AESA Equipped Pakistani JF-17 Fighters Coming to Israel’s Border? Egyptian Air Force Shows Interest in Large Purchase
The Egyptian Air Force has reportedly shown considerable interest in acquiring an advanced variant of the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder single engine light fighter to replace its large fleet of ageing second generation fighters. Egypt’s Air Force is currently among the largest in the world, but the country relies heavily on ageing variants of the Soviet MiG-21 and French Mirage 2000 - of which several hundred are currently in service. The country also fields a single squadron of Chinese J-7 fighters, acquired in the 1970s, and Vietnam War era U.S. manufactured F-4 Phantoms. These aircraft are all prized for their reliability and low operational costs, and give the Egyptian fleet a considerable numeric advantage over all potential adversaries, but have not been adequately modernised with up to date sensors, avionics or electronic warfare systems. These legacy aircraft also lack the ability to operate modern munitions - and in air to air combat are restricted to shore range engagements.
The JF-17 was designed to provide third world defence clients with a highly cost effective and low maintenance fighter capable of deploying advanced modern munitions, and represents a considerable upgrade two generations ahead of Egyptian legacy fighters. The JF-17 Block 3 in which Egypt has show particularly strong interest makes use of confirm fuel tanks, state of the art electronic warfare systems and an active electronically scanned array radar - with its advanced capabilities making it a ‘4+ generation’ combat jet. The fighter’s low operational costs and maintenance needs means that replacing older jets with the JF-17 will not significantly increase the overall operational costs of the Egyptian fighter fleet - the same which cannot be said for other fourth or ‘4+ generation’ systems such as the Russian MiG-29M or U.S. F-18 Hornet.
The JF-17 will not only represent an upgrade over Egypt’s legacy fleet, but the Block 3 variant will also be considerably more capable than the F-16 Fighting Falcons which currently comprise the mainstay of the country’s fighter fleet. While Egypt fields over 200 F-16s forming nine squadrons, these are primarily older variants of the Fighting Falcon which lack the advanced electronic warfare systems and sensors of their Sino-Pakistani counterparts. The key advantage the JF-17 provides Egypt relative to the F-16 however is its ability to deploy modern air to air munitions - as Egypt has for decades been prohibited from acquiring U.S. AIM-120B air to air missiles - much less the more modern AIM-120C currently deployed by neighbouring Israel. The lack of the American AIM-120 has left Egypt’s Fighting Falcons reliant on decades old AIM-7 sparrow missiles for medium and long range air to air missions, and these platforms are both restricted in range and extremely easy to evade using modern electronic countermeasures such as those deployed by Israeli fighters.
Pakistan and China, by contrast to the United States, will place no similar restrictions on the sale of high end air to air munitions for their fighters - meaning that the JF-17 fighters will be able to deploy PL-12 air to air missiles. These advanced platforms, with a 100km engagement range, retain capabilities analogous to the American AIM-120C and are a considerable upgrade for Egypt’s beyond visual range air to air capabilities. While Israeli F-16s currently enjoy a considerable advantage over their Egyptian counterparts, the JF-17 will be far more capable of engaging on equal terms - while variants equipped with AESA radars which the Fighting Falcons lack will have a far smaller radar signature and longer detection range than the Israeli jets. The JF-17 is also capable of deploying advanced standoff munitions for anti shipping and air to ground roles, which Egypt has been unable to acquire for its Western fighters due to export restrictions and Israeli pressure. The Chinese CM-400AKG anti ship missile - an air launched variant of the YJ-12 capable of engaging at speeds of up to Mach 4 and ranges up to 400km, is but one example which will provide capabilities far surpassing anything in service in Egypt or any of its neighbours.
While the JF-17 Block 3 has yet to enter mass production, it has been speculated that the fighters could also be configured to deploy yet more advanced air to air missiles such as the PL-12D or PL-15 - designed to outfit China’s ‘4++’ and fifth generation fighters such as the J-10C and J-20. Israel for its part currently lacks an analogue to these missiles, and their deployment on large numbers of JF-17 fighters would represent a cost effective means of dramatically shifting the balance of power in Egypt’s favour - with U.S. arms restriction having for decades prior ensured a considerable Israeli advantage. Egypt currently deploys at least eight frontline squadrons of pre Vietnam War era fighters, and should even half of these be replaced by the JF-17 in the near future it would represent a considerable purchase - making the Egyptian Air Force the largest operator of the fighter class other than Pakistan. With China and Pakistan taking measures to expand production of the JF-17 considerably, it is highly possible that a large order for the advanced single engine fighters is currently being anticipated.