Pakistan & China’s JF-17 Fighter Program
Myanmar interested again, after buying MiG-29s last time; More clarity re: current upgrade efforts; Background improved, incl. Tejas comparison chart; Additional Readings sections upgraded.
June 15/14: Myanmar. The government of Myanmar has stepped back from its close Chinese alliance in recent years, but reports indicate that they may be taking a second look at the JF-17. The junta recently bought more Russian MiG-29s instead (q.v. Dec 23/09), but MiG-29s are notoriously difficult to keep in service. The problem is a combination of short part lifespans, and byzantine Russian “service” procedures.
“The Government of Myanmar is planning to acquire technologies from China and Pakistan to build JF-17 multirole combat aircraft at its own aircraft factory to boost its Air Force…. The force is plagued by serviceability issues due to lack of spare parts and trained manpower however introduction of JF-17 would mean that Myanmar Air Force will be investing in such areas to mitigate its short comings.”
Production may be a stretch, but parts production and a local servicing depot may be doable. The report offers an existing force breakdown of 32 MiG-29B/SE as the modern force, plus 25 F-7Ms (Chinese MiG-21 knockoff) and 21 Nanchang A-5C (Chinese plane based on MiG-19 but heavily modified). A mix of 16 Chinese (K-8) and Serbian (Sokol Galeb) jet trainers are used for ground attack roles, as well as pilot training. Sources: Burma Times, “Myanmar plans JF-17 production” | The Diplomat, “Burma to Purchase Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 Fighter Jets” | See also DID, “More MiG-29s for Myanmar”.
June 20/14: R&D. Defense News begins a report in a very odd way, saying that “Contrary to speculation, development of the JF-17 aircraft continues apace…” We’re scratching our heads as to why anyone ever thought otherwise, given announcements re: Block II development and the jet’s clear importance to Pakistan. Indeed, Chief Project Director and Air Vice Marshal Javed Ahmed was quick to aver that the PAF’s 3rd squadron would be operational by year-end.
Ahmed adds that avionics improvements are underway, using the words “situational awareness” but not specifically corroborating rumors of a helmet-mounted display. Near-term improvements will also reportedly focus on “integrating some additional smart and indigenously developed weapons”. The Chinese NRIET KLJ-7 will remain the fighter’s main radar, however, as possible substitutions won’t be considered until the program reaches Block III. An AESA radar, and the possibility of offering drop-in western radar & avionics for export, are both under investigation.
On the other hand, former Pakistani Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail claims that the JF-17’s range is an issue, citing the frequency of flights with drop tanks and the averaged length of sorties. MiG-29s, which use a very similar engine, are known to have range issues, but the JF-17 uses only 1 engine. The Klimov RD-93 is less efficient than GE’s F404/F414, however, and public information gives the JF-17 fuel reserves and operational weight that are similar to the short range Indian Tejas LCA. Tufail may have a point. Sources: Defense News, “JF-17 Developments Indicate Aircraft Is Still On Track”.
The FC-1/ JF-17 Thunder is a joint Chinese-Pakistani project that aimed to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on western firms for advanced fighters, by fielding a low-cost multi-role lightweight fighter that can host modern electronics and precision-guided weapons. It isn’t a top-tier competitor, but it represents a clear step up from Pakistan’s Chinese MiG-19/21 derivatives and French Mirage III/V fighters. This positioning addresses a budget-conscious, “good enough” performance market segment that the West once dominated, but has nearly abandoned in recent decades.
Pakistan has fielded JF-17s in squadron strength, with more on order and a Block II R&D program nearing completion. India’s competing Tejas fighter is overcoming project delays by looking to foreign component sources, but Pakistan and China remain out front with their offering, even though they began their project much later than India did. Pakistan and China have even set up a joint JF-17 marketing agency to promote export sales, which hasn’t paid off as quickly as they had hoped, but it would be unwise to count them out just yet…
The JF-17 Thunder, aka. FC-1 Fierce Dragon
JF-17/FC-1: The Program
Stuck in Sichuan: The Saga
Updates and Key Events
2010 – 2014
1999 – 2009
Background: JF-17 Thunder
Background: Aircraft Ancillaries
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