JF-17 Thunder (CAC/PAC)

JF-17 Thunder Block 4

JF-17 Thunder (CAC/PAC)

The PAC JF-17 Thunder (Urdu: جے ایف-١٧ گرج‎), or CAC FC-1 Xiaolong (pinyin: Xiāo Lóng; lit.: ‘Fierce Dragon’), is a lightweight, single-engine, multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) of China. It was designed to replace the A-5C, F-7P/PG, Mirage III, and Mirage V combat aircraft in the Pakistan Air Force.

The JF-17 can be used for multiple roles, including interception, ground attack, anti-ship, and aerial reconnaissance. Its designation “JF-17” by Pakistan is short for “Joint Fighter-17”, while the designation and name “FC-1 Xiaolong” by China means “Fighter China-1 Fierce Dragon”.

The JF-17 can deploy diverse ordnance, including air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, and a 23 mm GSh-23-2 twin-barrel autocannon. Powered by a Guizhou WS-13 or Klimov RD-93 afterburning turbofan, it has a top speed of Mach 1.6.

The JF-17 is to become the backbone of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), complementing the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon at half the cost. The PAF inducted its first JF-17 squadron in February 2010. In 2015 Pakistan produced 16 JF-17s. As of 2016, Pakistan is believed to have the capacity to produce 25 JF-17 per year. 58% of the airframe is Pakistani and 42% Chinese/Russian-origin.

As of December 2016 Pakistan Aeronautical Complex has manufactured 70 jets in the country for use by the Pakistan Air Force of the Block 1 type, and 33 jets of the Block 2 type.

The Pakistan Air Force plans, by 2017, to induct a twin-seater version known as the JF-17B for both enhanced operational capability and training. Preparations for a more advanced and technologically sophisticated block III version of the aircraft are underway and the AESA radar, KJ-7A, has been developed, which can track 15 targets and engage 4 targets simultaneously.

Since its induction in 2011, the JF-17 Thunder has accumulated 19,000 hours of operational flight. The JF-17 has seen active military service as it is used by the Pakistan Air Force to bomb militant positions in North Waziristan, using both unguided munitions and guided missiles for precision strike capability.

JF-17 Thunder
FC-1 Xiaolong
Pakistan JF-17 (modified).jpg
JF-17 of the Pakistan Air Force
RoleMultirole combat aircraft
National originPakistan / China
ManufacturerChengdu Aircraft Industry Group /
Pakistan Aeronautical Complex
First flight25 August 2003
Introduction12 March 2007
StatusIn service
Primary usersPakistan Air Force
Myanmar Air Force
Nigerian Air Force
ProducedIn China: June 2007 – present
In Pakistan: January 2008 – present
Number built140+
Program costUS$500 million
Unit cost
US$25-32 million (2017)

The JF-17 was primarily developed to meet the Pakistan Air Force requirement for an affordable, 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, with a cost of US$500 million, divided equally between China and Pakistan. The aircraft was also intended to have export potential as a cost-effective and competitive alternative to more expensive Western fighters. The development of this aircraft was headed by Yang Wei, who is considered China’s “ace designer”. Yang also designed the Chengdu J-20.

By 1989, because of economic sanctions by the US, Pakistan had abandoned Project Sabre II, a design study involving US aircraft manufacturer Grumman and China, and had decided to redesign and upgrade the Chengdu F-7. In the same year, China and Grumman started a new design study to develop the Super 7, another redesigned Chengdu F-7. Grumman left the project when sanctions were placed on China following the political fallout from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. After Grumman left the Chengdu Super 7 project, the Fighter China project was launched in 1991. 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 worked out the project details. In June 1995, Mikoyan had joined the project to provide “design support”, this also involved the secondment of several engineers by CAC.

JF-17 vs Rafale

The JF-17 Thunder block 3 and 4 will have same tech as China’s J-20 Stealth fighter jet.

These include a new and larger holographic wide-angle head-up display and integrated cockpit display comparable to the one used by the J-20, in addition to an advanced infrared missile approach warning system used by J-20 fighter jets.

Analysts said the new additions to the JF-17 can give pilots more situational awareness, permitting them to concentrate more on combat instead of flying the aircraft. In March 2019, Yang Wei, chief designer of the fighter jet, said development and production of the JF-17 Block 3 were underway, and the third block will see the JF-17’s information-based warfare capability and weapons enhanced.

The reports regarding the deployment of longer-ranged Chinese PL-15 missiles on an upgraded JF-17 jet have caused anxiety in the Indian Air Force. Global Times earlier reported that the upgraded JF-17 will host an infrared search and track system along with a cross-section radar that lessens the pseudo-stealthy airframe. The PL-15’s beyond visual range missile has reportedly also caused serious worry in the Pentagon.

“China has made a large amount of achievements in the development of the likes of the J-10 and J-20, resulting in many mature technologies and equipment… If they can be used on the JF-17, the pilot could enjoy a significant efficiency increase in flying, which will also boost its combat efficiency,” Wang said.

Analysts said the new additions to the JF-17 can give pilots more situational awareness, allowing them to focus more on combat instead of flying the aircraft.

Another advantage of using mature commercial off-the-shelf technologies is their cost-efficiency, Wang said.

JF-17 vs Rafale
JF-17 vs Rafale

This JF-17 Block 3 prototype did not seem to be equipped with radar, although the JF-17 Block 3 is also expected to be fitted with an advanced active electronically scanned array radar system, according to the report.

The JF-17 Block 3 is the first major upgrade version to the JF-17. It is expected to enter Pakistan Air Force service, the Aerospace Knowledge wrote.

Potential Buyers of JF-17 Tunder Block 3

Various countries are interested in JF-17 Thunder Fighter Jet including Algeria, Ukraine, Argentina, Bulgaria, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, South Africa and Uruguay have shown interest in the JF-17.

The Azerbaijani Air Forces negotiated with China for several dozen JF-17s worth approximately US$16 to 18 million each. The Sudanese Air Force was reportedly negotiating to buy twelve aircraft. The Air Force of Zimbabwe reportedly planned to purchase twelve JF-17s in 2004, as part of a $240 million deal with China. No such sales have materialized. In 2010, China was reportedly in talks about the JF-17 with five or six countries, some of which had sent pilots to China to undergo test flights.

Argentine officials at the 2013 Paris Air Show said they had discussed JF-17 co-production with Chinese officials, calling it the first formal effort potentially leading to the co-production of a modern Chinese fighter in Latin America. Fábrica Argentina de Aviones (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. On 15 February 2015, after a three-day visit to Beijing by Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina completed negotiations to purchase twenty FC-1s from Chengdu Aircraft Corporation.

Pakistan F-16 Falcon vs JF-17 Thunder Airshow Display

In January 2014, the Royal Saudi Air Force was reportedly examining potential technology transfer and co-production opportunities for the JF-17. Saudi Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan toured the JF-17 project during a visit to Pakistan.

In June 2015, Pakistani media suggested that an export order had been confirmed with the Sri Lanka Air Force; claims were made that the JF-17’s first sales contract had been signed with the Sri Lanka Air Force at the 51st Paris Air Show. Other sources claimed that Myanmar is the first buyer of Pakistani JF-17s. Reportedly, the order would cover around 18–24 aircraft and deliveries set to begin in 2017. During a state visit by Nawaz Sharif in January 2016, Sri Lanka reportedly signed an agreement to buy eight JF-17s from Pakistan; however, the Sri Lankan government has issued denials. The alleged deal was said to involve 10–12 aircraft, each valued at US$35 million, for a total of US$400 million Reportedly, any such sale was scuppered by Indian diplomatic pressure.

Morocco has shown interest in the JF-17, having invited a sales team to showcase it in the Marrakech Air Show 2016. According to a local analyst, a potential acquisition by Morocco may be complicated by incompatible technologies; the JF-17 Block I and Block II have broadly different electronics suites and air-to-air & air-to-surface munitions than its current Western-sourced aircraft, such as the Mirage F-1 (MF2000), F-5E/F Tiger II and Alpha Jet.

Specifications of JF-17 Block 2 and 3

Data from Pakistan Aeronautical Complex marketing brochure and official website

General characteristics JF-17 Thunder

  • Crew: 1 (single-seat) or 2 (dual-seat)
  • Length: 14.93 m (49 ft 0 in)
  • Wingspan: 9.44 m (31 ft 0 in)
  • Height: 4.77 m (15 ft 8 in)
  • Wing area: 24.43 m2 (263.0 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 6,586 kg (14,520 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 12,700 kg (27,999 lb)
  • Fuel capacity: 2,330 kg (5,137 lb) internal fuel; 1 x 800 kg (1,764 lb) centre-line drop tank; 2 x 800 kg (1,764 lb) or 1,100 kg (2,425 lb) under-wing drop tanks
  • Payload: 4,600 kg (10,100 lb) external stores
  • Powerplant: 1 × Klimov RD-93MA afterburning turbofan with digital electronic engine control (DEEC), 50.4 kN (11,300 lbf) thrust  dry, 85.6 kN (19,200 lbf) with afterburner

Performance JF-17 Thunder

  • Maximum speed: 1,909 km/h (1,186 mph, 1,031 kn)
  • Maximum speed: Mach 1.6
  • Cruise speed: 1,359 km/h (844 mph, 734 kn)
  • Stall speed: 150 km/h (93 mph, 81 kn)
  • Range: 2,500 km (1,600 mi, 1,300 nmi)
  • Combat range: 1,352 km (840 mi, 730 nmi)
  • Ferry range: 3,500 km (2,200 mi, 1,900 nmi) with 3 external drop tanks
  • Service ceiling: 16,500 m (54,100 ft)
  • g limits: +8/3 (limited by flight control system)
  • Rate of climb: 300 m/s (59,000 ft/min)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.95 with RD-93 (with 50% internal fuel and 2*SRAAM) ,0.97 with WS-13 engine
JF-17 Thunder Ranking one of the Best in the World
JF-17 Thunder Ranking one of the Best in the World

Armament JF-17 Thunder

  • Guns: 1 × 23 mm GSh-23-2 twin-barrel cannon or 1 × 30 mm GSh-30-2 twin-barrel cannon
  • Hardpoints: 7 (2 × wing-tip, 4 × under-wing, 1 × under-fuselage) with capacity for dual ejector racks on each under-wing hardpoint
  • JF-17 Thunder Missiles:
    • Air-to-air missiles JF-17 Thunder:
      • PL-5EII (within visual range missile)
      • PL-9C (WVR missile)
      • AIM-9L/M Sidewinder (Short-range)
      • PL-8 (Short-range)
      • PL-15 ( Very Long range Beyond Visual range missile)
      • R-Darter (beyond visual range missile)
      • SD-10A (PL-12 export version) (beyond visual range missile)
    • Air-to-surface missiles JF-17 Thunder:
      • CM-102 (anti-radiation missile)
      • LD-10 (anti-radiation missile)
      • MAR-1 (anti-radiation missile)
      • Ra’ad (Nuclear Stealth Cruise missile)
      • Ra’ad MK-2 (Nuclear Stealth Cruise missile)
    • Anti-ship missiles JF-17 Thunder:
      • C-802AK (anti-ship missile)
      • Exocet (anti-ship missile)
      • C-803 (sea skimming anti-ship missile)
      • CM-400AKG (anti-ship missile)
  • Bombs in JF-17 Thunder:
    • Unguided bombs:
      • Mk-80(General-purpose bomb)
      • Mk-82 (General-purpose bomb)
      • Mk-83 (General-purpose bomb)
      • Mk-84 (General-purpose bomb)
      • 250 kg Pre-fragmented bomb
      • Matra Durandal (Anti-runway bomb)
      • AWC HAFR-2 (Anti-runway bomb)
      • AWC HAFR-1 (Anti-runway bomb)
      • AWC RPB-1 (Anti-runway bomb)
      • CBU-99 (Anti-armour cluster bomb)
      • CBU-100 Cluster Bomb (Anti-armour cluster bomb)
    • Guided bombs:
      • GBU-10 (Laser-guided bomb)
      • GBU-12 (Laser-guided bomb)
      • GBU-16 (Laser-guided bomb)
      • LT-2 (Precision-guided bomb)
      • JDAM (Precision-guided bomb)
      • H-4 SOW Stand off weapon (Precision-guided glide bomb)
      • H-2 SOW Stand off weapon (Precision-guided glide bomb)
      • Takbir (GPS/INS guided glide bomb)
      • LS-6 (GPS/INS guided bomb)
  • Others:
    • Range Extension Kit (GPS/INS guided bomb)
    • GDJ-II19 dual ejector rack
    • Countermeasures (Flares, Chaff)
    • Up to 3 external drop tanks (1 x 800 kg (1,764 lb) centre-line drop tank; 2 x 800 kg (1,764 lb) or 1,100 kg (2,425 lb) under-wing drop tanks) for extended range/loitering time
jf-17 thunder cockpit
jf-17 thunder cockpit

Avionics in JF-17 Thunder

  • KLJ-7 v2 Airborne Pulse Doppler Fire-Control Radar ( Range-150 km for 3m2 RCS aircraft.)
  • Northrop Grumman ALR-67 Rader Warning Recever (RWR)
  • S740 Airborne Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS)
  • Indra ALQ-500P Electronic Countermeasure (ECM)
  • Link-17 Tactical Data Link
  • MIL-STD-1760 data-bus
    • Externally mounted avionics pods:
  • Aselsan ASELPOD Advanced Targeting Pod Electro-Optical Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Targeting System
  • KG300G Airborne Self-Protection Jamming Pod
  • KG600 Airborne Self-Protection Jamming Pod
  • Forward-looking IRST pod
  • WMD-7 Day/Night targeting pod
  • KZ900 Electronic reconnaissance pod.
  • Blue Sky (navigation pod) for low altitude navigational and attack

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