ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, June 8 (UPI) -- Pakistan has announced plans to begin production of avionics and related gadgets for the Sino-Pak JF-17 Thunder fighter jet.
The launch, announced at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra, outside Islamabad, is being billed as a vital move for making the country's air force "self-reliant."
"A strong air force is essential for our nation's survival," said Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman at the ceremonial launch. "Self-reliance for the Pakistani air force is an important factor and this ... is an important step in this direction."
To date, the bulk of avionics made in Pakistan have been manufactured as part of joint ventures with foreign companies. In the past, these have included Selex Galileo radars produced for the air force's fleet of Mirage III and F-7P Fishbed fighters.
On the occasion of the presentation and speaking at the Kamra manufacturing plant, Air Marshal Farhat Hussain Khan also presented an appraisal of JF-17 avionics program activities. These include four indigenously designed and developed avionics systems currently being developed at the Kamra Avionics and Radar Factory, Sify News reported.
Khan said the production scope "would be progressively broadened" to include the creation of a complete JF-17 avionics suite at the complex.
Neither Khan nor other Pakistani military officials elaborated on the plans.
Defense News reported, however, that "at least two of the domestically designed and produced systems include a head-up display and a weapons and mission management computer."
It said previous avionics projects had included a radar honing system for the 1960s F-104 combat aircraft; IRST pod and modifications to the GEC 956 head-up display and, most recently, the weapon aiming system for the F-7P jet in the 1990s.
Originally known as Super 7, the JF-17 Thunder was developed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corp. under a joint venture between China and Pakistan, Sify News reported.
It said that the Pakistani air force was set to acquire 150 JF-17s but China's final order -- anticipated at 250 -- would hinge on the final evaluation of the fighter jet.
Military experts assess Pakistan's move into domestic avionics production as an economically viable decision after ill-fated attempts in the past.
By some accounts, the JF-17 is gaining popular demand. As many as 17 nations have placed orders while Pakistan is considering deploying the aircraft in strategic parts of the country. Exports have also surged for the K-8 fighter, which is jointly designed and produced with China.
"China brought in its production facilities while Pakistan brought in ideas, design from its invaluable experience using Western planes like Mirages and F-16s," Ruppe News reported. "It was a perfect symbiosis."