JF-17 Thunder at Farnborough
By Jon Lake
Pakistan Air Force JF-17 Thunders 10-113 and 10-114, laden with three large external tanks staged via Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Italy on their journey to Farnborough. Both the aircraft wore the markings of No.26 Squadron 'Black Spiders', based at Peshawar AB as part of 36 TAW, Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
Neither aircraft at Farnborough took part in the flying display, as the type had not completed its full release to service with the PAF. Completion is only weeks away, according to PAF sources, and the type is expected to give a full flight demonstration at the Zhuhai air show in November.
Though originally developed and built by China's Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC), the JF-17 is a collaborative venture between China and Pakistan, following the signing of a Letter of Intent for joint development in 1998, and a contract the following year.
Under the contract, the aircraft is being built in China and at Kamra, Pakistan's Aeronautical Complex. AVM Mohammad Arif, the PAF's Program Manager, told AIR International that the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) includes four factories at Kamra that are known locally as 'Thunder City'. Pakistan's involvement goes beyond simple assembly, and includes local integration and testing of weapons. The long-term aim is to build aircraft at Kamra for export, as well as for the PAF.
Known as the FC-1 (Fighter China-1) to Chengdu and as the JF-17 (Joint Fighter-17) in Pakistan, the aircraft was primarily developed to meet PAF requirements for a low-cost, multi-role tactical fighter to replace the Nanchang A-5, Chengdu F-7 and Mirage III, augmenting US-supplied F-16s as the lower tier aircraft in a high-low mix with the new Block 52 F-16C/D.
As such, the JF-17 is comparable or superior to India's MiG-21 'Bison' upgrade - a low-cost fighter that allows its operator to 'bulk out' force structure.
For every F-16C/D Pakistan takes, JF-17 Program Manager, AVM Arif told AIR International that three or four JF-17s could be removed from the force mix.
The JF-17 design was finalised and 'frozen' in 2001, and the maiden flight was made on August 25, with the 'official' first flight following on September 2. A single Russian Klimov RD-93, a specialised variant of the MiG-29's RD-33 power plant optimised for single-engine applications and built by the Chernyshyov Machine-building Enterprise, powers the aircraft.
The JF-17 subsequently underwent a significant redesign as a result of control problems and excessive engine smoke, and changes were made to the intakes, wing root extensions and tailfin. This caused a two-year delay in deliveries to the PAF.
The first two chinese-built aircraft, of an initial batch of eight for evaluation and development, were handed over to the PAF in March 2007, and the first PAC assembled aircraft followed in November 2009. An initial batch of 42 aircraft is in build at Kamra.
No.26 Squadron 'Black Spiders', the first PAF JF-17 unit stood up in Feburary 2010, and 28 aircraft are expected in service by the mid of 2011, allowing the formation of a second unit. There is a confirmed order for 150 JF-17s for the PAF, and an eventual requirement for up to 250 aircraft. Pakistan and China have reportedly signed a MoU to develop a stealthy variant of the JF-17 Thunder, and the final 150 aircraft for PAF could be delivered in the later configuration.
Pakistani Program insiders claimed that the JF-17 has better avionics than the PAF Block 15 F-16A/Bs, with their glass cockpits and NRIET KLJ-7 radar, which is claimed to be comparable with the Thales RC-400.
At Farnborough, the JF-17s were displayed alongside examples of the WMD-7 targeting pod, LOEC LS-6 winged glide bombs, C-802 anti-ship missiles and a China Electronics Technology Corporation KG300G ECM pod. In the air-to-air role, a JF-17 will carry LOEC SD-10A active radar homing AAMs and short-range LOEC PL-5III infrared homing AAMs.
The JF-17 marks a excellent low-cost replacement for older Russian and Chinese fighters, and even for the Northop F-5 and older versions of the LM F-16. Talks are said to be underway with six potential export customers, and pilots from those nations have test flown the aircraft in China.
AIR International believes that China has offered the JF-17 to Azerbaijan, The DR of Congo, Nigeria, The Phillippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, while Pakistan has held discussions with Egypt and Turkey.
But further exports could be hampered by Russia, with a danger that the supply of Klimov RD-93 engines could be cut-off.
One hundred and fifty engines have now been supplied and there is an agreement in principal for 500, but there is concern that Russian aircraft exports are being harmed by Chinese competition, and supplies may be fragile.
An alternative Chinese WS-13 Taishan engine is under development, and is believed to have flown in March 2010, but this is some years from service.
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