JF-17 Thunder / FC-1 Xiaolong “Fierce Dragon” is the pride of Pakistan’s engineering achievement.
I intend to celebrate this feat of raw persistence and highlighting the areas where improvements can be made.
When the JF-17 was first launched?
- It’s maiden flight was completed in August 2003 and entered service in March 2007
- JF-17 B (dual seat) model entered service in April 2017.
- JF-17 Block III prototype completed its maiden flight in January 2020
Who builds the Thunder Jet?
The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex performs the final assembly of the jet. Chengdu Aircraft Corporation contributes to the FC-1 Xiaolong “Fierce Dragon” jet by building some parts in China.
The distribution of the manufacturing is
- 52% at Pakistan with the Front fuselage, wing, and vertical stabilizers
- 48% at China of the rear fuselage.
General Information on this Fighter Jet
It is a single-engine, lightweight, cost-effective, fourth-generation, and multi-role combat jet.
Total aircraft built
132 jets have been built as of 2020
JF-17 will replace which aircraft for PAF?
It will replace the nearly 200 fighter aircraft of the Mirage, F-7, and A-5 variety.
Characteristics of JF-17 Thunder
Specifications of Thunder Jet
This plane is flown by either a single seat JF-17 A or dual seat JF-17 B.
It has 7 hard-points with two drop tanks each on either wing and one under the belly.
Unfortunately, the Power plant is imported from Russia and is similar to the one used on Mig-29 jets the Klimov RD -93 after burning turbofan with DEEC (Digital Control) that produces 84.4kN (1900 lbf) with afterburner.
The WS-13 Turbofan engine is being developed by Liyang Aero Engine Corporation, China has not yet been qualified on PAF’s jets with 80kN Thrust.
Its cockpit is gorgeous with
- Head-Up Display,
- Multi functional Displays on the front panel,
- Handle on Throttle and Stick (HOTAS),
Avionics suite has an
- Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS)
- Flight Control System (FCS)
- The KLJ-7 radar can track 10 targets at Beyond Visual Ranges (BVR) through track-while-scan mode
- Galileo Avionica Grifo S-7 Pulse Doppler Radar and an advanced variant of one already in service with PAF are in the process of development to be retrofitted at a later date
Flight performance of this jet
Maximum Speed at 1910 kph (1190mph) and Mach 1.6 is just below modern jets and so is the Range at 2500 km (1600 mi)
Thrust to weight ratio is 0.95 with RD 33 engine.
Armament it carries
- This aircraft carries a twin-barrel 23 mm cannon and Payload is 1500 kg (3300 lb.) external stores
- The PL-5II, 9C, 10E short-range Infra-Red missiles, and
- PL-15 Radar Guided Beyond Visual Range Missile planned
- CM-102 (Anti-Radiation Missile)
- MAR-1 (Anti-Radiation missile)
- Raad II (Air launched Cruise Missile)
- CM-802 AKG (Anti-Ship Cruise Missile)
- The whole range of Mk 80 series bombs with guidance kits
- Hx Stand-Off Weapons
- Extended Range Glide Bombs
Aselsan ASELPOD – Advanced Targeting Pod (Electro-Optical Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Targeting System) has been used effectively with the jet.
Real Combat by JF-17
It has seen real combat at
- Waziristan when the jets bombed terrorist fighters on the Pakistan Afghan tribal belt.
- Bombed Indian positions at the Line of Control in Kashmir with Range Extended Kit weapons.
Best design features of JF-17 Thunder
- The DSI air intake
- The HOTAS Digital fly-by-wire flight control system on the lateral axis
- DEEC on RD-93 engine
- Leading Edge Wing Root Extensions (LERRX) delay stall at a high angle of attack, that’s why you see JF-17 perform a pretty impressive high alpha maneuver during air shows.
- Martin-Baker Ejection seat
JF-17 Vs Rafale Jets
- The takeoff weight of Rafale is around 9900 kg with a max takeoff weight of 24500 kg, whereas, it weighs just 6411 kg with a max takeoff weight of 12474 kg, so it is a lot lighter and more agile.
- It can hit a top speed of 1.6 Mach or 1955 kph, whereas, Rafale top speed is Mach 1.8 or 2222 kph
- Pakistan’s JF-17 can hit the service ceiling (max flyable altitude) of 54000 ft. to dodge weapons fired from air or ground, while Rafale can do only 50000 ft.
- JF-17 and Rafale Rate of Climb is similar at 50000 – 60000 ft. per minute, which means it can get to a vantage position fast.
- It is many times cheaper to build and operate compared to Rafale Jet, and still, JF-17 is a 4th Generation fighter compared to Rafale being 4.5 Generation.
JF-17 Block 3 Specifications
- Block 3 has been upgraded using KLJ-7A AESA radar, digital Fly by wire controls, new helmet-mounted display, holographic HUD, Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST), network-centric warfare capability, cross-section reduction, and weapons upgrade.
- The purpose of this new block 3 fighter was to give it an edge over the 4.5 Generation Rafale Jet by combining an improved Active Electronic Scanned Array Radar with a more potent SD-15 BVR missile.
- Specifications as per PAC Kamra Brochure shared in Dubai Airshow
- Suitable for 3% to 98% percentile range of Pilot Torso
- Night Vision Goggle compatible cockpit conforming to US Mil Standards
- 3-Axis fly-by-wire controls
- Enhanced Fuel carrying capacity
- Enhanced payload capacity
- Max Take Off Weight 29750 lbs
- Max Mach 1.6
- Max Speed 702 Knots IAS
- Service Cieling 50,000 ft
- Thrust to Weight Ratio: 0.95
- Max Engine Thrust : 19000 lbs
- Gs +8 – -3
- Ferry Range 2500 km
- Hard points 8
- Total load carrying Capacity 10500 lbs
JF-17 Vs Tejas
- It has already been used in combat, while Tejas is still under functional check.
- Tejas at $ 28 Million per piece is more expensive as compared to JF-17 priced at $ 25 per plane.
Pakistan has already supplied 6 planes to Myanmar out of a deal for 18 jets and also delivered 3 to Nigeria.
Several countries in Africa and Asia such as Bangladesh, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Morocco, Sudan, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe are interested in this purchase mostly due to cost-effectiveness.
How has Pakistan managed to build a JF-17 fighter jet?
Pakistan Air force probably has the most highly qualified pool of Aeronautical Engineers in any second-tier country of the world.
The price reduction is because of intelligent but effective alternative systems.
Pakistan has managed to achieve the unthinkable by leveraging its dedicated Aeronautical Engineers in rolling out the Thunder “Fierce Dragon.” But capability needs to be matched with resources and this technological edge can only be sustained when Weapons development is brought into the private sector with financial instruments that support critical technologies.
Weapons’ programs do not run with Government handouts.