Speculation is swirling around the global aviation industry that points to Cambodia as the first buyer of the Chinese-made FTC-2000G multi-role aircraft.
This week, Global Times, an English language daily newspaper in China, reported that the aircraft, which is manufactured by the Guizhou Aircraft Industry Corp (GAIC), is selling the aircraft to a yet unnamed Southeast Asian country.
The report did not divulge the cost or the number of units sold. It only mentioned that the deal was signed in January of this year and that deliveries will start in early 2021 and completed after two years.
Cambodia has a far more modest air force comprised mainly of helicopters, with no fixed-wing combat aircraft. Cambodia has only five L-39s and two MiG-21-2000s (Israeli modernization). The remaining machines, as noted by the publication, are in disrepair.
Reputable military news sites such as Defense World and Flight Global immediately pounced on the report, naming Cambodia and Myanmar as the possible buyer.
Both Southeast Asian countries, the military sites noted, are closely aligned with China militarily and politically.
Myanmar already operates several types of Chinese aircraft, including the Nanchang Q-5 ground attack planes and Shenyang J-7 interceptors. Cambodia, for its part, has a fleet of Harbin Z-9 helicopters and just bought $40 million of Chinese military equipment, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
But recent Myanmar Air Force (MAF) acquisitions and orders discount the possibility that Myanmar is the buyer. A few months ago, the MAF commissioned six Russian Yak-130 advanced jet trainers, in addition to the Chinese Hongdu JL-8/K-8 trainers on its inventory. The FTC-2000G, Yak-130, and JL-8/K-8 all belong to the same category of aircraft.
Other countries in the region including the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore are engaged in territorial disputes or have frayed relations with the Asian giant, thus making them unlikely buyers of Chinese hardware at this time.
This leaves Cambodia as the “most likely” buyer of the Chinese aircraft.
Adding credence to the speculations is the fact that several Cambodian Air Force pilots who are in China for training have posted videos and pictures of them flying in what appear to be JL-8/K-8 aircraft, another Chinese-made jet trainer with similar controls, capabilities and performance.
Cambodia has also been angling to buy a fleet of light attack aircraft to beef up its military capabilities in the face of external threats, particularly from Thailand.
Cambodia used to have a fleet of L-39 jet trainers/light attack aircraft and MiG-21 interceptors, but most of them are no longer in flying condition. A few examples can be seen lined up at the Pochentong Airbase in Phnom Penh.
In October last year, the Prime Minister said that Cambodia will purchase four more L-39s from the Czech Republic. Defense experts said it would be logical for Cambodia to choose China as an aircraft supplier.
Chinese military hardware, it was noted, is far cheaper than comparable Western-made equipment. The possibility that they can be obtained at a bargain price or with Chinese loans make them all the more attractive to emerging economy buyers, including Cambodia. Unlike the United States or other Western countries, China also sells weapons abroad with little to no strings attached.
An upgraded version of the Guizhou JL-9 advanced jet trainer, the twin-seat FTC-2000G flew for the first time in September 2018. The aircraft can be used for light attack duties or for training pilots. With seven external hardpoints, the aircraft can carry bombs, gun pods, rockets and short- to medium-range air-to-air missiles such as the SD-10.
It has a maximum speed of 1.2 Mach and comes equipped with a modern radar, fire control systems and navigational equipment. The Chinese have trumpeted it as “one of the cheapest” on the market.
The FTC-2000G is a based on the FTC-2000 advanced jet trainer. It made its public debut in the static park of Airshow China in Zhuhai in November 2018. It has seven hard points compared with five for the baseline FTC-2000, which is designated JL-9 in Chinese service. It is powered by a single Guizhou Liyang WP-13 engine equipped with an afterburner.
At the 2018 show, the FTC-2000G appeared amid a range of air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons, such as the SD-10 semi-active air-to-air missile (the export variant of the PL-12), the CM-102 anti-radiation missile, and various guided and non-guided bombs.
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