Chinese experts were observed giving exhaustive information on the J-10A to military delegations from Angola, Nigeria and Venezuela at the air show. Venezuela seemed most interested in the aircraft.
The first foreign buyer of the J-10A will be Pakistan, a source from the Chinese aviation industry said. In March, Pakistan's Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed confirmed that a deal with China had been reached and that the aircraft would be delivered in 2014 and 2015. The version for Pakistan will be called the FC-20.
However, there is an issue with the engine on this aircraft. The J-10A is currently equipped with Russian-made AL-31F aviation engines. It is unclear whether Russia will permit China to install these engines on its aircraft and then export them to Pakistan. Such a move would have not only economic but also political repercussions, considering that Pakistan's rival, India, is a major purchaser of Russian arms.
For this reason, the export version of the J-10A fighter is still under design. Both the engine and the weapon systems on board will be different from the domestic version, according to the source from the Chinese aviation industry.
India has been using the Russian AL-31FP engine extensively in its fighter aircraft. If China exports large numbers of J-10A/FC-20 fighters outfitted with Russian engines to Pakistan, India will be much more concerned over this deal than with China's earlier export of JF-17 2.5-generation fighters to Pakistan. As a third-generation combat aircraft, the J-10A will pose a real threat to the Indian air force.
With this concern, India sent a strong delegation to the Zhuhai Air Show to expand its contacts with the Chinese, led by its air chief of staff. The Indian air force's aerobatics demonstration team also put on a performance at this event.
At the Singapore Air Show earlier last year, Indian Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major had already carefully inspected the simulation cockpit of the JF-17, which is being jointly developed by China and Pakistan. His trip to the Zhuhai Air Show in November last year was to examine the J-10A/FC-20 fighter.
In contrast to India's increased interest in engaging with China to explore the possibility of buying Chinese-produced weapons systems, Russia sent a much smaller delegation than usual to the Zhuhai Air Show. For the first time, Russia did not exhibit any combat aircraft or radar systems at the air show. Some representatives of Russian enterprises even canceled their planned trips to China at the last minute.
(Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto.)