The JF-17 Thunder is a single-engine, lightweight, low cost, multi-role combat aircraft.
The JF (Joint Fighter 17) was developed through the combined efforts of CAC (Chengdu Aircraft Corporation) of China and the PAC (Pakistan Aeronautical Complex).
The JF-17 was assigned the multi-role title due to its compatibility in various roles such as a ground attack, interception, aerial reconnaissance, and anti-ships.
The first JF-17 Thunder squadron was introduced in 2010. Later on, another variant known as the JF-17B was introduced by the Pakistan Air Force.
The JF-17B was built as a twin-seater version, which enhanced training and operational capabilities.
Further advancements and plans have been made for a far more sophisticated and upgraded version, the JF-17 Block III.
After its induction in 2011, the JF-17 has 19,000 hours of operational flight. The aircraft has also seen active military service since the PAF used them during its operations in North Waziristan.
Features of The JF-17 Block 3
The JF-17 is considered Pakistan’s first “4.5 generation” fighter.
And how exactly does a fighter plane fall into this category?
According to experts, a “4.5” generation fighter has long-range ground-to-ground and air-to-air weapons, features to reduce the cross-section of its radars, and integrated sensors.
The JF-17 Block III is a lightweight single-engine aircraft with a maximum take-off capacity of fewer than 15 tons. Its own weight is around 6.5 tonnes.
The combat jet has a top speed of Mach 1.6 with a 9.48m wingspan and 15.
Furthermore, it is powered singularly by a Klimov RD-93 afterburning turbofan that has an 85.3 kN thrust with an afterburner and a 49.5 dry thrust with digital electronic engine control (DEEC).
The JF-17 Block III is also to be armed with the PL-10 and PL-15.
This will immensely upgrade the air security of the JF-17 fighter jets.
In fact, the PL-15 is still being developed by China. It is reported to be an air-to-air missile with a very significant range (excess of 200km). These qualities make the PL-15 widely reputed as the most capable air to air missiles in the world today.
On the other hand, the PL-10 missiles allow the JF-17 block III to be able to fire in visual range combat at very extreme angles.
This has removed the prior need to point the aircraft at the enemy to fire, which gives the Block III superiority over the previous versions of the jet and also allows it to compete with other more maneuverable jets.
The JF-17 Block III Radar
The JF-17 Block III is equipped with a KLJ-7A, an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.
The KLJ-7A was developed by the NRIET (Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology) and was only kept as a potential option for the JF-17.
Besides that, the KLF-7A provides a maximum range of up to 170 km against a target and also gives a 5m2 radar cross-section.
With over 1000 TRM (transmit/receive modules), the JF-17’s radar is able to track 15 targets and engage with four simultaneously.
It can also operate on over 11 different modes. One of them is the synthetic aperture radar, which can operate and allow it to see through clouds.
How do Other Competing Aircrafts Compare with the JF-17?
1- IAF Tejas
The HAL Tejas Fighter jet is an ideal single fighter jet. However, it can be made into a twin-seat jet depending on the requirements of the Indian Armed Forces (for training purposes).
This jet is famous mainly for its delta wing arrangement. Other than that, it is relatively simple and light, coming in at 6.5 tons and a take-off maximum of 13 tons. It isn’t that much off when compared to the JF-17 Block III in this aspect.
When it comes to engines, the Tejas takes away the trophy. It has a General Electric System capable of producing a 53.9 kN thrust dry and 90 kN trust with an afterburner.
The aircraft itself has a wingspan of 8.2m and a length of 13.8m.
Furthermore, the top speed of the Tejas is Mach 1.8, and the jet can travel up to 500km with drop tanks equipped.
The Tejas has equipped Israel’s Elta EL/M-2032 multi-mode fire control radar compared to the JF-17’s Airborne Pulse-Doppler fire-control Radar.
The JF-17’s KLJ-7A (170km) has a more excellent range when compared to the Tejas (150km) and can sense it coming from a further distance.
The J-10C is a lightweight aircraft by China. While both the JF-17 and the J-10C are considered lightweight, there is actually quite a difference between their weight.
Being more lightweight and smaller, the JF-17 weighs a lot less than the J-10c.
In fact, the J-10C and the latter share a lot of similarities between them. From stealth coatings to the AESA radar and access to missiles like the PL-15 and PL-10 missiles, they are mostly identical.
The only notable exception to this is that the J-10C contains three-dimensional thrust vectoring, which allows for extreme maneuverability while driving the aircraft.
However, having a much smaller engine, the JF-17 is easier to manufacture, cheaper, and a lot easier to operate.
When compared to the J-10C, the JF-17 is a lot easier to maintain and has a much higher availability rate.
The MIG-19 is also a lightweight aircraft that can alternate between a single and twin-seat jet depending on the requirements. It was designed by the soviet union and is a twin-engined jet fighter.
Many MIG-29s are furnished to provide multi-role capabilities.
The MIG-29 has a length of 17.37m and a wingspan of 11.4m. While empty, the aircraft weighs about 13.4 tons, and its maximum capacity while flying is around 19.2 tons.
When comparing the KLJ-7A (JFK-17’s) radar to the MIG-29s, there is a vast difference3 to be found in between them.
The MIG-29’s radar is only able to search up to a range of 120 km, whereas the JFK-17 Block III is able to expand its search up to 170 km with its AESA radar.
4- JAS-39 Gripen
The JAS-39 Gripen is a lightweight combat jet with a single or twin seat capacity alternating between its two variants (JAS 39 C, JAS 39 D respectively).
It was designed by a Swedish company named Saab AB and is a single-engine jet fighter. Moreover, the Gripen has a delta wing configuration that provides relaxed stability and fly-by-fly wire controls.
The Gripen is designed to have multi-role capabilities and is built with an aircraft length of 14.1m (expands up to 14.8m for the two-seater version) and a wingspan of 8.4m.
When the aircraft is empty, it can weigh about 6.8 tons, which can go up to 8.5 tons when loaded. Other than that, it has a maximum take-off capacity set at 14 tons.
The Gripen has a dry thrust of 54kN and an 80.5kN with an afterburner.
Furthermore, the Gripen has a single Volvo Aero RM12 engine and a maximum speed of Mach 2.
Rounding it Off – JF-17 Block III
The JF-17 Block III is certain to make some waves in the future. While the aircraft has already been announced (quite recently, too, on 30 December 2020), it is not expected in service until 2022.
While the JF-17 Thunder series has already been war tested a little, there is still some credibility left to be earned on the battlefield.