replacing Czech L-29 trainers from the 1960s. The JL-8 is a joint project of China and Pakistan. This sale to Egypt is important because it makes it easier for China and Pakistan to market other joint weapons projects (missiles, tanks) to other Arab countries. The Egyptian sales was the first big one for the JL-8, as the Chinese air force refuses to use it in large quantities, because so many components are manufactured outside the country (in Pakistan and Ukraine.)

The JL-8 (also called K-8E) is a 4.3 ton, two seat, jet trainer. It uses a Ukrainian engine. Originally, China was going to use 3600 pound thrust American engines. But after the 1989 Chinese crackdown on pro-democracy forces, the United States cut off the supply of engines. This encouraged China to design a similar engine (the WS-11). But China has had a hard time mastering the precise technologies and manufacturing techniques needed to build jet engines. So it has been buying the Ukrainian AI-25TLK.

The aircraft, which has a cruising speed of 800 kilometers an hour, endurance of four hours and five hard points, can carry a 23mm cannon in the hard point under the fuselage, and half a ton of bombs, rockets or missiles, from the four hard points on the wings. This gives the aircraft combat capability, at least against a foe with few anti-aircraft weapons. Electronics on the JL-8 are minimal, as it's basically a two seat trainer, to prepare fighter pilots before they climb into anything from a MiG-21 to an F-16.

 


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