What's new

Thunderbird! Pakistan’s JF-17, Ten Years On

fatman17

PDF THINK TANK: CONSULTANT
Apr 24, 2007
30,699
85
36,368
Country
Pakistan
Location
Pakistan
Thunderbird! Pakistan’s JF-17, Ten Years On
Indian View.

Shiv AroorJun 14 2017 11 15 am


By Mihir Shah

In early 2007, when the first production JF-17 “Thunder” fighter was unveiled to the Pakistani public, it failed to make much of an impression outside the Indian subcontinent. And for good reason. As a twenty-first century fighter aircraft, it appeared rather unremarkable; pedestrian, almost. It boasted neither the sleek lines of the F-16, nor the raw power of the MiG-29. Its capabilities could best be described as middle-of-the-road.

Ten years on, the aircraft has acquired a history that belies its purported mediocrity. It has performed at air shows in Paris and Dubai; flown ground-attack sorties against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in Operation Rah-e-Nijat; and bid for export contracts to multiple nations, albeit unsuccessfully for the time being.

To the casual observer, these accomplishments might come across as modest. But given the backdrop of the jet’s humble origins and its troubled development, they stand out as anything but.

Imported Thunder

The popular narrative is that the JF-17 is a development of the 1980s-era Super 7 project—a collaborative effort between China’s Chengdu Aircraft Corporation and US-based Grumman Aerospace—aimed at equipping China’s air forces with a low-cost fighter outfitted with American avionics. The Super 7 was based on the J-7, which itself was a Chinese copy of the iconic MiG-21 interceptor. When the United States pulled out of the venture following the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, Chengdu pursued the programme on its own under the “Fighter China” label, swapping out its American components for Chinese and Russian ones.

However, there is also some reason to believe that it descended from a Soviet research initiative that never saw the light of day: the Izdeliye 33. The latter was conceived as an advanced single-engine counterpart to the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and shared a limited degree of commonality with the twin-engine MiG-29. China is said to have purchased the design from Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and incorporated many of its elements into its Fighter China project. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. There is no denying the similarity in appearances between it and the Izdeliye 33. The Super 7 and J-7 lineage, too, is unmistakable.



In the mid-1990s, the design was offered to Pakistan as a “joint project”, although Pakistan’s contribution was limited to funding its development and then manufacturing the final product at a state-owned facility in Kamra. Russia’s Mikoyan Design Bureau was also roped in as a consultant. Designated the FC-1 “Xiaolong” by China and JF-17 “Thunder” by Pakistan, the aircraft was initially intended to be equipped with Western avionics, weapons, and displays. However, efforts to procure these subsystems fell through, and they were replaced with their Chinese counterparts instead. The initial prototype undertook its first flight in May 2003. The first production aircraft arrived in Pakistan in March 2007, and series production commenced in June 2009.

Practical, not Perfect

From a cursory look at its performance specifications, the JF-17 appears to be a mediocre aircraft. It doesn’t fly particularly fast, or exhibit a spectacular turn rate, or possess an outstanding thrust-to-weight ratio. The Russian-made Klimov RD-93 engine that powers it is notorious for its short life and lack of reliability. The avionics package and weapons suite are austere by modern standards. It lacks a fly-by-wire flight control system: a vital piece of technology that is present on practically every modern fighter. So lacklustre is its performance that the country that led its development—China—isn’t inducting a single unit of the type.

And paradoxically, this lack of sophistication is probably what makes the Thunder a useful component of Pakistani air power. It is not a world-beater, but a moderately capable platform that could occupy an important position within a larger warfighting framework. In today’s networked battlefield, a flight of JF-17s—armed with a mix of medium and short range missiles, supported by an airborne early warning and control platform, and protected by land-based air defences—could conceivably hold its own against most offensive sorties launched against Pakistani airspace. In the ground attack role, the aircraft’s ability to drop precision-guided bombs on weakly defended targets could free up Pakistan’s more capable F-16 fleet to tackle more challenging assignments, at the very least.

More importantly, the aircraft’s affordability and relative simplicity allow a cash-strapped Pakistan to procure it in numbers (more than eighty airframes are already in service). While it is a Chinese design, it does give Pakistan some experience in fighter manufacture; and without intellectual property considerations weighing down further development, Pakistani engineers are free to modify and upgrade it in any way they see fit.

Whither Tejas?

The Thunder’s unexceptional design, although more a product of circumstance than careful planning, does offer important lessons for India’s own aerospace development efforts. When its development appeared to be in trouble on account of the failure to procure avionics and weapons from Western suppliers, its managers quickly substituted them with their less-capable Chinese equivalents, even though immediate-term performance suffered. In doing so, they chose to prioritise what was truly important: low cost, reduced development risk, and the ability to quickly shore up numbers.

In contrast, the Indian Air Force (IAF) and scientific establishment took the opposite route with the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme. In chasing capability as an end in itself, they permitted the project scope to expand unchecked, thus transforming what started off as a modest, lightweight, point-defence interceptor into a fourth-generation multirole fighter. The Tejas is undoubtedly more capable than the Thunder, but it is also more complex, and that complexity has always been its Achilles Heel. The time and cost overruns born out of this complexity have brought the project under heavy criticism from government auditors, and inordinately delayed Final Operational Clearance—a crucial milestone that declares an aircraft fully ready for combat.

Thus, while the Tejas is yet to fully equip a single IAF unit, the Thunder has entered frontline service in Pakistan, equipping five operational squadrons. Chinese development agencies are also working on a slew of upgrades to enhance its combat potential. These include an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar to serve as its primary sensor, a helmet mounted sight to cue short-range missiles, and a sea-skimming anti-ship missile intended for use in the maritime strike role.


Line-drawing showing the proposed layout of HF-73, a derivative of the troubled Marut fighter-bomber


A wind tunnel model of another HF-73 proposal. With neither taken forward; the expertise from the Marut programme slowly withered away.

The Thunder’s success offers useful insight into what India’s military and scientific leadership could have achieved had it limited its ambitions with the LCA, or chosen not to short-sightedly terminate the HF-24 Marut programme. No doubt the Marut had its share of issues, but so did its replacement—the Anglo-French Jaguar. Unlike the Marut though, it has, over its long service life, been steadily upgraded in-house by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Its most recent upgrade package, featuring an Israeli AESA radar, makes it a formidable fighter-bomber in its own right. Had the same been done with a Marut derivative, the aircraft could conceivably have formed the backbone of the IAF’s fighter fleet, and conferred it with more capability than the MiG-21 Bison does today. Furthermore, the effort would have dovetailed perfectly with the LCA and AMCA programmes; in the process spawning a knowledge base and industrial ecosystem capable of reducing many of the risks associated with developing a complex aeronautical product from scratch.

Mihir Shah is a mechanical engineer who tracks military and aerospace issues closely. He contributes to to LiveFist, Pragati Magazine, and Bharat Rakshak’s Security Research Review.

Izdeliye-33.jpeg
Hf73_2.jpeg
Hf73_1.jpeg
 

AUz

ELITE MEMBER
Sep 14, 2010
8,545
-12
14,759
Country
Pakistan
Location
United States
Author is stilling reading indian blogs from 2008 :rofl::rofl::rofl:

No fly-by-wire, sub part TWR (even though JFT has crossed 1+ TWR since years now), and the classic "...China didn't even deploy it" :lol:

Inferior indians have been left SO far behind and their Tejashit is such a failure that they can not do anything but live in the past and keep repeating the same old outdated/debunked gibberish.
 

YeBeWarned

ELITE MEMBER
Sep 25, 2016
16,924
11
24,191
Country
Pakistan
Location
Pakistan
Author is stilling reading indian blogs from 2008 :rofl::rofl::rofl:

No fly-by-wire, sub part TWR (even though JFT has crossed 1+ TWR since years now), and the classic "...China didn't even deploy it" :lol:

Inferior indians have been left SO far behind and their Tejashit is such a failure that they can not do anything but live in the past and keep repeating the same old outdated/debunked gibberish.
 
Sep 5, 2010
9,054
-3
10,213
Country
India
Location
Canada
Author is stilling reading indian blogs from 2008 :rofl::rofl::rofl:

No fly-by-wire, sub part TWR (even though JFT has crossed 1+ TWR since years now), and the classic "...China didn't even deploy it" :lol:

Inferior indians have been left SO far behind and their Tejashit is such a failure that they can not do anything but live in the past and keep repeating the same old outdated/debunked gibberish.
Oh. Has the superior Pakistanis made sure Chinese has deployed it? How many JF17 Chinese fly?

On topic: The article is balanced and it places the faults of Indian side and its AF for changing its scope again and again to this day. What should have been a decent replacement for Mig 21, like an JF17 in late 90's, it ended up in 4th gen fighter due to poor management, and cos of that, cost and time overruns. Valuable lessons for India.
 

Mugwop

SENIOR MEMBER
May 29, 2013
6,629
2
9,147
Country
Haiti
Location
Pakistan
Oh. Has the superior Pakistanis made sure Chinese has deployed it? How many JF17 Chinese fly?

On topic: The article is balanced and it places the faults of Indian side and its AF for changing its scope again and again to this day. What should have been a decent replacement for Mig 21, like an JF17 in late 90's, it ended up in 4th gen fighter due to poor management, and cos of that, cost and time overruns. Valuable lessons for India.
Why should the chinese fly it if they have J-10,J-11,Su-30 ? Jf-17 was made for Pakistan which is a small country,China is a big country.Plus Jf-17 has some foreign components also I hope you know what that means.
 
Sep 5, 2010
9,054
-3
10,213
Country
India
Location
Canada
Why should the chinese fly it if they have J-10,J-11,Su-30 ? Jf-17 was made for Pakistan which is a small country,China is a big country.Plus Jf-17 has some foreign components also I hope you know what that means.
My response is perfect to whom I quoted. Especially the part the Chinese didnt induct it, for whatever reasons it might be.
 

MastanKhan

PDF VETERAN
Dec 26, 2005
19,798
160
54,286
Country
Pakistan
Location
United States
Hi,

You have to look deeper into what the article writer is saying---.

Because of his national origin---he cannot openly state that the JF17 is an excellent aircraft within its design parameters---he has to bash some and praise some---and he has stated that in other words---and that in itself is a massive praise for the JF17.

The writer deserves a thank you. As he further talks about the Tejas---I get a feeling that he is wishing that the indian engineers had followed the same plan as the paks did for the JF17 to get a functional and flying aircraft and then to have built up on it.

As for he JF17 not being inducted by the chinese---I have explained it in other threads a few times.
 

SQ8

ADVISORS
Mar 28, 2009
34,996
401
72,949
Country
United States
Location
United States
Oh. Has the superior Pakistanis made sure Chinese has deployed it? How many JF17 Chinese fly?

On topic: The article is balanced and it places the faults of Indian side and its AF for changing its scope again and again to this day. What should have been a decent replacement for Mig 21, like an JF17 in late 90's, it ended up in 4th gen fighter due to poor management, and cos of that, cost and time overruns. Valuable lessons for India.
Typical pathetic response from our baseless elite titled Indians. If the project was supposed to be Pakistani specific, built according to Pakistani air staff requirements which revolve around the Indo-Pak theatre, why would the Chinese whose Air warfare doctrine and planning differ so significantly from us warrant a purchase to make it valid?

But I can understand, when blind hatred trumps even the lowest of ethical standards in posts- you have the article posted and then responses to even try and justify it.

Hi,

You have to look deeper into what the article writer is saying---.

Because of his national origin---he cannot openly state that the JF17 is an excellent aircraft within its design parameters---he has to bash some and praise some---and he has stated that in other words---and that in itself is a massive praise for the JF17.

The writer deserves a thank you. As he further talks about the Tejas---I get a feeling that he is wishing that the indian engineers had followed the same plan as the paks did for the JF17 to get a functional and flying aircraft and then to have built up on it.

As for he JF17 not being inducted by the chinese---I have explained it in other threads a few times.
I don't think the compulsion to state just comes from avoiding being bashed by his peers, it comes from an ingrained hatred in these people- for the longest time I denied it and looked past it; not anymore. Say what you will about Pakistanis, it takes little to make them change their opinions on a person and be nice to them; not so for Indians.
 
Sep 5, 2010
9,054
-3
10,213
Country
India
Location
Canada
Typical pathetic response from our baseless elite titled Indians. If the project was supposed to be Pakistani specific, built according to Pakistani air staff requirements which revolve around the Indo-Pak theatre, why would the Chinese whose Air warfare doctrine and planning differ so significantly from us warrant a purchase to make it valid?

But I can understand, when blind hatred trumps even the lowest of ethical standards in posts- you have the article posted and then responses to even try and justify it.


I don't think the compulsion to state just comes from avoiding being bashed by his peers, it comes from an ingrained hatred in these people- for the longest time I denied it and looked past it; not anymore. Say what you will about Pakistanis, it takes little to make them change their opinions on a person and be nice to them; not so for Indians.
Oh please. First save pdf from the quality of drains it is onto. It is never the same from the days I joined cos of Elited Mods and Retd Mods.
My post is response to the post who posted Tejashit and a "unbiased Mod" like you cant even do anything about it. And I used to think yu r sane.
 

Mangus Ortus Novem

SENIOR MEMBER
Jun 7, 2008
2,996
185
31,837
Country
Netherlands
Location
Pakistan
I, for one, always disapprove of comparing Sino-Pak Thunder with Tejas.

Totally different machines born out totally different philosophies and needs.

Insulting others with charm, grace and elegance is a skill our indian friends have not mastered yet.


Calling JF as unaspriring, decades old design... the good indian writer has successfully closed his eyes to the path breaking and revolutionary design of Tejas... never before in aviation history such a design has existed, which indians have achieved 100% on their own without any help from outside. Humility is indeed an indian trait.


It is beyond funny that the writer is supposed to be an engineer, yet hate for anything Pak did cause him to show dismissive attitude towards JF... saying it is simple and Tejas is complex machine...

Same syndrome that makes it compulsary for indians to automatically dismiss any Pak achievement... always this mine is better than yours...


Anyhow, what matters is what PAF does with Thunder and how PAF strikes Lightening on malign creatures to enlighten them about JF. Rest is just opinion........

Looking forward to Block III- PAC/CAC must make it as primative as possible... don't wish to hurt our indian friends... Hopefully, Block III manages to achieve 3rd Gen level... catching up to 4+++ Gen Tejas is beyond Sino-Pak capablities.

Even J20 is not stealthy according to IAF chief. So, what is humble JF.


But we must also be grateful to our indian friends for making Life such fun!
 

BetterPakistan

SENIOR MEMBER
Oct 30, 2014
2,907
-2
2,221
Country
Pakistan
Location
Pakistan
I, for one, always disapprove of comparing Sino-Pak Thunder with Tejas.

Totally different machines born out totally different philosophies and needs.

Insulting others with charm, grace and elegance is a skill our indian friends have not mastered yet.


Calling JF as unaspriring, decades old design... the good indian writer has successfully closed his eyes to the path breaking and revolutionary design of Tejas... never before in aviation history such a design has existed, which indians have achieved 100% on their own without any help from outside. Humility is indeed an indian trait.


It is beyond funny that the writer is supposed to be an engineer, yet hate for anything Pak did cause him to show dismissive attitude towards JF... saying it is simple and Tejas is complex machine...

Same syndrome that makes it compulsary for indians to automatically dismiss any Pak achievement... always this mine is better than yours...


Anyhow, what matters is what PAF does with Thunder and how PAF strikes Lightening on malign creatures to enlighten them about JF. Rest is just opinion........

Looking forward to Block III- PAC/CAC must make it as primative as possible... don't wish to hurt our indian friends... Hopefully, Block III manages to achieve 3rd Gen level... catching up to 4+++ Gen Tejas is beyond Sino-Pak capablities.

Even J20 is not stealthy according to IAF chief. So, what is humble JF.


But we must also be grateful to our indian friends for making Life such fun!
Dude, I am not on to offence to indians here but how can they compare that tejas which is still a failure to a successful JF-17 for whom we have 2 orders from other countries and are expected to get more. We have already produced 88 JF-17 for our airforce and rest 12 block 2 are in production stage. We are going to order 50 block 3 soon while Indian navy their selves rejected their tejas saying "We would love to go indigenous but tejas isn't reliable".

Tejas is simply dead. Any discussion on it is a waste of time.
 

Users Who Are Viewing This Thread (Total: 1, Members: 0, Guests: 1)


Top Bottom