CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder

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JF-17 Thunder
FC-1 Xiaolong
Pakistan Air Force Chengdu JF-17 Gu.jpg
Role Multirole combat aircraft
National origin Pakistan
China
Manufacturer Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group
Pakistan Aeronautical Complex
First flight 25 August 2003
Introduction 12 March 2007
Status In service, as of 18 February 2010[1]
Primary user Pakistan Air Force
Produced In China: June 2007 – present
In Pakistan: January 2008 – present
Number built 54[citation needed] (including 6 prototypes)
Program cost US$500 million[2]
Unit cost
Block 1: US$15–20 million (estimated)[3][4][5]
Block 2: US$20–25 million[6]

The PAC JF-17 Thunder (Urdu: جے ایف-١٧ تھنڈر‎), or CAC FC-1 Xiaolong[7][8] (Fierce Dragon; Chinese: 枭龙; pinyin: Xiāo Lóng), is a light-weight, single-engine, multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by the Pakistan Air Force, the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) of China. Its designation "JF-17 Thunder" by Pakistan is short for "Joint Fighter-17", while the designation "FC-1 Xiaolong" by China means "Fighter China-1 Fierce Dragon".

The JF-17 can carry a variety of missiles and bombs, including air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, supplemented by a 23/30 mm GSh-23-2 twin-barrel autocannon. It is powered by a RD-93 afterburning turbofan, and has a top speed of Mach 1.6. The JF-17 is slated to become the "mid-tech" backbone of Pakistan Air Force (PAF), complementing the few "high-tech" surplus F-16s with the J-10Bs order delayed indefinitely.[9] The JF-17 is expected to fill the duties of aerial reconnaissance, ground-attack and interception.[10]

Pakistan has already started induction, and has plans to induct around 250 units.[11][12] The JF-17 will replace Pakistan's ageing fleet of A-5C, Mirage-III, Mirage-V, and F-7P/PG by 2015.[13] The first squadron was inducted in the Pakistan Air Force in February 2010.[14] In China it is in an evaluation phase (passed design appraisal).[15]

Design requirements[edit]

The JF-17 was primarily developed to meet Pakistan Air Force's (PAF) requirement for an affordable,[16] modern multi-role combat aircraft as a replacement for its large fleet of Dassault Mirage III/5 fighters, Nanchang A-5 bombers, and Chengdu F-7 interceptors. It was also to have export potential as a cost-effective and competitive alternative to significantly more expensive Western fighters.[3][4][17]

A Pakistan Air Force JF-17 in Turkey in 2011

In 1999, Pakistan and China signed the contract to jointly develop the FC-1/Super 7. Initial difficulties in acquiring an avionics and radar package from Europe led to many problems, solved in 2001, when design of the airframe was decoupled from the avionics. In 2003, the maiden flight of the first prototype occurred in China. The Pakistani designation "Super-7", meanwhile, were replaced with "JF-17". Later test flights with a modified design occurred in 2006. Deliveries to the PAF for further flight testing and evaluation began in 2007[18] and the aircraft's first public aerial display took place that year in Islamabad. The PAF officially inducted its first JF-17 squadron, No. 26 Squadron, on 18 February 2010 with fourteen aircraft.[19][20][21]

The Block 1 JF-17 is expected to cost approximately US$ 15 million per unit,[17] with Block 2 aircraft costing US$ 20–25 million.[6] The PAF has a confirmed order for 150 JF-17s, which may increase to 250 aircraft.[11][12]

Development[edit]

Background[edit]

By 1989, Pakistan had abandoned Project Sabre II, a design study involving Grumman and China to re-design and upgrade the Chengdu F-7, due to economic sanctions by the U.S.[22] In the same year, China and Grumman started a new design study to develop the Super 7, another re-designed Chengdu F-7.[23] Grumman left the project when sanctions were placed on China following the political fallout from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.[24] After Grumman left the Chengdu Super 7, the Fighter China project was launched in 1991.[24]

Pakistan, meanwhile, required a new fighter to replace its fleet of Dassault Mirage III/5s, Chengdu F-7s, and Nanchang A-5s.[25] In 1995, Pakistan and China signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for joint design and development of a new fighter, and over the next few years, the two countries worked out the project details.[26] In June 1995, Mikoyan joined the project to provide "design support" and had "seconded a team of engineers to CAC."[27]

Launch of FC-1 project[edit]

In October 1995, it was reported that Pakistan was to select a Western company by the end of the year to provide and integrate the avionics for FC-1, which was expected to go into production by 1999. The avionics were stated to include radars, INSs, HUDs and MFDs. Competing for the contracts were Thomson-CSF with a variant of the RDY radar, Sagem with avionics similar to those used in the ROSE upgrade project and GEC-Marconi with its new Blue Hawk radar, but FIAR (now SELEX Galileo) was expected to win the radar contract with the Grifo S7 because the company had earlier ties with the PAF.[28]

In mid-February 1998, Pakistan and China signed a letter of intent covering airframe development. Russia's Klimov offered a variant of the RD-33 turbofan engine to power the fighter.[29] In April 1999, South Africa's Denel offered to arm the PAF's Super 7 with the T-darter beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missile (AAM), rather than the R-Darter as reported previously.[30] Previously in 1987, Pratt & Whitney offered Super-7 project three engine options, PW1212, F404 and PW1216, plus local manufacturing in either China or Pakistan. Rolls Royce offered RB199-127/128 turbofan engine. But the plan was scrapped in 1989.[31]

In June 1999, the contract to jointly develop and produce the Chengdu FC-1/Super 7 was signed. The project was to be a 50–50 partnership with the air forces of both countries being committed to ordering the fighter. After GEC-Marconi had abandoned the bidding to supply an integrated avionics suite, FIAR and Thomson-CSF proposed a number of avionics suites based on the Grifo S7 and RC400 radars, respectively despite previously hoping to use the PAF's Super 7 to launch its new Blue Hawk radar.[32][33] Due to sanctions placed on Pakistan after the country's 1998 nuclear tests, design work progressed very slowly over the next 18 months, preventing delivery of the Western avionics to the PAF.

In early 2001, a major decision was taken by the PAF to de-couple the airframe from the avionics, enabling design work on the aircraft to continue. Also, as the airframe was developed, any new avionics requirements by the PAF could be more easily integrated into the airframe.[26] Prototype production began in September 2002 and a full size mock-up of the FC-1/Super 7 was displayed at Airshow China in November 2002.[34] The first batch of Klimov RD-93 turbofan engines that would power the prototypes was also delivered in 2002.[24]

According to a China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) official, the JF-17's low cost is due to its on-board systems being adapted and scaled down from the those of the Chengdu J-10. "This transfer of technology – transposing the aircraft systems from the J-10 to the JF-17 – is what makes the JF-17 so cost-effective."[35] The use of modern computer-aided design software, likely the French CATIA package, shortened the design phase of the JF-17 as well as the dual-seat model of the Chengdu J-10.[36]

Flight testing and re-design[edit]

The first prototype, PT-01, was rolled out on 31 May 2003[3][37] and transferred to the Chengdu Flight Test Centre by June 2003 to be prepared for the maiden flight.[26] This was initially planned to take place in June but was delayed[37] due to concerns about the SARS outbreak.[26] The designation Super-7 was replaced by "JF-17" (Joint Fighter-17) at some point during this period.[24][38] Low speed taxiing trials began at Wenjiang Airport in Chengdu on 27 June 2003.[24] The maiden flight took place in late August 2003, but the actual date is unclear. Some sources report it took place on 24 August 2003 and lasted 17 minutes[38] while others state that it occurred on 25 August 2003 and lasted 8 minutes.[3][24] However the official maiden flight of the prototype took place on either 2 September[26] or 3 September 2003, the prototype being marked with the new Pakistan Air Force designation JF-17.[24] By late March 2004, CAC had made around 20 test-flights of the first prototype.[39] On 7 April 2004 the PAF's first test pilots, Rashid Habib and Mohammad Ehsan ul-Haq, flew the PT-01 for the first time. The maiden flight of the third prototype, PT-03, took place on 9 April 2004.[26] In March 2004, Pakistan was planning to induct around 200 aircraft.[40]

Following the third prototype, several design changes and improvements were developed and incorporated into aircraft from this point. Due to excessive smoke emissions by the RD-93 engine the air intakes were widened, reported control problems exposed in testing resulted in wing leading edge root extensions (LERX) alterations. The vertical tail fin was enlarged to house an expanded electronic warfare equipment bay at the tip of the fin.[3][41][42] The re-designed aircraft was to have a maximum take-off weight slightly above the original 12,400 kg (27,300 lb) and incorporate increased levels of Chinese-sourced avionics, however PAF had selected Western avionics suites for their aircraft, the alterations postponed PAF deliveries from late 2005 to 2007. At this stage Pakistan was evaluating British, French and Italian avionics suites, the winner of which was expected to be finalised in 2006.[43] The fourth prototype and the first to incorporate the design changes, PT-04, was rolled out in mid-April 2006 before making its first flight on 28 April 2006.[41][44][8][45]

The modifications to the air intakes replaced the conventional intake ramps, whose function is to divert turbulent boundary layer airflow away from the inlet and prevent it entering the engine, with a diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI) design.[41] The DSI uses a combination of forward-swept inlet cowls and a three-dimensional compression surface, referred to as a "bump" due to its shape, to divert the boundary layer airflow away from the intake at high sub-sonic through to supersonic speeds. According to Lockheed Martin, the DSI design prevents the majority of boundary layer air from entering the engine at speeds up to Mach 2, reduces weight by removing the need for complex mechanical intake mechanisms[46] and is more stealthy than a conventional intake.[41] Work on the DSI was started in 1999 with the aim of improving aircraft performance and took almost two years, during which a number of models underwent wind tunnel tests at different speed regimes. It was found that the DSI gave high performance, high total pressure recovery, low integrated distortion and good engine/intake matching.[citation needed]

For the avionics and weapons qualification phase of the flight testing, PT-04 was fitted with a fourth-generation avionics suite that incorporates sensor fusion, an electronic warfare suite, enhanced man-machine interface, Digital Electronic Engine Control (DEEC) for the RD-93 turbofan engine, FBW flight controls, day/night precision surface attack capability and multi-mode pulse-Doppler radar for BVR air-to-air attack capability.[47] A sixth prototype, PT-06, first flew on 10 September 2006.[48] Following a competition in 2008, Martin-Baker were selected over a Chinese firm for the supply of fifty PK16LE ejection seats.[49]

Production, delivery and further development[edit]

Russia signed an agreement in August 2007 for re-export 150 RD-93 engines from China to Pakistan for the JF-17 fighter jet.[50] Prior to the 2008 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar in Pakistan, news emerged that the PAF was not fully satisfied with the RD-93 turbofan engine and it would only power the first batch of 50 aircraft. It was reported that a deal for a new engine, believed to be the Snecma M53-P2, could appear during the exhibition.[51]

A JF-17 stands near a runway at a Pakistani airbase, a Dassault Mirage 5 fighter is parked behind it.

On 2 March 2007, the first consignment of two small-batch-production (SBP) aircraft was received in Pakistan, arriving in dismantled form. They were then flown in Pakistan for the first time eight days later on 10 March 2007 and took part in an aerial demonstration to the public during Pakistan Day parade on 23 March 2007. The PAF intended to induct 200 JF-17 by 2015 to replace all Chengdu F-7, Nanchang A-5, and Dassault Mirage III/5 combat aircraft. It was also stated that the PAF was preparing for in-flight refuelling of JF-17 fighters ahead of their induction by upgrading a number of Mirage III fighters with IFR probes.[52][53] A dual-seat combat-capable trainer was originally scheduled to begin flight testing in 2006;[17][54] however, this model has apparently been cancelled, in 2009 it was reported that Pakistan had decided to develop the model intended for pilot training into a specialised attack variant.[55]

In November 2007 the PAF and PAC conducted flight evaluation of the pre-production aircraft fitted with a variant of the NRIET KLJ-10 radar, designed and built by China's Nanjing Research Institute for Electronic Technology (NRIET), and the LETRI SD-10 active radar homing AAM. It was also stated by JF-17 program managers that they were seriously considering purchasing the Thales RC400 radar and MICA AAM from France for equipping the JF-17, meaning that in future the PAF could be operating a mixed fleet of JF-17 armed with Chinese and French radars and missiles.[56][57]

PAC began manufacturing JF-17 sub-assemblies on 22 January 2008.[58][59] Manufacture of parts had already begun at PAC in 2005. The PAF was to receive a further six pre-production aircraft that year, giving it a total of 8 out of an initial production run of 16 aircraft. Initial operating capability was to be achieved by the end of 2008.[60] Final assembly of the JF-17 in Pakistan began on 30 June 2009, with PAC expected to complete production of 4–6 aircraft before the end of the year. PAC then plans to produce twelve aircraft in 2010 and 15–16 aircraft per year from 2011. This may eventually be increased to 25 aircraft per year.[61]

Beyond the initial 50 PAF JF-17s, the remaining production aircraft may feature European avionics, radars and weaponry. Pakistan has been negotiating with British and Italian defence firms regarding avionics and radars for the JF-17 during development. Some of the radar options include the Italian Galileo Avionica Grifo S7,[62] and the French Thomson-CSF RC400 (a variant of the RDY-2), along with the MBDA MICA IR/RF short–medium range AAMs.[63] The Vixen 500E Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar has been offered to the PAF by the British company SELEX Galileo, but the PAF may be looking for a more advanced AESA radar for the JF-17.[4]

JF-17 on display at the Farnborough Air Show 2010.

In early 2010 it was reported that ATE Aerospace Group had been selected by the PAF to integrate various French avionics and weapons systems which would be supplied by other partners including Thales, Sagem and MBDA. Rival bids from Astrac, Finmeccanica and a Thales-Sagem joint venture were beaten by the ATE bid to upgrade 50 JF-17, with 50 more optional, at a cost of up to 1.36 billion dollars. The upgraded aircraft would go into production in 2013. The Thales RC-400 radar and MICA AAMs, as well as various air-to-surface weaponry, are believed to be included in the contract. The PAF is also in contact with South Africa for the supply of Denel A-darter AAMs.[64]

In April 2010, the deal was reportedly suspended after 18 months of negotiations. Reports cited French concerns in regards to Pakistan's financial situation, the protection of sensitive French technology and lobbying by the Indian government, who operate large numbers of French-origin fighters.[65][66] France wanted the PAF to purchase a number of French-built Mirage 2000-9 fighters from the United Arab Emirates Air Force, a sale which would be made unnecessary if the JF-17 upgraded with French systems.[67] However in July 2010 these reports were stated to be false by the PAF's Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, "I have had discussions with French Government officials who have assured me that this is not the position of their government." Suleman also speculated that "someone was trying to cause mischief – to put pressure on France not to supply the avionics we want."[68]

As of 2010, with the FC-1 in direct competition with the MiG-29 in the international market, Russian aircraft manufacturers have raised concerns regarding the re-export of the FC-1's RD-93 engines. The FC-1 is competing against the MiG-29 in an Egyptian tender for 32 fighter aircraft.[69] Mikhail Pogosyan, head of the MiG and Sukhoi design bureaus, has recommended to the Russian defence export agency Rosoboronexport that sales of RD-93 engines to China be blocked to prevent the JF-17 from competing with the MiG-29 on the international market.[70] On 19 July 2010, according to a CATIC official at the Farnborough Airshow, China and Russia had already signed a contract for the delivery of 100 RD-93 engines and also an agreement for the latter supply of 500 engines. The official stated that China has received "nothing through official channels" and he believes "the engine is still an option for exported aircraft."[71] At the same show, the JF-17 was displayed internationally for the first time.[72] It was initially reported that JF-17s would perform aerial displays at the show but it was cancelled due to the late decision to go to Farnborough and the cost of license and insurance fees.[73]

Reportedly China and Pakistan are jointly working on a 4.5th generation version Block 2 JF-17 with an AESA radar and reduced RCS.[74] In February 2012, it was announced that a two-seat version of the JF-17 Thunder fighter is being developed. The two-seater will be adaptable for conversion training and combat roles.[75]

Design[edit]

Airframe and cockpit[edit]

The airframe is of semi-monocoque structure, constructed primarily of aluminium alloys. High strength steel and titanium alloys are partially adopted in some critical areas. The airframe is designed for a service life of 4,000 flight hours, or 25 years, the first overhaul being due at 1,200 flight hours.[17] Block 2 JF-17s incorporate greater use of composite materials in the airframe to reduce weight.[76]

The mid-mounted wings are of cropped-delta planform. Near the wing root are the LERX, which generate a vortex that has the effect of providing more lift to the wing at high angles of attack encountered during combat manoeuvres. A conventional tri-plane empennage arrangement is incorporated, with all-moving stabilators, single vertical stabiliser and rudder, as well as twin ventral fins. The flight control surfaces are operated by a computerised flight control system (FCS), which also adjusts the slats/flaps for improved manoeuvring. Up to 3,629 kg (8,000 lb) of ordnance, equipment and fuel can be mounted under the hardpoints, two of which are on the wing-tips, four under the wings and one under the fuselage.[17]

The retractable undercarriage is of tricycle arrangement, with a single steerable nose-wheel and two main undercarriage. The hydraulic brakes have an automatic anti-skid system.[17] The nosewheel retracts rearwards into the fuselage and the main gear wheels retract upwards into the engine intake trunks.[citation needed] Two bifurcated air inlets, one on either side of the fuselage behind and below the cockpit, provide the engine's air supply. The position and shape of the inlets is designed to give the required airflow to the jet engine during manoeuvres involving high angles of attack.[17] A DSI design is used to simultaneously prevent boundary layer airflow entering the inlet and decelerate supersonic airflow.

The cockpit is covered by a transparent acrylic canopy designed to give the pilot a good all-round field of view. A centre stick is used for pitch and roll control while rudder pedals control yaw. A throttle is located to the left of the pilot. The cockpit incorporates hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) controls. The pilot sits on a zero-zero ejection seat;[17] either the Martin-Baker Mk-16LE, which will be used on Pakistan Air Force fighters,[citation needed] or the Chinese TY-5B also fitted to the Chengdu J-10.[citation needed]

Avionics[edit]

Aircraft[edit]

The software written for the JF-17's avionics totals more than one million lines of instructions, incorporating the concept of open architecture. Rather than using the Ada programming language, which is optimised for military applications, the software is written using the popular civilian C++ programming language to better use the large number of civilian software programmers available.[77] The redesigned PT-04 prototype JF-17 had more advanced avionics than its predecessors, which are included on the production version of the aircraft.[citation needed]

The aircraft's glass cockpit incorporates an electronic flight instrument system (EFIS) and a wide-angle holographic head-up display (HUD), which has a minimum total field of view of 25 degrees. The EFIS is made up of three colour multi-function displays (MFD) providing basic flight information, tactical information and information on the engine, fuel, electrical, hydraulics, flight control and environment control systems. The HUD and MFD can be configured by the pilot to show any of the available information. Each MFD is 20.3 cm (8 in) wide and 30.5 cm (12 in) tall, arranged side-by-side in a portrait orientation. The central MFD is placed lower down to accommodate an up-front control panel between it and the HUD.[17] The aircraft also includes a health and usage monitoring system and automatic test equipment.[17][78]

The aircraft has a composite FCS consisting of conventional controls with stability augmentation in the yaw and roll axis and a digital fly-by-wire (FBW) system in the pitch axis. The leading edge slats/flaps and trailing edge flaps are adjusted by the FCS automatically during manoeuvring to increase turning performance.[17] Some sources state that the system has been upgraded to provide fly-by-wire flight control in the roll and yaw axis also, the serial production aircraft having a digital quadruplex (quad-redundant) FBW system in the pitch axis and duplex (dual-redundant) FBW system in the roll and yaw axis.[48]

Tactical[edit]

The communication systems comprise two VHF/UHF radios, one of them having capacity for data linking. The data link can be used to exchange data with ground control centres, airborne early warning and control aircraft and other combat aircraft also equipped with compatible data links. The ability to data link with other "nodes" such as aircraft and ground stations allows JF-17 to become part of a network, improving the situational awareness of the pilot and other entities in the network.

The JF-17 has a defensive aids system (DAS) made up of various integrated sub-systems. A radar warning receiver (RWR) gives data such as direction and proximity of enemy radars to the pilot and electronic warfare (EW) suite, housed in a fairing at the tip of the tail fin for greater coverage, that interferes with enemy radars. The EW suite is also linked to a Missile Approach Warning (MAW) system to help it defend against radar-guided missiles. The MAW system uses several optical sensors mounted on the airframe (two of which can be seen at the base of the vertical stabiliser) that detect the rocket motors of missiles and gives 360 degree coverage.[4] Data collected by the MAW system, such as direction of inbound missiles and the time to impact, is also shown on the cockpit displays and HUD to warn the pilot. A counter-measures dispensing system releases decoy flares and chaff to help the aircraft evade enemy radars and missiles. The DAS systems will also be enhanced by integration of a self-protection radar jamming pod which will be carried externally on one of the aircraft's hardpoints.[17]

JF-17 flying overhead silhouette

The first 42 production aircraft currently being delivered to the PAF are equipped with the NRIET KLJ-7 radar,[79][80][81] a smaller variant of the KLJ-10 radar fitted to the Chengdu J-10, developed by China's Nanjing Research Institute of Electronic Technology (NRIET). Its multiple modes allow surveillance and simultaneous engagement of multiple air, ground and sea targets, of which a total of 40 can be managed. Using the track-while-scan mode, the radar can track up to ten targets at BVR and engage two of them simultaneously with radar-homing AAMs.[80] The operation range for targets with a radar cross-section (RCS) of 5 square metres (54 sq ft) is stated to be ≥ 105 km in look-up mode and ≥ 85 km in look-down mode.[81][82][83]

It is known that a helmet-mounted sights/display (HMS/D) system will be installed on the JF-17, although the exact type is yet to be confirmed. A Chinese HMD is stated to be available for installation on the fighter.[84] Developed by Luoyang Electro-Optics Technology Development Centre (also known as the 613th Research Institute when first started in 1970), of AVIC, it tracks the movement of the pilot's head and eyes to cue the guidance systems of missiles towards whichever target the pilot is looking at.[13][85] According to the Chinese claim, this domestic Chinese HMS has a superior performance over the HMS on Su-27 Flanker series, and was developed in parallel with JF-17, with the prototype first begun to be tested on # 04 prototype of JF-17 in 2006,.[86] However, it was not until two years later at the 7th Zhuhai Airshow held in 2008 when the developer confirmed the existence of the HMS. Dubbed as EO HMS, (Electro-Optical Helmet Mounted Sight), the new helmet with the mounting base was shown to the public at the airshow, but the sight itself was not present, only mentioned in the developer's brochure.[87] Also to be integrated is a forward looking infrared (FLIR) pod for low-level navigation in low visibility and infra-red search and track (IRST) system for passive monitoring and targeting of enemy aircraft.[17] The JF-17 Block 2 is believed to incorporate an IRST.[76]

A day/night laser designator targeting pod will be integrated with the aircraft's avionics and carried externally on one of the hardpoints for guiding laser-guided bombs (LGB).[17] An extra hardpoint may be added under the starboard air intake, opposite the cannon, for mounting such pods. No specific targeting pod has been selected, but a Chinese system such as the Forward-looking Infra-red Laser Attack Targeting (FILAT) pod may be integrated if a suitable Western system is not available. To reduce costs associated with buying large numbers of targeting pods, during strike missions the aircraft's tactical data link will be used to transmit targeting data to other aircraft not equipped with targeting pods.[4]

Propulsion and fuel system[edit]

The JF-17 is powered by a single Russian RD-93 turbofan engine, which is a variant of the RD-33 engine used on the Mig-29 fighter. The engine gives more thrust and significantly lower specific fuel consumption than the turbojet engines fitted to older combat aircraft being replaced by the JF-17. The advantages of using only one engine are that both maintenance time and cost are significantly lower than twin-engined fighters. A thrust-to-weight ratio of 0.99 can be achieved, with full internal fuel tanks and no external payload. The engine's air supply is provided by two bifurcated air inlets (see airframe section). However the RD-93 is known to produce smoke trails.[88]

The Guizhou Aero Engine Group has been developing a new turbofan engine, the WS-13 Taishan, since 2000 to replace the RD-93. It is based on the Klimov RD-33 but incorporates many new technologies to boost performance and reliability. Thrust output of 80–86.36 kN (19,391 lb), life span of 2,200 hours and thrust to weight ratio of 7.8 are expected. An improved version of the WS-13 developing a thrust of around 100 kN (22,450 lb) is also reportedly under development.[89]

The fuel system comprises internal fuel tanks located in the wings and fuselage, with capacity for 2330 kg (5,130 lb) of fuel, that are refuelled through a single point pressure refuelling system (see turbine fuel systems).[17] Internal fuel storage can be supplemented by external fuel tanks. One 800 litre droptank can be mounted on the aircraft's centerline hardpoint under the fuselage and two 800 litre or 1100 litre droptanks can be mounted on the two inboard under-wing hardpoints.[17] The fuel system is also compatible with in-flight refuelling (IFR), allowing the aircraft to take on fuel from a tanker aircraft when an IFR probe is installed and increasing its range and loitering time significantly. All production aircraft for the Pakistan Air Force are to be fitted with IFR probes.[4]

In June 2013, Pakistan Air Force chief Air Chief Marshall Tahir Rafique Butt said that the PAF had successfully completed ground tests on mid-air refuelling probes fitted to JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft and expects to carry out the first mid-air refuelling by the end of the summer.[90]

Weaponry[edit]

A model of the JF-17, armed with six Chinese air-to-air missiles, on display at a defence exhibition. The larger missiles mounted inboard are medium range SD-10s, the four smaller ones being short range PL-5Es.

JF-17 can be armed with up to 3,629 kg (8,000 lb) of air-to-air and air-to-ground weaponry, as well as other equipment, mounted externally on the aircraft's seven hardpoints.[17] One hardpoint is located under the fuselage between the main landing gear, two are underneath each wing and one at each wing-tip. All 7 hardpoints communicate via a MIL-STD-1760 data-bus architecture with the Stores Management System,[17] which is stated to be capable of integration with weaponry of any origin.[63] Internal armament comprises one 23 mm GSh-23-2 twin-barrel cannon mounted under the port side air intake, which can be replaced with a 30 mm GSh-30-2 twin-barrel cannon.[3][91]

The wing-tip hardpoints will normally be occupied by short range infra-red homing AAMs, while many combinations of various ordnance and equipment (including avionics such as targeting pods) can be carried on the under-wing and under-fuselage hardpoints. Underwing hardpoints can be fitted with multiple ejector racks, allowing each hardpoint to carry two 500 lb (241 kg) unguided bombs or LGBs (Mk.82 or GBU-12). It is currently unknown if multiple ejector racks can be used for other ordnance such as beyond visual range AAMs.[4] The under-fuselage and inboard under-wing hardpoints are plumbed, enabling them to carry droptanks of various sizes for extra fuel.

JF-17 on display at the Farnborough Air Show 2010 with a range of weaponry and equipment pods.

Active radar homing BVR AAMs can be deployed once integrated with the on-board radar and data-link for mid-course updates. The Chinese PL-12/SD-10 is expected to be the aircraft's primary BVR air-to-air weapon, although this may change if radars of other origin are fitted. Short range infra-red homing missiles currently integrated include the Chinese PL-5E and PL-9C, as well as the AIM-9L. The PAF is also seeking to arm the JF-17 with a modern fifth generation close-combat missile such as the IRIS-T or A-darter. These will be integrated with the HMS/D as well as the radar for targeting.[4][17]

Unguided air-to-ground weaponry includes rocket pods, gravity bombs of various sizes and the Matra Durandal anti-runway munitions. Precision-guided munitions such as LGBs and satellite-guided bombs are also compatible with the JF-17, as are other guided weapons such as anti-ship missiles and anti-radiation missiles.[17] In July 2011, it was reported that Pakistan has taken delivery of the Brazilian MAR-1 anti-radiation missile and is integrating the weapon on its JF-17 fleet.[92]

Operational history[edit]

A JF-17 on display at the IDEAS 2008 defense exhibition in Karachi, Pakistan.

Initial delivery, evaluation and induction[edit]

Small batch production began in China on June 2006.[citation needed] The first two SBP aircraft were delivered on 2 March 2007, first flying in Pakistan on 10 March.[93] They took part in an aerial display on 23 March 2007 as part of the Pakistan Day Joint Services Parade in Islamabad.[94][95] Another six SBP aircraft were delivered circa March 2008.[96] These aircraft were subjected to extensive flight-testing and evaluation by the PAF.[97]

Two serial production aircraft were delivered from China in 2009 and the first Pakistani-manufactured aircraft was delivered to the PAF in a ceremony on 23 November 2009.[98]

The first JF-17 squadron, No. 26 "Black Spiders", was officially inducted into the PAF fighter fleet on 18 February 2010 with an initial strength of 14 fighters.[99][100] These aircraft first saw service in the anti-terrorist operation in South Waziristan, during which they were evaluated with weaponry of different types.[101] The aircraft then took part in the PAF's High Mark 2010 exercise from 29 April, where they were used by the Blue Force to attack Red Land surface targets with a variety of "highly accurate" air-to-surface weaponry.[102][103][104] A re-equipment ceremony for No. 26 Black Spiders Squadron took place on 11 April 2011, during which it was stated that the JF-17 had "revolutionised the PAF’s operational concepts".[105][106][107]

Potential customers[edit]

Many countries like Azerbaijan, Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Venezuela have expressed interest in purchasing the JF-17 Thunder.[108][109][110]

Egypt is currently discussing a deal with Pakistan to co-produce the JF-17 for the Egyptian Air Force.[111] The Azerbaijani Air Forces has negotiated with China for the purchase of several dozen JF-17s, worth approximately $16–$18 million each.[112][113][114] The Sudanese Air Force is also reported to be negotiating for 12 aircraft.[115] The Air Force of Zimbabwe reportedly ordered 12 JF-17 in 2004,[116] but there are no current sources that confirm payment or intent of delivery.[117][118][119] In 2008 several other countries including Bangladesh, Iran and Nigeria were identified as potential buyers.[3][120] In early 2010 it was reported that China had been in talks with around 5 to 6 countries on the JF-17, some of whom had sent air force pilots to test-fly the fighter.[121] Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Uruguay showed interest in the fighter plane.[77][122]

However, the market for this type of aircraft is believed by some analysts to be limited.[123] As of October 2013, the JF-17 has yet to achieve any export orders; AVIC has also conducted presentations of their developing Shenyang J-31, which is intended as a cheaper alternative to the F-35.[124] Argentine officials at the 2013 Paris Air Show said that they have had multiple discussions with Chinese officials over potential co-production of the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) FC-1/JF-17 multirole combat aircraft. The discussions are the first formal effort that could lead to the co-production of a modern Chinese fighter in Latin America. FAdeA officials said the co-produced FC-1 could be called the 'Pulqui-III', recalling FAdeA's Pulqui-II, Latin America's first swept wing jet fighter.[125]

FAdeA is under negotiations over potential co-production of the JF-17.[126] Argentine Air Force officials are cautious about the idea of co-producing the aircraft, as it may throw off plans to acquire ex-Spanish Mirage F1 fighters. With a small number of high-performance combat aircraft in service and due for retirement, the air force wants new planes quickly.[127]

In 2014, it was reported that the Royal Saudi Air Force was examining the JF-17 for purchase as well as technology transfer and co-production. Saudi Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan also toured the JF-17 Project during his visit to Pakistan.[128][129]

Variants[edit]

Prototypes[edit]

Two single-seat airframe versions were tested during the prototype stage. The first configuration was tested on the first three prototype aircraft: PT-01, PT-02 and PT-03. The second airframe configuration was tested on the next three prototypes (PT-04, PT-05, PT-06) and incorporated the following modifications: DSI; wider LERX; extended ventral fins; a taller, less swept vertical stabiliser with a rectangular fairing at the tip containing electronic warfare equipment and small blister fairings at the base containing missile approach warning sensors. The PT-04 prototype was used to optimize the aircraft during avionics and weapon qualification flight testing. It was reported to include an "advanced 4th generation" avionics suite incorporating: sensor fusion using the weapon and mission management computers (WMMC), onboard electronic warfare suite, DEEC); day/night surface attack capability and hybrid FCS.[130] A dual-seat version for training and strike roles had been proposed and was believed to be under development.[55]

Production versions[edit]

  • JF-17 Block I – Production in China began in June 2006.[131] The first eight Small Batch Production (SBP) aircraft, using the second prototype configuration, were produced in China and delivered to the PAF's JF-17 Test & Evaluation Flight from March 2007[132] to early 2008. A contract between the PAF and CATIC for 42 serial production aircraft was signed in March 2009.[133] The first three Chinese weapons to be integrated are the PL-5E II AAM, SD-10 AAM and C-802A anti-shipping missile. PL-5E II integration was completed in mid 2010. The last Block 1 aircraft, with 58% of its parts produced in Pakistan, will be completed by June 2012.[134] The Block 1 avionics package has been stated to be a positive surprise to the PAF, performing "better than expected" according to Air Commodore Junaid.Production of block 1 completed on 18 December when 50th aircraft was delivered. Block 2 production started at Kamra and the first aircraft will rollout in May–June 2014.[135]
  • JF-17 Block II – Production began in 2013. Includes a refueling probe and improvements in radar and avionics.[136]
  • JF-17 Block III – The block III will feature more advanced avionics and engine. It will be a twin seat variant. Induction is expected to start around 2016.[137]

Operators[edit]

Two JF-17 Thunder aircraft at the Joint Services Parade in 2007.
 Pakistan

Specifications (JF-17 Block 1)[edit]

External images
The glass cockpit of the JF-17, as shown by a JF-17 simulator on display at the MAKS 2007 air show.
The three multi-function displays in different modes.
A mock-up showing the entire cockpit, including banks of switches and instruments to the left and right of the pilot.
A mock-up of the initial cockpit design which incorporated two CRT displays and several analogue instruments.[141]
Another view of the initial cockpit mock-up.

Data from Pakistan Aeronautical Complex[142]

General characteristics

Performance

Armament

Avionics

See also[edit]

Related development
Related lists

References[edit]

Notes
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External links[edit]