A JF-17 fly-past performance in Islamabad, Pakistan.
|Role||Multirole combat aircraft|
|National origin||People’s Republic of China
|Manufacturer||Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation
Pakistan Aeronautical Complex
|First flight||25 August 2003|
|Introduction||12 March 2007|
|Status||Inducted by the Pakistan Air Force, undergoing further development.|
|Primary user||Pakistan Air Force|
|Produced||In China: June 2007–present
In Pakistan: January 2008–present
|Number built||Prototypes: 6
Small batch production (SBP): 8
|Program cost||US$ 500 million|
|Unit cost||US$ 15 million (estimated)|
The JF-17 Thunder (Urdu: تھنڈر), known in China as the Chengdu FC-1 Xiaolong (English: Fierce Dragon; Chinese: 枭龙; pinyin: Xiāo Lóng), is a light-weight multi-role combat aircraft jointly developed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industries Corporation (CAC) of Chinaand the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) of Pakistan. The “JF” and “FC” designations stand for “Joint Fighter” (Pakistan) and “Fighter China” (China) respectively.
Originally designed to be a small and capable lightweight fighter powered by a single engine to reduce costs, the JF-17 was supposed to be a simple and inexpensive solution for replacing large fleets of obsolete types in the air forces of developing countries. The JF-17 evolved into a more advanced fighter during the later stages of development with revised terms of reference by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and the incorporation of more modern features and technologies.
The maiden test flight of the first prototype took place during 2003 in China, later test flights of a more advanced version taking place in 2006. The first two SBP (small batch production) aircraft were delivered to the Pakistan Air Force on 12 March 2007 for further flight testing and evaluation, also taking part in the aircraft’s first aerial display 11 days later in Islamabad, Pakistan. The first production aircraft manufactured in Pakistan handed over to PAF on 23rd of November 2009. The Pakistan Air Force plans to make the first JF-17 squadron officially operational in early 2010.
The JF-17 is being built by China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC) and Pakistan’s Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. The project is expected to cost around US$500 million, divided equally between China and Pakistan. The project is supported by China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation for the Chinese side. Each individual aircraft is expected to cost around US$15 million. Initial development of JF-17 is believed to have been completed in a period of four years, although later improvements to the aircraft design did take up more time. Pakistan has announced that it has 150 aircraft on order, but this may well go up to 275. The JF-17 will replace Pakistan’s MiG-21-derived Chengdu F-7, Nanchang A-5 and Dassault Mirage III/Mirage V aircraft currently in service. Azerbaijan, Zimbabwe and eight other countries have expressed interest in purchasing the JF-17 at a recent military exhibition in Pakistan, according to an official.
Origins – Project Sabre II
In 1984 the latest export version of the Chengdu F-7, an extensively upgraded form of the F-7B and designated F-7M Airguard, were released. It incorporated Western avionics such as head-up display (HUD), IFF system, multi-mode radios, ranging radar and weapons-aiming computer, as well as a more modern ejection seat, two cannon in the fuselage, two more hardpoints under the wings and a re-located brake parachute housing.
The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) started looking for a new fighter to replace their large fleet of Shenyang F-6, which were approaching the end of their service lives, in the late 1980s. After becoming interested in the F-7M, the PAF initiated Project Sabre II to re-design and upgrade the Chengdu F-7M.
In January 1987, a contract was awarded to Grumman Aerospace of Bethpage, New York, to study and define the Sabre II concept with cooperation from CAC and PAF specialists. The study was completed after seven months and concluded that the project was a financial risk due to very high costs and other options were much more cost-effective, despite the prospects of producing Sabre II in Pakistan and giving the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex more experience and technical knowledge.
In September 1987 it was reported that a 5 month feasibility study had been completed by Grumman, working in cooperation with CAC, CATIC and the PAF, in which the Chengdu F-7M was radically upgraded. Known as Sabre II, the upgrade involved fitting the F-7M with modern Western radar, avionics, engine and a re-designed forward fuselage. It was stated that Sabre II would replace 150 Shenyang F-6 in PAF service. A picture showed that the F-7’s nose inlet had been replaced with a solid nose radome and a new pair of air inlets were mounted on the sides of the fuselage under the cockpit.
Under Project Sabre II, considered a replacement of the abandoned Super-7 project by the Chinese, the F-7 airframe was redesigned with angled air intakes on the sides of the fuselage replacing the nose intake. The nose intake was replaced by a solid nose radome to house the avionics from the F-20 Tigershark. The Chinese WP-7 turbojet engine was planned to be replaced with a modern turbofan engine, either theGE F404 or PW1120, to improve performance. The resulting aircraft, designated F-7M Sabre-II, would have looked much like theGuizhou JL-9 (or FTC-2000) jet trainer / fighter aircraft.
The Pratt & Whitney PW1216, an afterburning derivative of the J52-P-409 turbojet producing 16,000 lbf of thrust, was also proposed for installation on the Sabre II. The engine’s afterburner was designed in China. Fitting the APG-66 radar was also planned.
Project Sabre II was terminated in 1989, due to the breaking of relations between the U.S. and China after the Tiananmen Square protest. The PAF decided on a much less expensive solution for replacement of the F-6, the Chengdu F-7P Skybolt, an upgraded version of the F-7M Airguard. The F-7P fleet was to be supported by a fleet of over 100 advanced F-16 Fighting Falcons from the United States, 40 of which had been delivered during the 1980s.
In March 1990 it was reported that after being rejected by the PAF, Sabre II had been superseded by the Super 7 and China was considering continuing its development.
Continuation – FC-1/Super 7
CAC continued further studies into Project Sabre II by providing low-level funding from its own resources. Sabre II/Super 7 was further modified with the delta wings of the F-7 replaced by new wings of cropped-delta planform, featuring a pair of hardpoints on the wing-tips andleading edge root extensions blending the wings, side-mounted air intakes and fuselage. In 1991, the FC (Fighter China) programme was launched and Super 7 was re-branded as the FC-1.
In November 1991 it was reported that the Super-7 was being continued without Grumman and was in the process of selecting a Western or Soviet engine to replace the F404. The Turbo Union RB.199 and Klimov RD-33 were under consideration. Super-7 also featured a larger wing.
Meanwhile, the U.S. was becoming frustrated with Pakistan’s refusal to stop its nuclear weapons development programme, resulting in the imposition of military and economic sanctions under the Pressler amendment in 1990. This prevented the delivery of the advanced F-16fighters and efforts by the PAF to find a replacement failed (see Pakistan Air Force 1990-2001, the lost decade). Requiring a more capable and modern fighter to replace its fleet of F-7P, A-5C and Mirage III/V, the PAF high command debated joining the continued Super 7/FC-1 project until 1995, when a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed with China for the two parties to cooperate on development of the fighter. Pakistan and China worked out the project details over the next few years. In June 1995 it was reported that Mikoyan MAPOhad joined CAC on the project to provide design support, believed to be using experience from their “Izdeliye 33” (English: “Project 33”) design, a small single-engine fighter similar to the FC-1/Super 7.
In October 1995 it was reported that Pakistan was to select a Western company by the end of the year which would provide and integrate the avionics for FC-1, which was expected to go into production by 1999. The avionics were stated to include radar, INS, HUD and MFD. 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 programme and GEC-Marconi with the new Blue Hawk radar, but FIAR (now SELEX Galileo) was expected to win the radar contract with the Grifo S7 because the PAF had already upgraded F-7 and Mirage III fighters with the Grifo 7 and Grifo M3 radars.
After a period of little activity, a letter of intent (LOI) covering airframe development was signed in Beijing by Pakistan and China in mid-February 1998. Russia’s Klimov was reported to be offering a variant of the RD-33 turbofan engine to power the fighter and a mock-up of the cockpit was put on display at the Singapore air show.
In June 1999 the contract to co-develop and produce the Chengdu FC-1/Super 7 was signed during a visit to Beijing by then Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif and Chinese premier Zhu Rongji. The project was to be a 50-50 partnership with the air forces of both Pakistanand China being committed to ordering the fighter. Avionics suites were being proposed by FIAR and Thomson-CSF, based on the Grifo S7 and RC400 radars respectively, after GEC-Marconi had abandoned the bidding to supply an integrated avionics suite including INS, MFD, HUD and mission computer, despite previously hoping to use the PAF’s Super 7 to launch its new Blue Hawk radar. Design work progressed very slowly over the next 18 months due to sanctions, placed on Pakistan after the country’s May 1998 nuclear tests, preventing delivery of the advanced Western avionics systems to the PAF.
In early 2001, however, a major decision was taken by the PAF to de-couple the platform (airframe) from the avionics systems, enabling design work on the aircraft to continue. An added advantage would be that as the platform was developed, any new avionics requirements by the PAF could easily be catered for, not easily possible had the aircraft been designed for late-1990s era avionics. 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. The first batch of Klimov RD-93 turbofan engines that would power the prototypes was also delivered in 2002.
Flight testing and re-design – FC-1/JF-17
The first prototype, PT-01, was rolled out on 31 May 2003 and transferred to the Chengdu Flight Test Centre by June 2003 to be prepared for the maiden flight. This was initially planned to take place in June but was delayed due to concerns about the SARS outbreak. The designation Super-7 was replaced by “JF-17” (Joint Fighter-17) at some point during this period. Low speed taxiing trials began at Wenjiang Airport in Chengdu on 27 June 2003. 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, others stating it occurred on 25 August 2003 (the first of two test flights that day) and lasted 8 minutes. However the ‘official’ maiden flight of the prototype took place on either 2 September or 3 September 2003, the prototype being marked with the new Pakistan Air Force designation JF-17. In late March 2004 it was reported that CAC had made around 20 test-flights of the first prototype. On 7 April 2004 the PAF’s first test pilots, Sqn Ldr Rashid Habib and Sqn Ldr Mohammad Ehsan ul-Haq, flew the PT-01 for the first time. The maiden flight of the third prototype, PT-03, took place two days later on 9 April 2004. In March 2004 it was reported that Pakistan was now planning to induct around 200 aircraft.
|Prototype designation||Role||Official first flight|
|PT-01||Flight performance verification||2 September 2003|
(static ground tests)
|PT-03||Flight performance verification||9 April 2004|
|PT-04||Weapons integration and avionics testing||28 April 2006|
(static ground tests)
|PT-06||Avionics testing||10 September 2006|
In September 2005 it was reported that flaws in the design had began to surface after the first test flight in 2003, leading to work on design changes being started by Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute (CADI) in 2004. It was believed that the air intakes were being re-designed due to excessive amounts of smoke being emitted by the Klimov RD-93 engine and test-pilot reports of control problems had resulted in changes being made to the wing leading edge root extensions (strakes). It was also stated by CAC that the size of the vertical tail fin was being increased to house an expanded electronic warfare equipment bay at the tip of the fin. The re-designed aircraft was reported to have a maximum take-off weight slightly above the original 12,400 kg (27,300 lb) and a model was put on display at the Aviation Expo 2005 event in Beijing. It was planned that the re-designed prototypes would incorporate Chinese avionics suites, which would later be replaced by the PAF’s selected Western suite. As a result of the changes the first deliveries to the PAF were postponed from late 2005 to 2007. Test flights of the original flying prototypes, 01 and 03, were continuing. At this stage Pakistan was evaluating British, French and Italian avionics suites, the winner of which was expected to be finalised in 2006.
The fourth prototype and the first to incorporate the design changes, PT-04, was rolled out in a ceremony by CAC in mid-April 2006. On 28 April 2006, PT-04 flew for the first time in a test flight lasting 16 minutes and announced by Chinese news agency Xinhua from Wenjiang airport in Chengdu. Pictures released by CAC gave details of the design changes, which included re-designed air intakes, larger leading edge root extensions (LERX), longer ventral fins underneath the rear of the fuselage and a taller vertical stabiliser fin, with lower angle of sweep and rectangular electronic warfare equipment housing at the tip.
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 very similar to that of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. The DSI design 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 and is more stealthy than a conventional intake. 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.
For the avionics and weapons qualification phase of the flight testing, PT-04 was fitted with a 4th generation avionics suite that incorporatessensor fusion, electronic warfare suite, enhanced man-machine interface, Digital Electronic Engine Control (DEEC) for the RD-93 turbofan engine, FBW flight control, day/night precision surface attack capability and multi-mode pulse doppler radar for beyond visual range air-to-air attack capability, making the aircraft a modern multi-role fighter. A sixth prototype, PT-06, first flew on 10 September 2006.
Production, delivery and further development
Russia and China had originally signed an end-user certificate for the Klimov RD-93 engines preventing China from exporting the JF-17 to Pakistan, after protests by Pakistan’s adversary, India. In 2007 however, the Russian government reversed their decision after the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, signed the permission for re-export of the engines to Pakistan and six other countries.
The first consignment of two pre-production (small batch production, SBP) aircraft was received in Pakistan, arriving in dismantled form, on 2 March 2007. Once assembled, they were flown in Pakistani airspace for the first time 8 days later on 10 March 2007 and took part in an aerial demonstration to the public during the Pakistan Independence Day parade on 23 March 2007. According to statements by then PAF Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Tanveer Mehmood, it was intended that the PAF would induct 200 JF-17 by 2015 to replace all Chengdu F-7, Nanchang A-5, Dassault Mirage III and Mirage 5 combat aircraft. It was also stated that the PAF was preparing for in-flight refuelling (IFR) of JF-17 fighters ahead of their induction by upgrading a number of Mirage III fighters with IFR probes.
A dual-seat combat-capable training variant was initially scheduled to begin flight testing in 2006. However plans for this model seemed to have been cancelled until late 2007, when it was reported that Pakistan had decided to fund the development of the dual-seat model which would be used for training pilots and developed into a specialised attack variant.
In November 2007 it was reported that the PAF and PAC were conducting flight evaluation of the SBP 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-10active radar homing air-to-air missile. It was also stated by JF-17 program managers that they were seriously considering purchasing theThales RC400 radar and MBDA MICA air-to-air missile 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.
Pakistan Aeronautical Complex began manufacturing JF-17 sub-assemblies on 22 January 2008. Manufacture of parts had already begun at PAC in 2005. The PAF was to receive a further 6 pre-production (small batch production, SBP) aircraft that year, giving it a total of 8 out of an initial production run of 16 aircraft. Initial operating capability (IOC) was to be achieved by the end of 2008.
Prior to the IDEAS 2008 (International Defence Exhibition and Seminar) event in Pakistan, news emerged that the PAF was not fully satisfied with the Klimov 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.
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 12 aircraft in 2010 and 15-16 aircraft per year from 2011. This may eventually be increased to 25 aircraft per year.
Airframe and cockpit
The airframe is of semi-monocoque structure, constructed primarily of aluminium alloys, although plans are in place to reduce weight by increasing the use of composite materials. 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.
The mid-mounted wings are of cropped-delta planform. Near the wing root are convex strakes, also called leading edge root extensions, 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 stabilator tail-planes, single vertical stabiliser fin andrudder. Twin ventral fins are located underneath the rear of the fuselage. The flight control surfaces are operated by a computerised flight control system (see aircraft avionics), 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 on the seven hardpoints; two on the wing-tips, four under the wings and 1 under the fuselage.
The retractable undercarriage is of tricycle arrangement, with a single steerable nose-wheel that under the cockpit between the air intakes and two main gear wheels mounted under the fuselage, between the wings. The hydraulic brakes have an automatic anti-skid system. The nosewheel retracts rearwards into the fuselage and the main gear wheels retract upwards into the engine intake trunks.
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. A diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI) design is used to separate and prevent boundary layer airflow entering the inlet.
The JF-17 cockpit on display. The centre stick, up-front control panel, three multi-function displays and part of the throttle stick are visible, as are various switches and indicator lights.
The aircraft 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 by the pilot to control the aircraft in pitch and roll while rudder pedals control the aircraft’s yaw motion (see flight dynamics). A throttle stick to control the engine throttle setting is located to the left of the pilot. The cockpit incorporates “hands on throttle and stick” (HOTAS) controls to allow operation of all essential aircraft systems, especially combat-related systems such as radar and weaponry, without the pilot having to remove his hands from the controls. The pilot sits on a zero-zero capable ejection seat; either the Martin-Baker Mk-16LE, which will be used on Pakistan Air Force fighters, or the Chinese TY-5B also fitted to the Chengdu J-10.
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 utilise the large number of civilian software programmers available. Avionics equipping the JF-17 prototypes used the Motorola 88000 microprocessor, which can be changed to other microprocessors of the same class. The redesigned PT-04 prototype JF-17 (see Evolution) had more advanced avionics than its predecessors, which are included on the production version of the aircraft.
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 are “smart”, meaning they 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 (height greater than width). The central MFD is placed lower down to accommodate an up-front control panel (UFCP) between it and the HUD.
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) experienced problems with the HUDs of its Russian designed combat aircraft, these tended to fog up due to deployment in humid sub-tropical and tropical zones. The Chinese HUD fitted to the JF-17 was developed to ensure this problem would not occur when deployed in any environment. Western HUDs can be incorporated directly onto the aircraft, if desired by the user, with little effort due to the modular avionics design and the adoption of the MIL-STD-1553B databus architecture. Information from the onboard radar can be displayed on the head-down multi-function displays or projected onto the HUD, the latter feature believed to have been inspired by the HUDs of Russian aircraft. This enables the pilot to keep his eyes focused at infinity so that he can simultaneously view radar images and monitor the airspace around him, without having to re-focus his eyes. Monochrome images from electro-optical navigation/targeting pods carried by JF-17 can also be projected onto the HUD.
The aircraft has a composite flight control system (FCS), comprising 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 flight control system automatically during manoeuvring to increase turning performance. 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. A health and usage monitoring system (HUMS)is also present.
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, AWACS/AEW 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 as well as other entities in the network (see network-centric warfare).
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. Data collected by the MAW system, such as direction of inbound missiles and the time to impact (TTI), 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 trying to track and destroy the aircraft. 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.
The first 42 production aircraft currently being delivered to the Pakistan Air Force are equipped with the NRIET KLJ-7 radar, 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 (TWS) mode, the radar can track up to 10 targets at beyond visual range (BVR) and engage 2 of them simultaneously with radar homing air-to-air missiles. The operation range for targets with a radar cross-section (RCS) of 5 m2 is stated to be ≥105 km in look-up mode and ≥85 km in look-down mode.
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. This system assists in targeting enemy aircraft by projecting targeting information onto the pilot’s visor and tracking the movements of his head/eyes. Also to be integrated is a FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red) pod for low-level navigation in low visibility and IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track) system for passive monitoring and targeting of enemy aircraft.
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 munitions. 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 FILAT (Forward-looking Infra-red Laser Attack Targeting) 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.
Propulsion and fuel system
The JF-17 is powered by a single Russian Klimov RD-93 turbofan engine, which is a variant of the RD-33 engine used on the Mig-29 fighter. The turbofan 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).
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). 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 litredroptanks can be mounted on the two inboard under-wing hardpoints. 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 retractable IFR probes.
JF-17 can be armed with up to 3,629 kg (8,000 lb) of air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance, as well as other equipment, mounted externally on the aircraft’s seven hardpoints. 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, which is stated to be capable of integration with weaponry of any origin. 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.
The wing-tip hardpoints will normally be occupied by short range infra-red homing air-to-air missiles, 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. Under-wing hardpoints can be fitted with multiple ejector racks, allowing each hardpoint to carry two 500 lb (241 kg) unguided or laser-guided bombs (Mk.82 or GBU-12). It is currently unknown if multiple ejector racks can be used for other ordnance such as beyond visual range air-to-air missiles. The under-fuselage and inboard under-wing hardpoints are plumbed, enabling them to carry droptanks of various sizes for extra fuel (see propulsion and fuel system).
Active radar homing beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missiles 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 helmet mounted sights/display (HMS/D) as well as the radar for targeting.
Unguided air-to-ground weaponry includes rocket pods, gravity bombs of various sizes and anti-runway munitions such as the Matra Durandal. Precision-guided munitions (PGM) such as laser-guided bombs and satellite-guided bombs, as well as other guided weapons such as anti-ship missiles and anti-radiation missiles can also be deployed.
The first 50 JF-17s entering Pakistan Air Force service will most likely incorporate only Chinese avionics and other systems, however this may only be temporary. Once JF-17 enters full production, retractable in-flight refueling probes will be added and avionics from other sources may be integrated.
Subsequent modifications to the JF-17 design will be made, such as:
- Greater use of composite materials in the airframe to decrease weight and increase thrust-to-weight ratio.
- Internal Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) system, possibly the Type Hongguang-I Electro-optical Radar (虹光-Ⅰ型光电雷达) developed by Sichuan Changhong Electric Appliance Corporation (currently the IRST must be carried externally).
- More powerful engine, potential options include the Chinese WS-13 Tianshan and Russian RD-93B turbofans, giving 10% greater thrust than the current RD-93.
- Minor airframe modifications to reduce the aircraft’s radar cross-section by adding stealthy features.
Beyond the initial 50 PAF JF-17, the remaining production aircraft may also be equipped with European avionics, radars and weaponry. Pakistan had begun negotiations with British and Italian defence firms over potential avionics and radars for JF-17 during initial development. Some of the radar options for JF-17 are the Italian Galileo Avionica Grifo S7 and the French Thomson-CSF RC400 (a variant of the RDY-2), along with the MBDA MICA IR/RF short/medium range air-to-air missiles. The Vixen 500E AESA radar has also been offered to the PAF for installation on the JF-17 by the British company SELEX, but the PAF may be looking for a more advanced AESA radar.
A JF-17 on display at the IDEAS 2008 defense exhibition in Karachi, Pakistan.
Small batch production began in China on June 2006. Two JF-17 were delivered to the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) prior to the 23 March 2007parade and another six were delivered in 2008. Serial production in 2008 was planned at an annual 10-15 planes per year, while from 2009 it is planned to be at 25-30 planes per year.
On 14 August 2006, the ex-President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf declared in his Independence Day speech that the JF-17 would be flying in Pakistani skies by 23 March 2007. The first two JF-17s were delivered to Pakistan Air Force on 12 March 2007. The aircraft’s first public appearance was on 23 March 2007 during a fly-past performance by the PAF, as part of the Pakistan Day Joint Services Parade inIslamabad.
On 31 March 2007, the PAF Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed, made the following statements: “PAF will soon induct fourth and fifth generation high-tech fleet of fighter-bomber aircraft with the aim to modernize the country’s air force, which includes the induction of 10 to 12 squadrons of JF-17 Thunder aircraft.” “During this year, six more JF-17 aircraft will be received from China and in 2008 the serial production of the aircraft will commence at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra.” “Fifteen aircraft will be manufactured in 2008, while 20 in the next year with the aim to achieve capability to manufacture 25 to 30 aircraft per year,” also hinting the PAF is set to acquire up to 250 JF-17 Thunder aircraft.
In 2007, after a visit to China, the ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan Shaukat Aziz said in a press conference held in Islamabad that serial production of JF-17 would soon start in 2008 and Pakistan would like to sell fourth generation JF-17 multirole combat aircraft to those interested. The Prime Minister also confirmed that the JF-17s in Pakistan had completed 500 combat missions/sorties.
On 7 March 2009, an agreement was signed between the Pakistan Air Force and the Chinese export corporation CATIC that included an order of 42 JF-17 combat aircraft.
In a statement made by Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman of the PAF on 27 June 2009, it was said that the production of JF-17 inPakistan would start from 30 June 2009. It was also stated that the first JF-17 manufactured in Pakistan would fly in Pakistani airspace by the end of the year.
The Azerbaijani Air Force has negotiated with Pakistan for the purchase of 26 JF-17, worth between 16 and 18 million dollars each. The Sudanese Air Force is also reported to be negotiating for 12 aircraft. The Zimbabwe Air Force reportedly ordered 12 JF-17 in 2004, but there are no current sources that confirm payment or intent of delivery. Several other countries including Bangladesh, Egypt,Iran and Nigeria have been identified as potential buyers.
- PT-01, PT-02, PT-03 – single-seat initial prototype variant.
- PT-04, PT-05, PT-06 – single-seat final prototype variant, redesigned form of the initial variant (see development section).
- JF-17 / FC-1 – single-seat production variant, based on PT-04 redesign.
- Dual-seat training variant, designation unknown.
- Dual-seat strike variant, designation unknown.
- People’s Liberation Army Air Force – Under evaluation.
- Pakistan Air Force – 8 SBP (small batch production) aircraft delivered, 2 in March 2007, 6 in March 2008. First squadron to be made officially operational by the end of 2009. A total of 250 to 300 aircraft expected.
Data from Pakistan Aeronautical Complex
- Crew: 1
- Length: 14.0 m (45.9 ft)
- Wingspan: 9.45 m (including 2 wingtip missiles) (31 ft)
- Height: 4.77 m (15 ft 8 in)
- Wing area: 24.4 m² (263 ft²)
- Empty weight: 6,411 kg (14,134 lb)
- Loaded weight: 9,100 kg including 2× wing-tip mounted air-to-air missiles (20,062 lb)
- Max takeoff weight: 12,700 kg (28,000 lb)
- Powerplant: 1× Klimov RD-93 turbofan
- Dry thrust: 49.4 kN (11,106 lbf)
- Thrust with afterburner: 84.4 kN (18,973 lbf)
- G-limit: +8.5 g
- Internal Fuel Capacity: 2300 kg (5,130 lb)
- Maximum speed: Mach 1.8 (1,191 knots, 2,205 kph)
- Combat radius: 1,352 km (840 mi)
- Ferry range: 3,000 km (2,175 mi)
- Service ceiling: 16,700 m (54,790 ft)
- Thrust/weight: 0.99
- Guns: 1× 23 mm GSh-23-2 twin-barrel cannon (can be replaced with 30 mm GSh-30-2)
- Hardpoints: 7 in total (4× under-wing, 2× wing-tip, 1× under-fuselage) with a capacity of 3,629 kg (8,000 lb) external fuel and ordnance,
- Rockets: 57 mm, 90 mm unguided rocket pods
- Air-to-air missiles:
- Short range: AIM-9L/M, PL-5E, PL-9C
- Beyond visual range: PL-12 / SD-10
- Air-to-surface missiles:
- Anti-radiation missiles
- Anti-ship missiles: AM-39 Exocet
- Cruise missiles: Ra’ad ALCM
- Air-to-air missiles:
- Unguided bombs:
- Mk-82, Mk-84 general purpose bombs
- Matra Durandal anti-runway bomb
- CBU-100/Mk-20 Rockeye anti-armour cluster bomb
- Precision guided munitions (PGM):
- GBU-10, GBU-12, LT-2 laser-guided bombs
- H-2, H-4 electro-optically guided, LS-6 satellite-guided glide bombs
- Satellite-guided bombs
- Unguided bombs:
- Up to 3 external fuel drop-tanks (1× under-fuselage 800 litres, 2× under-wing 800/1100 litres each) for extended range/loitering time
- NRIET KLJ-7 multi-mode fire-control radar
- NVG compatible glass cockpit
- Helmet Mounted Sights/Display (HMS/D)
- Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST)
- Externally mounted avionics pods:
- Self-protection radar jammer pod
- Day/night laser designator targeting pod
- Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) pod
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