Author with Air Marshal Sohail Gul

The Home of JF 17

By Raja G Mujtaba

My visit to PAC Kamra is split into two parts. First when I visited the place, Air Marshal Sohail Gul, the Chairman of Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) had to leave at a very short notice for an emergent meeting at the ministry thus no meeting with him could take place. Without meeting the Chairman the visit was inconclusive, many questions remained unanswered. It was nice of him to have me invited again and we had some open heart discussions on PAC and its future plans and capabilities.

The complex houses multi-faceted facilities manufacturing which enable it to undertake complete manufacture of new aircraft, aircraft structure overhaul, Aircraft component overhaul, Aircraft Engine overhaul, Radar & Avionics manufacture, maintenance and overhaul etc. To cater for the needs of all the tasks, PAC has laid down stringent standards to meet the international requirements of the aviation industry.

It is also manufacturing fuel tanks for external stowage. The glass canopies that are not only required for the new aircraft but also need to be replaced often as a routine maintenance are a frequent need of the Air Force. To meet this demand, a unit has been installed to produce single piece glass canopies for various aircrafts in PAF inventory. It is also being envisioned that after acquisition of this technology PAC Kamra would also be able to meet export orders from other countries around the world. The theme of the PAC Chairman is to make PAC an earning organization for Pakistan by exporting its products and services to other countries.

It was my first meeting ever with the Air Marshal who left a strong impression about the potential and future of PAC. I found Sohail Gul to be a go getter and man whose drives are charged to expand the activities of PAC beyond horizons.

Going back over history of PAC, In 1971 which is 5 years after the induction of F-6 in PAF, it was realized that these Aircraft have started falling due for overhaul and in the absence of a pertinent facility in country they are to be sent to China for overhaul which is resulting in huge amounts of spending in terms of foreign exchange and is generating undesirable down time for every Aircraft. With this background the commanders of Pakistan Air Force at that time decided to embark on the colossal task of creating an indigenous overhauling facility for the F6 fleet. After successful negotiations with the OEM at China and Chinese government establishment of this facility was started at Kamra under the supervision of Chinese experts. This facility was completed and first Aircraft was rolled out in 1974.Having gained the experience of overhauling of a Chinese origin Aircraft it was decided that a similar facility for the next biggest fleet of Pakistan Air Force i-e; French origin Mirages be established. After necessary homework in this direction the project for establishing Mirage Rebuild Factory (MRF) was started in 1974 and it successfully rolled out the first Mirage in 1980.Having gained the experience of overhauling both Chinese and Western origin Aircraft natural course of action was to enter the arena of Aircraft Manufacturing. As a humble beginning a light trainer Aircraft MFI-17 was selected for indigenous Manufacturing. As the Manufacturing facility demanded higher degree of core capability yet another factory had to be initiated for accommodating this area. After successful negotiation with the Swedish OEM Aircraft Manufacturing Factory was started in 1975 which produced the first indigenous MFI-17 (Mushak) in 1983.

This rebuild experience of F 6 later became very helpful in rebuilding of other aircraft like Mirages, A5, and F7s etc. This also paved way for Engine Rebuild Factory where all the engines on PAF inventory are being rebuilt with some locally manufactured parts. This effort has not only saved valuable foreign exchange but also provided the experience and the skills to start building complete aircraft.

Also due to the safety factor for the pilots, all the F6s and the subsequent Chinese aircraft were given Martin Baker (MB) ejection system.

After the rebuild factories, when sufficient skills were acquired, the next logical step was to start manufacturing small aircraft; this opportunity was provided by the Americans when they cancelled the lease of their T 37s basic jet trainers at the PAF Academy Risalpur.  Looking for a more affordable, dependable and with no strings the Pakistan Air Force looked towards Sweden and selected MFI -17

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Mushshak, originally known as Safari was acquired from SAAB of Sweden that took to the air for a maiden flight in 1971. It was powered by a single 200 hp Avco Lycoming IO-360-A1B6 air-cooled 4-cylinder engine having a one twin-blade propeller. This was also used for reconnaissance, observation and transportation purposes; there are attachment points (hard points) under the wings for extra fuel tanks and weapons, allowing the aircraft to perform ground attack sorties.

Mushshak is based on Swedish technology that Pakistan acquired in the 80s. Initially, it was powered by a single 200 hp Avco Lycoming IO-360-A1B6 air-cooled 4-cylinder engine having a one twin-blade propeller. After having acquired it, PAC embarked on its  development of the MFI-395 in 1995 by upgrading the MFI-17 with an advanced 260 hp engine, electrical instruments, dual flight control systems and a Bendix RSA fuel injection system. Now it is upgraded and designated as Super Mushshak.

Initially, Pakistan took delivery of 18 Supporters, while 92 were assembled locally and thereafter rest were built locally by PAC. It was renamed as Mushshak (Proficient) when came into Pakistan’s service. In 1981, Pakistan acquired sole manufacturing rights of the Supporter.

After successful negotiation with the Swedish OEM Aircraft Manufacturing Factory was started in 1975 which produced the first indigenous MFI-17 (Mushak) in 1983.

It has a forward swept shoulder wing that improves all-round visibility for the pilots. The wings were forward-swept only to maintain correct center of gravity. The military version was called MFI-17 and later, the Saab Supporter when the project was taken over by Saab.

Fitted with an American 260 hp engine, cockpit air-conditioning, electrical instruments, and electric/manual elevator and rudder trim, the aircraft has been developed to meet FAR part 23 certification in categories normal, utility and aerobatics.

Talking to Col Tariq Shah Khan, a retired army aviator is all praise for this aircraft. According to him, it is one of the safest and best in its class that can take over 5 Gs when going into aerobatics. Incidentally he was the first from the army to fly it and ferry it to an army base at Dhamial, Rawalpindi. He further elaborated that it has a spacious side by side cockpit giving good contact between the pilot and the co-pilot/observer or between the student and the instructor. The Super Mushshak meets the requirements of a modern primary training syllabus and is an ideal basic trainer for basic flight training and instrument flying.

Over 300 Mushahak have been produced both for Pakistan Air Force and Pakistan Army. A sizeable number have been exported also to countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria, Oman, and South Africa have acquired it from Pakistan to meet their training requirements. Now serious negotiations are on with a number of countries that Air Marshal Sohail Gul hopes to seal the deal soon.

Another encouraging feature is that Flying clubs within Pakistan that were previously flying American trainers are switching to Mashshak for its performance and cost effectiveness.  This has further improved the chances of marketing Mushshak in the private sector.

Talking to Air Marshal Sohail Gul, who said it can be stretched to carry 2 or more passengers but only if there are substantial orders to recover the development cost; also it would need FAA approvals to sell them to international buyers. But it is feasible provided some extensive marketing is done with prototypes or computer designed replicas and graphics to show to the potential buyers. Even within Pakistan, there can be substantial demand in the private sector for charter duties. But it sure warrants a full-fledged study.If a couple of seats could be added by stretching it, small operators like oil and gas companies could charter it for their off route duties. Perhaps with proper marketing maybe foreign markets can also be acquired.

Today PAC in collaboration with China has jointly produced 2 jet aircraft namely K 8 and JF 17. Former is an advanced trainer that has replaced ageing T 33s but can also be employed as a basic trainer. If needed, K 8 can also perform military missions of a limited nature. JF 17 is a high tech modern jet fighter that hpw can be compared with any 4th generation fighters of today. Mushshak is a light basic trained that is being manufactured with complete PAC efforts again to international standards and serving many air forces of the world. This too has hard points to carry arms and ammunition and extra fuel with extra tanks.

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During the talk with Air Marshal Gul, my special interest was in S/VTOL aircraft as they are going to replace the conventional fighter jets. The US along with the NATO allies, has made heavy investments in developing F 35. Presently though it is going through some design and manufacturing defect phase but it has come to stay. It has become the front line multi role aircraft with its various versions to suit and meet different operational needs. The US is not the only country to be making it; the UK was the first to introduce this technology with the launch of Sea Harriers. These aircraft played a significant role in Falkland war.

Today more countries have embarked upon this technology in producing state of the art aircraft. Russia was the first to produce supersonic VTOL with exceptional performance envelop. YAK 41 was fully tested and ready for mass production had to be shelved for after the demise of Soviet Union, Russia did not have sufficient funds to go into production.

Today China, Brazil and some more countries are investing in A/VTOL technology. Today it’s about time that in order to stay abreast with latest trends, PAC will also need to venture into S/VTOL technology; of course the first demand has to come from home in that if future war doctrines are evaluated, maybe besides the PAF, Pakistan Navy may also have a need for such aircraft.

When asked if PAC after the JF 17 experience was in a position to undertake S/VTOL venture. Air Marshal Gul was very confident and realistic that yes, with the involvement of another country in the project it could be undertaken and hopefully PAC would live up to its milestone of designing and flying within 30 months.

The most significant being the C130 Allison T 56-A-15 engines and Mirage III Attar engines. On these engines, PAC has acquired the required level of quality assurance that even other countries are sending their equipment for overhauls and rebuilding. Now this has become a source of earning for Pakistan.

These days the most talked about aircraft is no other than JF-17, a joint production with the Chinese CATIC. Here PAC stunned the world when it designed the aircraft that took to the air within 30 months, it’s an amazing feat. Normal standards are that it takes at least 10 years to design and fly an aircraft. This is a minimum time for any aircraft anywhere in the world. Having achieved this, PAC has set tough standards for itself. Now the nation and the world at large expect similar feats in future also. Chairman was quite positive that given the task, similar feats would be performed again.

Now JF 17 is fully operational, the weapon system integration including the air to air weaponry has been completed. With that, Block 1 of JF 17 is also being completed. There has been some delay for reasons undisclosed but now Block 2 is ready to be launched sometimes this year.

Talking on its exports, presently PAC is meeting the demand of PAF, after that they have all the plans to export it to the world. Some hot queries are coming in but the production capacity remains the hindrance. To that it was suggested, PAC should expand the building  capacity and double it. The additional capacity can be dedicated for foreign orders only.

JF 17 has participated in several airshows in different countries where it was highly praised for its agility, maneuverability and its looks. In every show it came out to be a jewel in the sky.

JF 17 is powered by Russian RD 93 engine that’s one of the most efficient engines. It has a thrust of 18,000 lbs and very fuel efficient. RD 93 is also powering the latest Russian aircraft like MIG 35. Therefore this engine has a future based on which, PAC can also develop more aircraft.

Pakistan through a contract has the right to manufacture 58% of the aircraft, so far it has achieved about 35%, and remaining 23% is also expected to be achieved by mid-2014. If achieved, it would be a major accomplishment not only for PAC but for Pakistan also.

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Co-production and joint marketing with China is the true spirit behind the JF-17.but in a way both Pakistan and China are in competition also to sell and market it. On this Air Marshal Gul said that even if CATIC sells it, PAC would get its 58% component share irrespective therefore it’s a win win situation either way.

The pace of development of complex definitely provides a silver lining on the horizon for the people of Pakistan that In the near future Pakistan would stand out as a country which can produce future generation Fighter Aircraft indigenously. Like Mirage stood to build the economy of France, JF 17 has the same potential for Pakistan but no time must be lost.

I went around various factories and shops of PAC, the equipment that was deployed to manufacture the aircraft and its spares not only for PAF but even for companies like Boeing of Seattle was very encouraging. I was specially shown the shop where parts for Boeing 777 and 787, the Dreamliner were being manufactured. To be able to supply parts for such state of the art technology aircraft, speaks for itself. The Chairman said that they are also in negotiations with Airbus for supply of similar parts for their aircraft. If it gets through, the technological base, more so in metallurgy would attain some level that would be useful in so many other ways both for PAC and other industries in the country.

The pace of development of complex definitely provides a silver lining on the horizon for the people of Pakistan that In the near future Pakistan would stand out as a country which can produce future generation Fighter Aircraft indigenously.

Pakistan lacks in metallurgy, it needs to invest heavily in its development. It would not be possible without private sector participation. The Research and Development (R & D), PAC is no exception to that. The overall shortfall also affects PAC adversely. The government needs to encourage R&D through private sector. For that it must provide incentive to the private sector in the shape of tax relief. The industrial and business community must invest 5% of its revenue in R&D through respective Chambers of Commerce and Industries. These funds must be passed on to the universities for carrying out R&D that can be later handed over to the private sector for manufacturing as mass production.

PAC is encouraging the private sector to participate in its efforts but quality control remains the basic hurdle. However if proper guidance and incentives are provided to the private entrepreneurs, this would not only reduce the capital costs of PAC in building the facilities but would gear up the private sector for participation into projects of national importance. One institution that could be engaged by PAC and other defence industries of Pakistan is the University of Gujrat. It has the latest equipped Industrial Designing School within its campus already meeting the demands of industry in Sialkot, Gujranwala and Lahore etc.

Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt has given instructions to expedite the deletion program and expedite the export of both JF 17 and Mashshak Trainer aircraft. Chairman PAC is busy finding markets where these aircraft can be exported. It is also known that he is actively considering some new projects for PAC Kamra.

At the moment, PAC has some surplus capacity to manufacture high precision parts and electronics/avionics. This capacity must be fully utilized to the maximum potential. Some machines if do no produce a minimum quantity; they remain very expensive to produce the components. As a word of appreciation, PAC is producing note pads, ‘Takhti’  that have become quite popular in the market. These are affordable and cater for all the needs of a student or as a standby arrangement for any executive.

Today PAC stands at a threshold to take on more challenges and emerge in the world as a designer and builder of efficient and cost effective aircraft. It must develop small passenger aircraft both single and twin engine. Hopefully Pakistan itself is an emerging market but the vision must go beyond. In this field, maybe Pakistan also learn from Brazil that is the fourth largest manufacturer of aircraft in the world.