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Could Italy’s Selex ES Equip the JF-17 Block-III?

The SC

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An overview and analysis of various Selex ES electronics that might be of use for JF-17

08 February 2016

By Bilal Khan

The following is a look at a possibility more so than actual news. That said, there is some basis to this idea, and that is from a statement made by Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Arshad Malik, the Chief Project Director of the JF-17 program, on an article released during the 2015 Paris Airshow. In that article, AVM Malik stated that Selex ES (owned by the Italian defence giant Finmeccanica) was one of the competitors for the JF-17 Block-III’s active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar requirement (see “JF-17 Thunder: Pakistan’s Multi-Role Fighter” written by Alan Warnes).

The fact that Selex ES is (or at least was) a contender for providing the AESA radar solution for the JF-17 raises several interesting questions. First, could the radar also include a complete avionics suite? Second, would the PAF simply be looking at an existing off-the-shelf solution, such as the Vixen 1000E, or could it also be inquiring about a tailor-made solution?

The reason why the case for a ‘complete and tailor-made solution’ could be made is because Selex ES has the capacity to develop and offer a complete end-to-end suite. Take for example the Gripen-E/F (also known as the Gripen Next Generation or NG for short). Finmeccanica developed the Raven ES-05 AESA radar, Skyward-G infrared search and track (IRST), and BriteCloud digital radio frequency memory (DRFM)-based ECM system (for active radar-homing threats) for that fighter.

Selex ES markets the Raven ES-05 as being “designed from the outset to meet worldwide fire control radar detection and target tracking needs combined into one efficient modular system.” One interesting thing about this radar is that it is a swashplate solution, which enables the system to boast very good ‘wide field of regard’ (WFoR) angles. In other words, compared to a fixed-plate AESA, the moving-plate Raven is capable of wider tracking angles, ±100º WFoR to be specific. Besides that, the Raven ES-05 is a good standard-fare AESA system, i.e. it includes the air-to-air, air-to-ground, and air-to-sea engagement modes one would expect from a modern-day fighter radar.

The Skyward-G is Selex ES’ latest in IRST technology. It is marketed as a lightweight system (<55 kg) capable of air-to-air, air-to-surface, and air-to-sea tracking of up to 200 targets. Selex ES states that the Skyward’s feed can also be pushed to the pilot’s helmet-mounted display and sight (HMD/S) system. An earlier article discussed the virtues of IRST. Generally speaking, a passive sensor would enable the JF-17 to engage (especially in close-quarters) without necessarily having to depend on its radar. Radar-silence would enable the Thunder to cut its electronic noise as well as better protect it against enemy EW and ECM techniques.

The BriteCloud is a DRFM-based expendable decoy designed to be deployed from a fighter’s flare and chaff dispensers. The BriteCloud was designed to thwart active radar-guided missiles (i.e. beyond-visual range air-to-air missiles or BVRAAM for short) by using DRFM-based jamming techniques. Besides being a self-contained expendable system, Selex ES markets the BriteCloud as a solution with “zero-integration costs”, which is possible because the decoy would use the fighter’s existing dispenser system. Of all the Selex ES systems potentially available to the JF-17, this would be the most affordable and feasible to integrate, even onto existing Block-I and Block-II fighters.

This is not to suggest that Selex ES would be asked to develop an exact identical solution for the JF-17 Block-III (especially in terms of the Raven), but the company evidently has the competency to develop a tailor-made suite for the PAF if the PAF requests (and pays) for it. Embracing Selex ES’ competency and experience in this area could be of considerable benefit, at least from a basic technical standpoint. The fact that these systems have been embraced by Saab for use on the Gripen NG is indicative of their performance and quality (in terms of long-term maintenance).

The inclusion of the aforementioned systems could position the JF-17 Block-III as a very effective platform, (especially if one looks at it from the perspective of the Thunder using subsystems that are similar to those used on the latest Gripen variants). While cost is a serious issue, the PAF has earned itself considerable space in that regard by driving a significant proportion of the production and assembly of the JF-17’s airframe domestically. Compared to an off-the-shelf purchase of the Gripen-E/F, the JF-17 (even with similar subsystems) would still be much more affordable, though it would be pricier in absolute terms compared to the Block-III equipped with Chinese subsystems.

There are major caveats. Given Pakistan’s structural economic limitations and uncertainties, going the Selex ES x route could simply be too cost-prohibitive. It is unclear to what extent the Italian firm could connect the PAF to a workable payment plan. That said, the gradual nature of the JF-17 induction process could allow for incremental acquisitions, which could be feasible if contained to the core suite of on-board electronics. Moreover, the use of this variant in the PAF could also spur export orders of the Block-III, which in turn would mean more business for Finmeccanica. In a sense, there is overlapping incentive and interest to see such a sale (between Finmeccanica and PAF) come to fruition.

One might also raise the issue of potential leaks from Pakistan to China, particularly in terms of intellectual property and sensitive technology. To be fair, such an issue can be alleviated through engagement. In other words, close cooperation and tight consultation between Finmeccanica, Selex ES and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) will alleviate such risks. The evidence for this is the fact that numerous Western firms already have strong technical ties with their Chinese counterparts, the joint Airbus-Harbin EC-175 helicopter is a good example.

The JF-17 Block-III seems to have more riding on it than being just an extension of the Block-II (which was a continuation of the Block-I). A cursory glance of some of the subsystems planned for this variant, such as AESA radar, suggest that it is a major update of the platform. According to Pakistani officials, the JF-17 Block-III will be “game changer”, which lends a meaningful sense of hope that perhaps the best available subsystems are under consideration. For that reason, we may very well see Finmeccanica return to the PAF’s orbit in the coming years.

http://quwa.org/2016/02/08/could-italys-selex-es-equip-the-jf-17-block-iii/
 

shah1398

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One might also raise the issue of potential leaks from Pakistan to China, particularly in terms of intellectual property and sensitive technology. To be fair, such an issue can be alleviated through engagement. In other words, close cooperation and tight consultation between Finmeccanica, Selex ES and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) will alleviate such risks.
If the issue was handled with regards to SPADA, Griffo and Falco then surely it can be handled well here too. But yeah in regards to all 3 mentioned above, China wasnt a party to any in any regards.
 

UKBengali

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Why not a Chinese AESA radar?

I would guess that Chinese radar technology is better than Italian at this moment in time and the gap will only
get wider into the future.
 

The SC

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I've posted the article mainly to show what tech or equivalent can be added to the JF-17
 

war&peace

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I think the question you be asking is if it is a better solution. And for that you have to compare all the available options spec wise and also price wise then you will be able to decide if it is better or not.
 

princefaisal

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Best strategy is to get both options Chinese (for export purposes) and Italian (self). Italian AESA with swashplate solution will also bring Skyward-G infrared search and track (IRST), and BriteCloud digital radio frequency memory (DRFM)-based ECM system.
 

AZADPAKISTAN2009

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Well Block 3 is a bit far away , so we have chance to evaluate an ideal match.
Ideally having options for both is a great feature

We still have not even inducted 50 Block 2 planes so talking about Block 3 is far away
 

Blue Marlin

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i thought the vixen 1000e is being looked at with a possible skyward irst for missiles that have an infrared seeker such as the pl-10 or a darter. but i see a problem here its small but significant if they choose to go for italian kit exports for the jf-17 may be hampered as italy may refuse to sell their equipment to third world countries. but they can go for chinese alternatives
 

MastanKhan

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Hi,

Many a posters are spending too much time about the JF17 and its cost effectiveness.

They suddenly go blind to the fact that the JF17 was designed keeping in mind the French EW package and French missiles----which incidently are not cheap.

So---I do not understand why do the posters bring it up---to make something out of nothing---or lack of information.

The JF 17 is inexpensive because the pakistani / chinese labor cost is less---the russian engine is less expensive---the development was not profit related to start with and there were no bigwigs drawing multi million dollars salaries in the corporation.

A 270 deg visibility aesa was on the table for the JF17 by the Italians---. I think that the italians might win this deal.

The reader should keep one thing in mind---paf can literally spend the same amount on EW package etc as is the cost to produce this aircraft----.

A 10---15 million spent per aircraft would bring it into the same league as the Gripen NG---which will create a heart attack at many a places---and the paf will be still way ahead of the Q ball.

A 40 - 45 million dollar JF17 would be out of the ordinary aircraft beating the F16 BLK 52.
 

Quwa

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Hi,

Many a posters are spending too much time about the JF17 and its cost effectiveness.

They suddenly go blind to the fact that the JF17 was designed keeping in mind the French EW package and French missiles----which incidently are not cheap.

So---I do not understand why do the posters bring it up---to make something out of nothing---or lack of information.

The JF 17 is inexpensive because the pakistani / chinese labor cost is less---the russian engine is less expensive---the development was not profit related to start with and there were no bigwigs drawing multi million dollars salaries in the corporation.

A 270 deg visibility aesa was on the table for the JF17 by the Italians---. I think that the italians might win this deal.

The reader should keep one thing in mind---paf can literally spend the same amount on EW package etc as is the cost to produce this aircraft----.

A 10---15 million spent per aircraft would bring it into the same league as the Gripen NG---which will create a heart attack at many a places---and the paf will be still way ahead of the Q ball.

A 40 - 45 million dollar JF17 would be out of the ordinary aircraft beating the F16 BLK 52.
I agree - one of the core benefits of the JF-17 is that it is relatively affordable, not necessarily "cheap." Yes, it can be 'cheap' if one needs a functional platform with baseline air-to-air and air-to-surface capabilities, but as mentioned by you numerous times, the savings we accrue in the airframe and engine gives up decent vertical room for avionics.

That said, I am not so sure Leonardo-Finmeccanica will win. As noted by @Bilal Khan 777, while the company has sensor solutions (e.g. AESA and IRST), they don't have a EW/ECM product. They can develop one, but the PAF would have to foot for the development, and it is likely that Leonardo will try to play margins on us. Of course, their ban in India and uncertainty in the U.K - i.e. the home of their Selex labs - might give additional room to negotiate, but the fact of not having a EW/ECM solution on the shelf is a shot against them.

It would be ideal if we could bind the sensor kit (AESA & IRST) and ECM/EW from two different sources, but I imagine the easiest way to achieve optimal sensor and electronics fusion is to get both from the same source.

Now if Leonardo suddenly comes out with their own EW/ECM kit - i.e. RWR, MAWS, DRFM based jammer, etc - without pushing the PAF to cough up the development fees, then things might get interesting.
 

Bilal Khan 777

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I agree - one of the core benefits of the JF-17 is that it is relatively affordable, not necessarily "cheap." Yes, it can be 'cheap' if one needs a functional platform with baseline air-to-air and air-to-surface capabilities, but as mentioned by you numerous times, the savings we accrue in the airframe and engine gives up decent vertical room for avionics.

That said, I am not so sure Leonardo-Finmeccanica will win. As noted by @Bilal Khan 777, while the company has sensor solutions (e.g. AESA and IRST), they don't have a EW/ECM product. They can develop one, but the PAF would have to foot for the development, and it is likely that Leonardo will try to play margins on us. Of course, their ban in India and uncertainty in the U.K - i.e. the home of their Selex labs - might give additional room to negotiate, but the fact of not having a EW/ECM solution on the shelf is a shot against them.

It would be ideal if we could bind the sensor kit (AESA & IRST) and ECM/EW from two different sources, but I imagine the easiest way to achieve optimal sensor and electronics fusion is to get both from the same source.

Now if Leonardo suddenly comes out with their own EW/ECM kit - i.e. RWR, MAWS, DRFM based jammer, etc - without pushing the PAF to cough up the development fees, then things might get interesting.
Selex UK has a EW package for CAPTOR for EFT, however, it will not be cleared for export. Anything less is a compromise. It is likely that the AESA/EW package for B3 would not be european, but stranger things have happened.
 

war&peace

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Hi,

Many a posters are spending too much time about the JF17 and its cost effectiveness.

They suddenly go blind to the fact that the JF17 was designed keeping in mind the French EW package and French missiles----which incidently are not cheap.

So---I do not understand why do the posters bring it up---to make something out of nothing---or lack of information.

The JF 17 is inexpensive because the pakistani / chinese labor cost is less---the russian engine is less expensive---the development was not profit related to start with and there were no bigwigs drawing multi million dollars salaries in the corporation.

A 270 deg visibility aesa was on the table for the JF17 by the Italians---. I think that the italians might win this deal.

The reader should keep one thing in mind---paf can literally spend the same amount on EW package etc as is the cost to produce this aircraft----.

A 10---15 million spent per aircraft would bring it into the same league as the Gripen NG---which will create a heart attack at many a places---and the paf will be still way ahead of the Q ball.

A 40 - 45 million dollar JF17 would be out of the ordinary aircraft beating the F16 BLK 52.
I agree with you a more capable JF-17 will not only be more useful for PAF but will increase its export potential many times despite the higher price tag. It will be in different league altogether and would still be a cheaper option.
 

Quwa

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Selex UK has a EW package for CAPTOR for EFT, however, it will not be cleared for export. Anything less is a compromise. It is likely that the AESA/EW package for B3 would not be european, but stranger things have happened.
What I am not understanding here is that if Selex is unable to offer anything like CAPTOR (with its costs and all), then why cannot we agree to a Selex kit in between that and a Chinese kit? Or are the Chinese promising something that is just really high quality (relative to cost)?
 

Bilal Khan 777

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What I am not understanding here is that if Selex is unable to offer anything like CAPTOR (with its costs and all), then why cannot we agree to a Selex kit in between that and a Chinese kit? Or are the Chinese promising something that is just really high quality (relative to cost)?
I think both would be under evaluation, and PAF would use one against the other to get the best deal.
 

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