JF-17 Thunder & PAF : Updates & Discussions


Staff member
Nov 30, 2017

With three operational squadrons, I felt it was a good time to take a deeper look at the JF-17 Thunder, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF)’s new backbone fighter. Since the first prototype’s rollout in 2003, I was immersed in following the fine details of the program, but I never properly understood or appreciated the actual high-level value of the JF-17 to the PAF.

While the technical details are important (and I will study them in future articles), it is equally important to understand the strategic value of the program, i.e. the protection and flexibility it affords the PAF against sanctions. Not only that, but as an owner of the JF-17 program, the PAF has the freedom to set the JF-17’s upgrade path according to its own needs and objectives. Combined, I believe these two aspects of the JF-17 make this program a true game-changer for the PAF on a number of levels: These include enhanced operational efficiency, improved defensive and offensive capability, and strengthened confidence in a scenario of international tension. I will not be able to cover all of these aspects within a single article, but I will start with the broadest aspect, the point where the JF-17 is a stimulant for greater confidence on the part of the PAF and Pakistan’s defence planners, especially in times of crises.

Whether it be wars with its rival India or periods of not-so-great relations with the U.S, the PAF has often suffered as a result of military embargoes. Other than Pakistan’s poorly managed economic affairs, sanctions have without doubt been the biggest culprit to the qualitative and quantitative gap now exhibited between the PAF and its primary adversary, the Indian Air Force (IAF). At no point was this more apparent during the 1965 Indo-Pak War and in the 1990s.

In 1965, Pakistan’s decision to militarily engage with India over Kashmir (starting first with Operation Gibraltar – the Pakistan Army’s failed attempt to wrestle away the region via low-intensity war) was not viewed in positive light by the U.S, Pakistan’s main patron of financial and military support until that point. With its 100% American-built fighter fleet cut-off from a steady supply of spare parts and attrition replacements, the PAF’s medium to long-term capacity to fight was cut down.


The F-104 Starfighter was one of the PAF’s marquee aircraft during the 1965 War.

In the 1990s, Pakistan was on the receiving end of the Pressler Amendment, a piece of American legislation designed to stop the Pakistani military from developing nuclear weapons. In 1988-1989 the Pakistan Air Force had hoped to build a substantial portion of its operational fleet around the F-16A/B, but Pressler made Pakistan’s abandonment of its nuclear program a prerequisite to the delivery of those aircraft. 28 of the 71 ordered F-16s were built, and until the early 2000s, they had been kept in storage in the U.S. The U.S Air Force (USAF) and U.S Navy took ownership of them, with the latter using them as aggressor aircraft for training. The 14 USAF aircraft were eventually delivered to the PAF as part of George Bush Jr’s efforts to win over the Pakistani military’s support in the War on Terror. But in the interim period the PAF had to acquire surplus Mirage III and V aircraft from Australia and France as a means to help soothe the gap left by the non-delivered F-16A/Bs. And while it did try to acquire the Mirage 2000 from France in lieu of the F-16s, public corruption and poor public finances caused those efforts to collapse.


One of the embargoed PAF F-16s that was assigned to the U.S Air Force, this unit was later transferred to Pakistan.

Although the idea of manufacturing modern jet fighters in Pakistan was explored since as far back as the 1950s, the notion gained serious momentum in the late 1980s when the Sabre II program was studied.[1] At that time the PAF was looking to replace its ageing F-6s (Chinese variant of the Soviet MiG-19) with a modern low-cost multirole fighter. The idea basically revolved around taking the Chinese F-7M (a MiG-21 variant) and heavily modifying it to fit a Pratt & Whitney or General Electric turbofan engine and a powerful radar (reportedly the AN/APG-66, i.e. the radar used on the F-16 at the time).[2]


A render of the Sabre-II program. The PAF requested Grumman to come up with a design using the Chengdu F-7M as the basis.

The Sabre II was envisaged as a collaboration between the PAF, Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) and Grumman Aerospace.[3] It was hoped that the U.S would supply the turbofan engine, radar and avionics suite. In the end the project was canned, primarily as a result of U.S sanctions, but also potentially the reality that the design might have been too limited for long-term use. At the end of the day the Sabre II was still based on the F-7, which in turn is a variant of the 1950s-era MiG-21. But with the Pressler-sanctions taking their toll on the PAF’s F-16 fleet and cutting the PAF from acquiring spare parts and attrition replacements for its most modern fighter, urgency for a locally-sourced fighter became critical. In 1994 the PAF accepted an offer from the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC) to jointly-develop a new lightweight multirole fighter, then known as the Super-7.[4]

The Super-7’s design was finalized in 1999, and sometime later, it was decided by the PAF to decouple the program’s airframe development from the development of its electronics (e.g. radar). This was a significant change in that the development of avionics or radars was no longer dependent on the airframe, and vice-versa. This helped keep matters fluid in that should a new kind of system were to arise on the electronics front (where the industry moves quickly), the PAF could readily incorporate those shifts onto the platform without a major lag time. This helped ensure that the final product would be in line with the expectations of the day it rolls out, not the day when it is finalized on the drawing board.


A mock-up of the Super-7 released some time after the design was finalized in 1999.

The selected engine was the Klimov RD-93 from Russia, a variant of the RD-33 used on the MiG-29. The PAF was and still is satisfied with its choice, and it may hope that this avenue will continue by including the more powerful RD-93MA. Western turbofans were considered, but the risk of sanctions and reality of weak public finances on Pakistan’s part must have firmly excluded those routes. China is also developing its own engines for the fighter, most notably the WS-13[5] (and possibly WS-17 if is indeed a different program from the WS-13), but I doubt the PAF would select them when it can still acquire the RD-93.

The first prototype rolled out and flew in 2003, and the Super-7 was given a new name – JF-17 Thunder. Since then the fighter had seen a few significant changes to its airframe. I will explore these changes in greater detail in another article, but in short, the JF-17’s airframe saw numerous aerodynamic improvements, most notably to the leading edge root extensions (LERX) and air intakes.


Actual production-batch JF-17s. Notice the altered intakes.

The final electronics suite (i.e. radar, avionics, EW/ECM, etc.) was drawn from Chinese vendors such as the Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology (NRIET). I will go into the specifics of each current (and future) subsystem in a subsequent article, but needless to say, the JF-17 Block-I currently in service with the PAF is equipped with a modern radar and avionics suite. Since its induction with the No. 26 squadron in February 2010, the JF-17 has (alongside the new and upgraded F-16s) infused the PAF with greatly improved air-to-air (A2A) and air-to-surface (A2S) combat capabilities.


The JF-17 with some of the air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions it can employ: (L to R) C-802A, LS-6, and SD-10A


A chart outlining some of the weapon systems currently used on the JF-17. Also listed are potential systems that the JF-17 may see in the future


The JF-17’s cockpit

With 54 JF-17s in service across three squadrons the PAF is on-track to meeting its requirement for 150-200 aircraft. Production is shared between the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) in Kamra and CAC in Chengdu. Under the original workshare agreement, PAC produces 58% of the airframe, with the remainder imported from China.[6] At present the PAC’s annual rollout rate is set to 16 aircraft (i.e. a squadron), but the facility reportedly has the capacity to produce 25 fighters per year.[7]

One may feel tempted to compare the JF-17 to its contemporaries, particularly the Indian Tejas and the JAS-39 Gripen. While there is definitely a place for such assessments, I am more inclined (in this piece especially) to evaluate the JF-17 on its own merits, specifically in terms of whether it substantively improves the combat capabilities of the PAF. One of the subtle notions of localization, especially in the case of a financially-strained country such as Pakistan, is that it does not translate into a genuine improvement compared to imported solutions. Some may be inclined to argue that the PAF would have ultimately been better off importing a large number of surplus F-16s, new J-10s and/or (if we really want to stretch the imagination) surplus Mirage 2000-5/-9s.

While the theory is sound, especially as we are talking about mature and trusted platforms that beat the JF-17 on range, payload and electronics (especially in terms of radar and ECM/EW suites), the idea rests on a few assumptions. The first assumption is that the PAF would always have access to spare-parts and attrition replacements, and while that may be true in times of stability, Pakistan is never too far away from a situation or controversy that can threaten its supply of arms. The JF-17 addresses this problem by ensuring that the PAF can continue inducting modern aircraft in such times of crises.

The second assumption is that the acquisition of imported platforms will enable the PAF to readily pair these platforms with the munitions of its choice. With the possible exception of the J-10B, it is highly unlikely that the PAF could readily integrate diversely-sourced stand-off air-to-surface munitions to a platform it does not own. Yes, France might be more willing to see the Ra’ad air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) on one of its current platforms, but there will always be some kind of friction, be it a technical hurdle, a commercial licensing issue, or (particularly in the case of the U.S) a supplier-side obstacle stemming from seller’s strategic needs and concerns.

With the JF-17 the PAF is not limited to acquiring munitions from a single source nor is encumbered by restrictions set by an external supplier. Through its ownership of the program, it can choose to equip the JF-17 with munition systems of its choice (based on what it can acquire and/or develop). Over the next 5-10 years (as the Block-II and Block-III JF-17s are inducted) we will see the PAF’s JF-17 fleet equipped with air-to-air and air-to-surface weapon systems from China, Brazil (Mectron MAR-1 anti-radiation missiles), the local industry (e.g. GIDS Takbir precision-guided-bomb kits), and potentially even South Africa (A-Darter high-off-bore-sight air-to-air missile) and Turkey. The advantage for the PAF is that it can readily pair the systems that are available to it commercially at-will to its backbone fighter. Not only that, but it can also build redundancy, e.g. source beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAM) from multiple suppliers, as opposed to limit itself to a single vendor, as is the case with the F-16 (which exclusively uses in the AIM-120C5 in the PAF).

For my concluding point, astute readers may have picked up on something interesting within the details I discussed above. If you have not caught it, then know it is the point that the JF-17 can be equipped with many of the air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions found on more expensive fighters. Specific performance benchmarks aside, the JF-17’s various munitions can be as contemporary and forward-leaning as those found on say the JAS-39E/F Gripen. A good example of this is the A-Darter, a joint-program between South Africa’s Denel and Brazil’s Mectron to develop a high-off-bore-sight (HOBS) within-visual-range air-to-air missile (WVRAAM). The A-Darter is reportedly a frontrunner for the PAF’s requirement of a HOBS WVRAAM for use on the JF-17.[8]

The JF-17 is a modern and cost-effective platform capable of taking on a wide range of critical tasks for the PAF. In the 1990s and 2000s the vast majority of operations would be undertaken by specially-designated and equipped aircraft: F-7P for point defence, A-5 for close air support, and the Mirage III/V for strike and air-to-air engagements. Not only is the JF-17 capable of performing each of those tasks, but it is superior to each of those platforms in performance (be it range, payload, capability of radar and avionics, etc). From being able to effectively defend Pakistani airspace to being capable of inflicting damage on key targets from stand-off ranges over land and sea, the JF-17 is destined to play an indispensable role for not just the Pakistan Air Force, but the Pakistani military at large.

The JF-17 I: A Wave of Change for the Pakistan Air Force
This Is the Ultimate MiG-21

JF-17 builds on classic warplane

In 1989, the Chinese Chengdu Aerospace Corporation unveiled a major upgrade for its locally-made F-7 jet fighter, a licensed copy of the classic Soviet MiG-21. The new F-7 variant moved the engine air intake from the nose tip to the sides of the fuselage, making room in the nose for a more powerful radar.

Twenty-one years later, this upgrade—now named JF-17 Thunder—is flying combat missions with the Pakistani air force, so far its sole user. Further enhanced with a new wing, a cutting-edge intake design and a new, more powerful engine, the JF-17 is Pakistan’s most important front-line fighter—and a remarkable extension of a basic plane design dating back to the 1950s.

In essence, the JF-17 is the ultimate MiG-21. In a sector increasingly dominated by American-made stealth fighters, European “canard” planes and variants of the Russian Su-27, the JF-17 is an outlier—a highly evolutionary plane that doesn’t try to be revolutionary.

After all, revolutionary is expensive.


Above — MiG-21. Photo via Wikipedia. At top — Pakistani air force JF-17. Photo via Wikipedia
Classic delta
The Soviet MiG corporation began work on the MiG-21 Fishbed in the early 1950s, an era during which most air forces wanted very fast jet fighters, regardless of the design compromises necessary to achieve high speeds. With a theoretical top speed of Mach 2, the MiG-21 meets that expectation—and also boasts a simple, single-engine layout, good climb performance and decent maneuverability.

But the basic MiG-21 has its drawbacks. It’s difficult to control and its canopy provides poor visibility. It carries enough gas for barely an hour of combat flying. And its nose intake precludes the carriage of a large radar.

Still, MiG made thousands of Fishbeds for the USSR and client states. Several countries including China acquired licenses to build their own copies. Sixty years later, hundreds of MiG-21s remain in front-line use across Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia.

China’s F-7 is a much-improved MiG-21 with better pilot visibility, a locally-produced engine and some Western-made avionics. But the F-7 still suffers from a lack of space in the nose for a bigger and more powerful radar. Hence the 1989 proposal to move the air intake to the fuselage sides.


Pakistani air force Chengdu F-7. Photo via Wikipedia
Pakistan had bought F-7s and, in the 1980s, hired the U.S. plane-maker Grumman to work alongside Chengdu in an effort to improve the fighters. But U.S. and European sanctions following China’s Tiananmen Square massacre ended the American-Chinese collaboration.

Pakistan, which also struggled with Western sanctions tied to Islamabad’s nuclear tests, took an interest in the modified F-7. Over a decade of work, the side-intake MiG-21 variant evolved into something much more sophisticated: the JF-17. Chinese, Pakistani and Russian engineers added a better wing—similar to the U.S. F-16’s wing—plus so-called “divertless” intakes that work equally well while the plane is flying fast or slow.

Russia provided the modern RD-93 engines for the JF-17. And most importantly, the new jet’s roomier nose is big enough for China’s KLJ-7 radar, able to detect and track targets on the ground and in the air.

Production began in China in 2006 and soon moved to a facility in Pakistan owned by the Pakistani air force, making the JF-17 the only jet fighter in the world actually manufactured by an air arm, rather than by a private corporation. Islamabad inaugurated the first Thunder squadron in 2010. And that same year, the new jets flew bombing missions targeting suspected terrorists in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s restive tribal area.

Clearly pleased, Islamabad ordered 150 JF-17s to form the backbone of its air force for the next 30 years. More than 40 are already in service.


Pakistani air force JF-17. Photo via Wikipedia
Bargain warplane
Priced to move at an estimated $25 million per copy, the JF-17 is possibly the cheapest new-build fighter in the world today. By comparison, each of America’s F-35 stealth fighterscosts around $200 million apiece at present—although the F-35 could get less expensive as development continues.

The JF-17 is not stealthy. But it does have roughly the same agility as an early-model F-16A, according to Pakistani pilots whom Piet Luijken interviewed for Combat Aircraftmagazine. That means the JF-17 is probably a much better close-range dogfighter than the F-35 and many other current jets.

Plus, the Thunder can carry some shockingly dangerous weaponry. In November 2013, the Pakistanis took the JF-17 on tour in a bid to sell the plane to other air arms. Luijken caught up with the display team during their stopover in Dubai, where he spotted a CM-400AKG anti-ship missile under a JF-17’s wing.

The CM-400AKG flies up to 150 miles as fast as Mach 4. China designed the munition specifically to target American aircraft carriers, but it could prove equally devastating to other warships. Pakistan is the first export customer. In addition to the CM-400, the JF-17 can carry a wide array of air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons.

It might be a descendent of the 60-year-old MiG-21, but the JF-17 is a thoroughly modern warplane—and an affordable one. The same can’t always be said of the F-35 and other current fighters.

This Is the Ultimate MiG-21 – War Is Boring – Medium
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Jf 17B twin seater ...

They want to fly in parade on 23 March .
Do they have any jf 17 trainer? Or this will be 1st twin seater trainer.Also I think 1st time they tested a BVR missile on a moving target .i think these planes are produced big in numbers but lacks in operational capabilities.
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Do they have any jf 17 trainer? Or this will be 1st twin seater trainer.Also I think 1st time they tested a BVR missile on a moving target .i think these planes are produced big in numbers but lacks in operational capabilities.
Thunder pilots are trained on simulator.
PAF pilots say Thunder is easy to fly and don't require special twin seater Training aircraft.
Thunder pilots are trained on simulator.
PAF pilots say Thunder is easy to fly and don't require special twin seater Training aircraft.
Ok ,So jf 17 don’t have trainer aircraft .do you have any video of jf 17 vertical climb at 90 degree as Tejas did in Bahrain ? Most of jf 17 video I saw it goes in a inclination towards left with wheel open. Tejas climb rate was good .
Ok ,So jf 17 don’t have trainer aircraft .do you have any video of jf 17 vertical climb at 90 degree as Tejas did in Bahrain ? Most of jf 17 video I saw it goes in a inclination towards left with wheel open. Tejas climb rate was good .
Vertical climb in an airshow or any other acrobatics is just showboating and nothing to do with real combat situation.
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Vertical climb in an airshow or any other acrobatics is just showboating and nothing to do with real combat situation.
Ok so you don’t have it now .I think vertical climb rate is one of the important parameter of a fighter plane structural integrity against high g ...same as turn and in any air show pilot shows all the tricky maneuver those are the plane capabilities which their plane can do .what su 30 mki/f22 can do it with their TVC in air shows they will do same or more in real scenario.So air shows are more about the plane capabilities rather than air combat tactics.
One of the best video of dogfight tactics-

Delta Wing vs Swift Wing /Small Delta and how delta wing dominated the war.

Lol ;), Tejas (Clone Mirage 2000) VS Jf 17 (Clone Mig 21)

PAF raises new multirole squadron equipped with JF-17 Thunder aircraft

The Air Chief reviewed a smartly turned out guard of honour by the personnel of the Base. He awarded the squadron emblem to Wing Commander Amir Imran Cheema, Officer Commanding No 28 Multirole Squadron. To make this event memorable, a four ship formation of JF-17 Thunders presented a fly past over the venue.

Addressing at the occasion, the Air Chief said, “We totally understand the kind of conspiracies the enemies of Pakistan continue to hatch but our resolve is very firm and response very clear. We are peace loving nation but we do not want anybody to interfere into our airspace and territory.”

He went on to say “We have done whatever is humanly possible on fighting the menace of terrorism and Allah has rewarded our efforts by restoring peace in the country. Reversal is not an option for us”.

The Air Chief further said, “From now on, No 28 MR Squadron, equipped with Pakistan’s Pride JF-17, has the responsibility of providing day and night aerial defence of the country especially along the western borders of Pakistan.

“I am confident that No 28 Sqn would create the desired strategic balance in a most befitting manner. We want to maintain peace with honour in the region, especially during these uncertain and challenging times. I want to assure the nation that despite all odds, our resolve shall remain unshakable and we shall defend our motherland against any aerial aggression.”

He further added, “Baluchistan is a great province and has significant value for all of us. Its people are friendly, loyal to the country and have always given their best for the development of this country. The development of CPEC is a milestone and will turn not only the history and face of Baluchistan but the entire country. I am very glad that No 28 Squadron takes its birth today in Baluchistan.”
Ugly Duckling, Swan or a hunt bird in hand? The JF 17- an open source assessment.
The assessment of a rival’s warplane suffers from a primary lacunae in that the information is secret. There is perforce reliance on secondary sources but this is inevitably heavily dosed with rivalry, jealousy, envy, disdain, NIH ( not invented here!) racialism and similar human failings. The task therefore becomes difficult and the output subjective. To illustrate my observation I will mention the case of two very well known warplanes.

The existence of the Mitsubishi Reisen ( Zero) first came into US knowledge almost a year before Pearl Harbour. The American Volunteer Group (AVG) Flying Tigers sent back reports from China of an astonishing Japanese fighter with unimaginable maneuverability and range. The US experts discounted these frontline reports because such a fighter could not exist. One can sympathize with the experts. Going by their lights such as aeroplane could not be designed. They did not know that the Japanese had got rid of everything which the West would consider “essential”- armour, bullet proof windscreen, self sealing tanks radios etc to produce the ultimate dogfighter that swept everything before it. It is an illustration of how human emotions cloud judgment that when the first wrecks were examined after Pearl Harbour much time was spent and much evident satisfaction gained on “identifying” what part of the Zero was copied from which American aircraft! In fact this copy allegation was so sustained that much later, Jiro Hirokoshi, the Zero’s Chief Designer was to say, perhaps with testiness, Japanese style “The Zero was a copy of all the aircraft before it!” Even today there is a persistent view that the Zero had erred by sacrificing protection for performance. This misses an important point. Battle damage resistance would have improved pilot survivality but given the Zero’s phenomenal long range and the fact that it operated over the ocean and over tropical jungles did Japan have the resources to ensure pilot recovery? Without pilot recovery battle damage resistance is less meaningful. Note that when the fighting was over the homeland the later versions of the Zero was given a fair measure of battle damage resistance- it was not all Bushido and Banzai as is popularly believed. The real weakness in the Zero was it had to fight an enemy industrially ten times as big. Putting it in another way if Japan had the Corsair and the Hellcat and it was the US which had the Zero the outcome would still be the same. This, by the way, is an argument for maintaining large forces. It pays on the long run.

One would think that things would have improved with time but the MiG 21 case is illustrative. To the Indian Air Force used to the fit and finish of the Mystere IVA, the MiG 21was “brute force supersonics” possibly because it was at the time of its induction the most powerful fighter in IAF service. The truth is both the MiG 21 and the Su7 were the lowest powered aircraft in their categories though one must add the Soviet aircraft often had no exact equivalent because they were designed for different scenarios. In 1966 an Iraqi MiG 21 F 13 defected to Israel and very soon afterwards a leading US Aviation Magazine carried a very detailed examination of the aircraft. Much of the focus was on the poor fit and finish of the aircraft and the mushroom head rivets ( discoloured) used in the rear fuselage. The three shock two position translating cone intake ( the mighty EE Lightning had a fixed cone and encountered intake buzz problems during development) and the semi encapsulated SK ejection seat ( surely the best for high altitude supersonic ejection) must have been covered but the overriding impression one carried away was of gaps and discoloured rivets on the aeronautical equivalent of a combine harvester. Generally the MiG 21 s lack of F104 and F4 Phantoms level of avionics and long range missiles were disparaged.Unfortunately the Viertnam War started in earnest soon after and it was the Americans who had to go back to school- the excellent Red Flag ,the F 15 and F 16 being a typical energetic US effort to correct things.

The point of citing the above is to accept that assessing a rival’s warplane is difficult not only because of the lack of information but also because of the “schooling” one has gone through. I sometimes envy the Chinese in that they generally know less English and being “unschooled” look at things in their own pragmatic Chinese way.

With that as both a caution and as disclaiming any infallibility the following is a very personal assessment of the Sino /Pak JF 17.

Enter the (JF 17) Dragon

Wikepedia carries a review of the JF 17Xiaolong ( Fierce Dragon) with several pages of references. The figures cited below are drawn from this review and I will presume that the reader has access to the Net to avoid total repetition. I am therefore confining myself to a commentary. Because both aircraft originated as MiG 21 replacements comparison with the LCA is inevitable.

The Chinese have made so many MiG 21 based derivatives that one can be forgiven for initially thinking it was yet another derivative with a nose job like the Qiang JiJi 5 ,surely one of the ugliest jet as I ever wish to see. This impression is quickly corrected by looking at the Table.

The JF 17 is no MiG 21 clone. It is altogether a more potent aircraft, reminiscent of the Northrop F 20 Tigershark. Though Yang Wei, the Chief Designer, did not have access to the F 20 he may have had opportunity to examine ex Vietnam Air Force F 5A aircraft or airframes and why not-only an arrogant fool will not “flatter” a good piece of engineering by imitating? Mitchell of Spitfire fame was “inspired” by the Heinkel He 70 Blitz’s graceful lines and Yang Wei may have been similarly “inspired” by Welko Gasich/Lee Begin’s work on the F5/F20 series. Northrop of course threw the game away by adding 80% more power and 20% more weight without changing the wing which remained the same as the F5 series. The figures of the wing loading speak for themselves. Digressing for a moment one sees the same reluctance in BAe to design a proper light strike aircraft using perhaps the Hawk systems in a Gnat derived airframe ( see Vayu III/2016- Going against the Wind) instead of trying to fob off native Air Forces with an inappropriate airframe too big for the job.
It would seem that the JF 17’s able Chief Designer Yang Wei carefully studied the F 20 concepts and made very well thought out “nips and tucks” type bespoke tailoring of the F20 design so that the JF 17 did not carry an extra ounce of fat or skin. Comparing the lengths the JF 17 is 0.53 mts longer but that is largely the difference between the F 404 and the RD 33 engine lengths. The empty weight of the JF 17 is 622 kgs. heavier but again if you factor in the weight differences of the two engine types and the additional 5.8 sq.mts of wing area that the Sino/Pak fighter carries the weight is commendable. The weights indicate that either the weight control supervision on the JF 17 was up to US/International design standards or Shri Wang Wei had enough domain expertise to tell the powerful PLAFAF faction where they got off regarding equipment fit standards of the JF 17! One can recount that when the US Navy wanted any additional equipment on the little A4, Douglas’s Ed Heinmann would reputedly take off fuel of weight equal to the additional equipment requested. Of such stories is aviation is made. One final point on weights that should make us think: The JF 17 is a larger aeroplane with a heavier engine and with an all metal structure and yet it is “as near as dammit” the same weight as the largely composite and smaller LCA Mk 1. That is an indication of how much we have erred and how much we can correct.

Having accomplished his weight control Wang Wei pulled off the first of his twocoups de main in that the generally conservative approach to the Northrop- like design was modified to a mid wing layout of increased wing area. Despite the weight penalty of longer u/c struts and ring frames to carry through the wing bending loads- an additional 42 kilos somehow comes to mind for the frames-it cured several big problems. The F 20 suffered in that though thewarload was increased by twenty percent the low wing meant that fitting the store and the Ground clearance certifications must have been nail biting. The mid wing of the JF 17 avoided this easily and the larger wing area meant that the high induced drag of the F 20’ in high “g” turn and the increased CDo caused by the higher AoA, was lowered and dog fighting and general handling improved significantly. The F 20 gave the later F 16s a hard time during fly off competition and the JF 17 should be very much better. One will also note that sweet handling aircraft e.g. Hunter, MiG 21 and the Lightning were mid wing layouts which reduces or eliminates roll coupling and the JF 17 is a beneficiary. The second of his “coups de Main” was the introduction of the DSI after seven years of parallel preliminary work. DSI reduced weight and drag.Summing up: a very competent airframe has been designed on the lines of the Northrop F 20 but as with the F22/F31 resemblance the Chinese design somehow manages to look more elegant and dainty! There has been some gloating references on the Indian Net circles to the fact that Yang Wei has been recently severely criticized for the shortcomings of the J 20 ( AMCA team beware!).The Gloaters have missed the significant point. Weapons development Programmes are of National Importance and there is no room for fellowship if things are not delivered. “You fail; you go” is the grim rule for running successful programmes-outside of India.

Programme Management: Hare and Tortoise

The Diagram 1 shows the difference between the timelines of the JF 17 and the LCA. The Sino/Pak team started eight years after us and reached where we are today i.e. a handling flight of three aircraft ten years ago (nota bene!). To rub the salt in properly they did it at one third to one fifththe cost calculated at Present Day Value PDV. Below is my conjecture as to how they did it:

i) They chose an utterly conventional layout. That way they could “decouple” any delay of FBW development.

ii) They chose no “glamorous” technology and were almost sanction proof from the word go. Being all metal the prototypes could be built faster- the shop floor people were dealing with a material they knew from infancy- and also airframes could be modified faster if things did not work out as predicted. Remembering Boeing’s problems with production of the 787’s composites it is clear that the Chinese by choosing all metal could focus entirely on the airframe development without being harassed by how to do it. As they say in the backwoods “if you are up to your *censored* in alligators it is difficult to remember that what you had actually set out to do is to drain the swamp!”

iii) The Chinese chose a pitch only FBW. This is less “advanced” than a four channel all axis FBW system.There is a size limit below which FBW becomes “doubtful”. To illustrate: would you fit FBW onto a Cessna 172 club trainer? Theoretically yes but in actuality the FBW weight and complexity would kill the bird. In my view an aircraft like the LCA is just teetering on the brink of this size limit. The “pitch only” FBW. This is a very good example of “engineering” approach. If you think about it, pitch control benefits maximum from FBW in reducing trim drag; roll and yaw have less scope for “improvements” in “performance”. The Chinese solution is not “brochure glamourous” or exciting but as the inventors of the Panhard-Levassor gearbox said so long ago “C’est brutal mais ce Marche!” – It is rough but it works! As if to add insult to our Injury the Chinese the FBW software was written in C++ and not the more elegant ADA language. The Chinese have reached a stage where they are very respectfully examining what is going on and then instead of being overawed they are doing there own thing. It is this arrogant (and I use it as a compliment!) self confidence that must be noted carefully in assessing any Chinese defence technology product.

The emphasis in flying the thing!

The Chinese flew the first prototype on 25 August 2003 i.e. within four years of funds being sanctioned. They had little faith in that if you calculated enough you would get the thing right first time! Once the third prototype (9/04/2004) was flying they built another three introducing a modified LERX (which needed enlarging) an enlarged Inlet (the RD 33 was smoking like a juvenile delinquent!) and the second significant improvement, a diverter less intake (DSI) with the first modified prototype flying on 28/04/2006. It must be acknowledged, howsoever grudgingly, the Chinese/Pakistani team got their fighter in Squadron service in two iterations, six prototypes and within seven years of funding. The alarm bells are ringing here! We are being out developed and the advantage of a big economy is being neutralized by Pakistan through sheer efficiency and better organization!

The LCA Mk 1 still needs major redesign about 35-40% before it will be fit for service. I guess that the slow production is a cover to buy time to effect the changes.Those readers who have seen the dramatic cover of Vayu I/2017 with the LCA will have noticed and disapproved of the deep boundary layer diverter plates and the bleed off channels (which would have reduced the local lift fields). The Chinese were working on the DSI since 1997 and introduced it in 2004 claiming reduction in weight, cost and drag. Seventeen years after the first flight the LCA fore fuselage and the merging of the intake bulges with the centre fuselage still requires considerable refining. It is bemusing to compare with the undershot of the JF 17 (Vayu III/2016 p 94). Similarly if one compares the front views of the two aircraft the LCA’s excess of reentrant corners and deep channels indicate excess wetted areas and drags. Out of curiosity I estimated the distance from the rear pressure bulkhead and the tip of the radome for the two aircraft and the JF 17’s figures are 5382 mm compared to the LCA’s 4661 mm. If correct it indicates the effort and care taken ab initio in getting the forebody drag right. Visually the cross sections of the LCA’s forebody have a squarer section compared to the JF 17s and this increased cross section will tell on the transonic drag. Incidentally the JF 17’s radome works out to 690mm compared to 648mm of the LCA, both in the plane of the antennae but the longer nose length compensates.

The Avionics

Reading so far one would think it was the Chinese who had done everything but that would be injustice to Pakistan’s contribution. Though clearly the Chinese were in the driver’s seat w.r.t. the airframe, Pakistan played a very competent and independent role in the development of the JF 17 particularly in customizing the aircraft for PAF use. Using it’s better networking and contacts with the West, Pakistan took what amounted to an independent charge of the avionics development for its aircraft, the Chinese going in for their own aggregates which were always on offer to Pakistan. It is noteworthy for example that Pakistan chose a Martin Baker PK 16LE seat over the Chinese model. Though the Chinese had launched the JF 17 project in 1991 Pakistan came on board in 1995 and the funding for the actual aircraft development was signed as a contract in 1999. Hit by sanctions- as with us-the Chinese/Pakistan- decided to decouple the avionics development in 1999 and it speaks well of the level of teamwork and the “can do” spirit that both sides were willing to re-engineer the design as and when needed. It will again be noted that choosing an all metal structure for prototypes must have been a great help Today ,with its West Asian connections Pakistan or perhaps the PAF is an “owner “ of the Project and bids fair to do a good job of Marketing. They did what we should have done with the PAKFA. Given our experience with the DARIN mods, clearly the expertise and ability were not lacking; aims and organization were.

The JF 17s Blocks 1&2 equipment fit is more than adequate for the job- HOTAS, MFD/EFIS, Holographic HUD, HUMS, VHF,UHF, ATE. The leading edge and trailing edge flaps are computer controlled to ensure controllability at high AoA. The FBW of production machines has quadruplex FBW in pitch and duplex in roll and yaw. The defensive aids include RWR, MAWS with 3600 scan, chaff flare dispenser and there is a provision for a jammer. Block 3 design was finalized in September 2016. The only sardonic cheer for us is having got a decent fit the PAF is now trying to load it with “goodies” such as IR targeting systems etc. God speed is my wish!


Soviet origin engines were always derided in the West. One remembers that when HAL was trying to see if the HF 24 could be fitted with the Tyumanskii RD 9F the story (probably untrue) went around that the engine was so surge prone that it would flame out on the test bench if someone so much as coughed at the other end of the Bangalore factory. The actual reason was that the Compressor stress limit was Mach 1.4 and the Soviets point blank (naturally!) refused to redesign it for Mach 2 which was our “must have” specifications at that point of time! Shows how fashions dictate “sacred” specifications and opportunities are lost. I mention the RD 9F because when the Chinese laid their hands on the RD 9F they re-engineered the first stage of the compressor, put in a variable angle inlet stator, completely redesigned the hot section and put in a new afterburner stabilizer of reduced losses. It is possible that the variable inlet stator details were inspired by the close examination of the wrecked J 79s available to the Chinese during the Vietnam era. The fact is that the Chinese Wopen 6 of the F6 fighters did not give the PAF any more than the usual problems in service. This tradition of sensible engineering toimprove a base product means that the Taihang WS 13 based on the RD 93 will probably emerge an acceptable engine though it may not have the 4000 hr service life demanded of Western engines. Such design targets are dishonest for countries like us. It is much better to design for quick engine change.

The cost and the prices

Cost consciousness is important because if there is a significant lowering in the cost of projects as has happened with the JF 17 , it means that there is more money to go around for other projects- bullet proof jackets or Infantry assist vehicles for example. Unchecked spending without results can cause a ‘drought” which will wither other possible and vital projects. The current asking price for the JF 17 is roughly $25 M which works out to $3800/kg compared to the $17,000-$21,000 per kg for current Western aircraft. The usual explanation is that these prices are “political/friendship” prices. This is wrong. One’s own considerable experience in the Industry confirms the following:

a) The only cost really known for certain is the RM (raw materials) and the BOC (bought out complete) costs.

b) When it comes to the labour costs escalation starts from the shop floor supervisor and goes right up the chain, thougheveryone concerned will scream blue murder and horror at the merest suggestion of downwards revisions.

c) When it comes to overheads it runs riot and again figures are padded up just to be safe. For PSU’s this practice is safe but drives up project costs which finally affect local development.

d) In technology transfer a five- fold reduction in costs is usual.

This is not the entire picture. Thanks to our colonial past there were rules that were actually designed so that India would NOT develop a local aeronautical capability. Some of these were:

i) An import duty structure that allowed complete aircraft to be duty free, accessories had a substantial duty and raw materials were prohibitively taxed.

ii) A system of “aircraft quality materials” (AQM) was the norm where the sources of this AQM was invariably from the Home Country.

These laws and there were many may or may not have been repealed but the spirit lives on and the Bureaucracy with nothing to gain and not tamed by the National Leadership, staunchly obstructs any attempt to reform. One will hear many arguments for maintaining status quo but there has been little reasoned debate as was done in China and Russia who do not have this anachronism. Finally with PSU’s operating at a cost plus 15% basis and Western Weapons Suppliers with a stock of horror stories if any initiative inimical to their interests it is we who have been “schooled “ into believing what should be the price of warplanes. The Sino Pak prices are realistic and can be reduced further.

An estimate of performance

Readers are referred to Vayu (I/2015) in which I had said that the LCA Mk1 would not be able to outperform the JF 17 as a fighter. It can be used as a strike aircraft but the outcome of any dogfight would be in favour of the FC17. I have not seen anything in the past two years that need me to make a drastic revision of that view. The only parameter the LCA Mk1potentially is superior to the JF 17 is in TO performance The JF 17 will need a 25% longer run but even that difference will be reduced as this is not corrected for the CD0 and the reported lower engine installation efficiency for the LCA. Readers may raise the point that an aircraft with a sprightlier take off should perform better but this is not so because at combat speeds the CDo drag of the LCA will be much higher. Incidentally I did compare the TO values for the LCA and the Harrier and assuming equally efficient intake design and CDo s .The LCA should be marginally better/similar to the Harrier in the STO mode. If the Navy’s disappointment is purely technical than the weight and drag problem in the LCA is still significant.

What perhaps HAL should do is to take a deep breath and clean up the entire fore fuselage with particular attention to the blending of the front fuselage with the mid fuselage. The clutter is visible from afar and must be worse in detail! If ADA is ready with the DSI, (only if!) it should be brought forward. They should do it in metal to begin with so as to get the prototype right quickly rather than have a nice sub project of making it in composites! With the clean up and the weight reduced the LCA stands a very good chance but not as things stand at the moment. C’ne marche pas! The LCA is unlikely to be clear for production until 2019-2020-if that!

Like the LCA, the JF 17 was a MiG 21 replacement but it is now something more – nearer to a F 16 supplement at one fifth/one sixth the price and no threats of being sanctioned in which the PAF has much experience!.It has potential to become “fashionable” i.e. over equipped .What the JF 17 lacks it does not need and Pakistan should leave the aircraft well enough alone. Summing of this section:

i) The LCA has the potential to have significantly better field performance even at the current empty weight of 6650kg.

ii) In low level OAS the small size and the 5% better fuel fraction (internal fuel/ installed cold thrust) the LCA may be a better choice.

iii) In any close combat as of the present the LCA is inferior. ( See Vayu I/2015)

iv) Thanks to more power and a bigger ( by about 52 mm ) antennae the JF 17 is the better BVR platform but I think it is stupid to fit BVRs simply and just because they can be fitted on an aircraft of this size. BVR capability is a specialized capability which ruins general capabilities to install.

v) The current availability (raw figure) of the JF17 is 113hrs/aircraft/year as of 2016. There has been two accidents in 19,000 hrs which is close to the 1 per 10,000 hrs for “bedded down” equipment and indicates reliability,

vi) Production has now moved to Block 2 and about 90 airframes are delivered or on the slipway.

At this point of time the JF 17 is the better aeroplane and the LCA is not even achieving its potential in the areas where it has the potential to be better! Sadly the comparisons are academic. At this point the PAF can fly 200-250 OAS sorties per day on the JF 17. The LCA?


Any Asian product is bad mouthed. The twelve Hindustan HT2s supplied to Ghanawere routinely disparaged by the foreign instructors seconded to the NAF. The sturdiness, low prices and the fact that they served the IAF for over thirty years “faults and all” was overlooked. The more recent case of the ALH refers. The Chinese are in a better position. Over the years they have exported fair numbers to European, African and Asian Customers and have acquired useful skills in marketing, selling andsustaining a product on the field. The FC17 has attracted the attention of about 21 customers with Myanmar, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia as confirmed customers. The weak link was the RD33/93 engine of Russian origin but if the Russians refuse the engine because of fears of the JF 17 cannibalizing MiG 29 sales they have little choice because the Chinese will develop the WS13 Taihang. Even if the TBOs are not quite upto the ‘international standards” their prices will be extremely attractive and ‘international standards” are not an operational necessity. I would not have minded buying the JF 17 myself. The Chinese have exported over two thousand aircraft and the FC17 bids fair to add to those numbers and customers list.

The reason why

The JF 17 is either an unremarkable warplane or a coolly brilliant piece of engineering improvisation superbly managed. The judgment will depend on one’s “schooling” but what cannot be denied is that the Sino Pak team has raised five squadrons on the type. There is an old adge “ An engineer is a person who can do for sixpence which any fool can do for six shillings”. The JF 17 demonstrates that. The LCA’s so called “technical superiority” has been its undoing and If we confine ourselves up to correct the technical shortcomings of the LCA Mk1 then we shall be setting ourselves up to fail in the AMCA. The present situation is bleak and near collapse. I do not see any evidence of the energy and the interested management that is the need of the hour.

The organization for effective development is not the present topic but that is the crux.What the Sino /Pak team achieved with the JF 17 they can do in AFVs and submarines and rifles and every item required in warfare. We shall be out resourced and out timed- and out gunned! India’s weapons development programmes are in the “fire and forget “mode which will not work in a hundred years. By preoccupation with other “priorities” The Politician, the Bureaucracy and the Armed Forces have abdicated their role of leadership in weapons development to the technocrats.. None of the above, singly, can manage a Weapons anymore than the blind men could “see” the elephant. Yet the solution lies in them working as a team with respect for the undoubted competence there is in each organization. Unthinkable in our bureaucracy dominated committees, Pakistan had serving Air Marshalls in charge of the project who reported directly to the Air Chief whereas we had the IAF actually ‘shorted out” so that the LCA project could be “Fast tracked”! The Cheek of it! Left to themselves the Technical people went on a Technical Picnic!

The Armed Forces whose responses have been clumsy and indignant rather thanstudied and moral (why did it accept pressure when things were obviously out of control and so much is at stake? Recall Air Marshall Dowding’s stand just before the Battle of Britain: He stood up to that old steamroller Churchill. Of course he paid the price but he saved Fighter Command for the Battle. The Bureaucracy’s sniping of the Military- I think the business about Batmen being one of the latest must stop or be regulated. If the Batman must go so should the Chuprassi!. This tribal warfare between the Bureaucracy and the Forces has to be tamed and yoked by the Political Leadership. The country must form a WEDOG (weapons development Group) so that realistic threat scenarios are generated for the next say ten years that we need to become sanctions independent. China used its large Armed Forces and its nuclear deterrent to buy the ten years it needed. Given our large armed forces and our nuclear capability we have those ten years. We have the expertise to do so-if we work in a team. Realistic threat identification will lead to realistic specifications. Realistic specifications will reduce technical challenges and prioritize weapons programmes. Close monitoring will stop shocking wastage and ensure timeliness. We may yet surprise the World.

Table 1.

JF 17
F 16
Target Volume
Wing Area
Empty Weight
Internal Fuel ( KG)
Disposable Load
Wing Loading Clean/MTO
312/ 512
485/ 670
256/ 356
372/ 576
Fuel Fraction
Dish Dia.
( estimate
Nose Tip to rear pressure bulkhead

TO Run

1. Pakistan has an excellent replacement for the F7

2. The LCA’s 10% higher disposable load should be noticed. With drag reduction and weight improvement it should be quite respectable but there is no evidence of any timely addressing of these long pending tasks.

Table 2: Costs sanctioned ( Rs. Crores unless otherwise stated) and PDV( present day value)

JF 17 project
$ 500M=2250 Crores INR
Rs. 13,065
Equally shared by Pakistan and China

Note: The above does not include Rs 1729 sanctioned by the Navy ( 2003) for the NLCA PDV ( Rs. 6512 crores)

This excludes Rs. 4353 (2432+1921) PDV Rs. 9331 crores sanctioned for LCA MK2.

If we further ignore the Rs 560 crores sanctioned in 1983 the comparison of costs on the common base of PDV is:

LCA ( 16512+15172+5305)= 36,989

JF 17 ( 13,065)= 13065

Financially we are being ‘ resourced” by at a rate of 2.83 :1 at least.

Readers will be interested to compare that the entire XST/F 117 stealth development programme was funded in 1973-1978 to the tune of 4997 crores PDV in small stages to produce the required cutting edge technology aircraft. Unless financial management is tightened we will not have the funds for local development.

Prof.Prodyut Das

Prof. Prodyut Das: Ugly Duckling, Swan or a hunt bird in hand? The JF 17- an open source assessment.
How Tejas MK1A and JF-17 Block III fare against each other!

Published April 15, 2018 | By admin


Arch Rivals, India and Pakistan have started working on a new and improved version of their low-end fighter variant yet again, India has plans to develop an upgraded Tejas MK1A with a host of new features and capabilities over the previous version, Pakistan to has initiated development of Block III configuration with its technological partner China to keep JF-17 relevant in near future .

Both Tejas MK1A and JF-17 Block III are yet to enter production and it likely JF-17 will be first to enter production in 2020 followed by MK1A in the 2021-22 period. For Pakistani Air Force Block III configuration will be first major upgrade JF-17 will receive after Block II Configuration since severally diluted Block I was rushed into production without achieving major capability milestone.

PAF till 2017 has received 100 Block I and Block II JF-17 Configuration in its fleet, which averages out to 13 aircraft per annum, since the formation of its first Squadron way back in 2010, while deliveries had commenced way back in 2008. Pakistan achieved 20 units production rate of JF-17 only in 2017.
JF-17 Block III Features
  • KLJ-7A AESA Radar
  • Larger Nose Cone
  • Larger Tail
  • Marginal Increase in Internal Fuel Capacity
  • A helmet-mounted display (HMD)
  • New three-axis fly-by-wire system
  • New Russian RD-93MA or Chinese WS-13 Engine (Yet to be Confirmed)
    Greater use of composite materials
PAF plans to procure 50 JF-17 Block III, in the meantime already has placed orders for 14 additional Block II.
IAF on other hand has placed orders for 40 Tejas MK1 and 83 Tejas MK1A largely to replace its aging fleet of Mig-21 squadrons, HAL plans to achieve a production rate of 18 aircraft per annum in next 3 years which will considerably improve previous slow pace of deliveries of the aircraft.
Tejas MK1A Features
  • ELTA’s 2052 or Thales AESA Radar
  • Upgraded Modern Avionics
  • In-flight refueling capability
  • External EW System
  • More Maintenance friendly
On Paper Both Tejas MK1A and JF-17 Block III are on par in terms of capabilities and features they will get in their new variants, but JF-17 Block III which will feature largely Chinese supplied components and subsystem and will manage to keep the price tag at around $ 38-40 million per unit (approx) when compared to Tejas MK1A which reportedly will cost around $50 million per unit .

Yet Tejas MK1A will be dubbed as a superior aircraft due to the integration of superior western Avionics, weapons, and subsystems which comes with much more reliable Chinese supplied Avionics and subsystem in the direct performance comparison.

PAF is yet to confirm the development of JF-17 Block IV variant which is assumed will feature even more advance avionics and weaponry and India on other hands will start development of Tejas MK2 which will see even larger production run and increased capabilities and operational performance.
PAF is yet to confirm the development of JF-17 Block IV variant which is assumed will feature even more advance avionics and weaponry

Meanwhile there is news coming out on the JF-17 on the super secret Block X version. The evolutionary feature of this aircraft is that it will be Invisible even when it is parked in the hangars. Pakistani Pilots will have to wear special see-through glasses to spot the canopy while climbing the stairs to the cockpit, else they may fall into some unknown pit. RAW has already managed to lay its hand on these special wearable which they plan to mount on Astra BVR so it can bring down the Invisible X-rated JF-17. The race is on.
Meanwhile there is news coming out on the JF-17 on the super secret Block X version. The evolutionary feature of this aircraft is that it will be Invisible even when it is parked in the hangars. Pakistani Pilots will have to wear special see-through glasses to spot the canopy while climbing the stairs to the cockpit, else they may fall into some unknown pit. RAW has already managed to lay its hand on these special wearable which they plan to mount on Astra BVR so it can bring down the Invisible X-rated JF-17. The race is on.

JF 17 Latest Version will ALSO dance on Bollywood Songs :ROFLMAO:
like the Pak.i Generals do