FC-1/ JF-17, armed
(click to view full)

The FC-1/ JF-17 Thunder is a joint Chinese-Pakistani project that aimed to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on western firms for advanced fighters, by fielding a low-cost multi-role lightweight fighter that can host modern electronics and precision-guided weapons. It isn’t a top-tier competitor, but it represents a clear step up from Pakistan’s Chinese MiG-19/21 derivatives and French Mirage III/V fighters. This positioning addresses a budget-conscious, “good enough” performance market segment that the West once dominated, but has nearly abandoned in recent decades.

Pakistan has fielded JF-17s in squadron strength, with more on order and a Block II R&D program nearing completion. India’s competing Tejas fighter is overcoming project delays by looking to foreign component sources, but Pakistan and China remain out front with their offering, even though they began their project much later than India did. Pakistan and China have even set up a joint JF-17 marketing agency to promote export sales, which hasn’t paid off as quickly as they had hoped, but it would be unwise to count them out just yet…

The JF-17 Thunder, aka. FC-1 Fierce Dragon

JF-17 at IDEAS 2008
(click to view full)

The JF-17/FC-1 is a $20 million class fighter designed as a co-operative venture between Pakistan and China to replace Chinese A-5C (massively modified MiG-19), F-7P (MiG-21+), and French Mirage 3/5 aircraft in Pakistan’s fleet. China also has options to produce them, but has made no firm decisions and seems unenthusiastic. It’s a comparable peer for India’s still-under-development LCA Tejas, Taiwan’s F-CK-1 Ching Kuo fighters, and South Korea’s F/A-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer & light fighter.

F-20 (1980s)

The design itself is fairly conventional, resembling a somewhat boxy F-20. A drag chute can be installed at the base of the rudder, in order to make landings easier and shorter. Power will be provided by the RD-93 derivative of the MiG-29’s RD-33 engine; it’s proven and widely used, but known to leave smoke trails. Future models may see the engine replaced with China’s WS-13, an RD-93 copy with some modifications. Avionics involve a modern “glass” cockpit of digital screens, using Chinese technologies, and commercial processors. Reports indicate that aircraft software coding was done in the commercial C++ language, rather than a military language like Ada.

Farnborough array
(click to view entire)

Conflicting reports exist regarding its databuses: MIL-STD-1553, or the more advanced MIL-STD-1760. That will affect its range of usable weapons, and GPS-guided weapons in particular benefit from the -1760 databus.

China’s KLJ-7 mechanically-scanned array serves as the radar, despite past media references to a deal with Thales, or to the Selex Galileo’s Grifo. Grifo already equips Pakistan’s F-7s (Grifo-7), and some of its Mirage III/Vs (Grifo M3/M5), and Selex Galileo’s own materials [PDF] describe the Grifo S7 as “The version selected for the JF-17 aircraft.” Even so, multiple reports from November 2010 consistently point to the Chinese KLJ-7 instead. the following table compares the JF-17 with India’s indigenous Tejas fighter, which has taken far longer to develop and isn’t quite in service yet:

At present, the main questions concerning Pakistan’s JF-17s revolve around integrated sensors and weapons, rather than the aircraft itself or its performance. The Farnborough 2010 display showed Chinese air-air missiles, a LeiShi-6 guided glide bomb, China’s C802 anti-ship missile, and even a WMD-7 laser designator pod. Full status as a recognized multirole fighter, however, must wait until their ability to use precision laser guidance and/or GPS-guided ground attack weapons is confirmed.

JF-17/FC-1: The Program

PAF F-16A drops Mk.82s
(click to view full)

Sino Defense reminds us that the JF-17/FC-1 ‘Xiaolong’ has a long history. The site recalls that China signed a $550 million agreement with Grumman in 1986 to modernise its J-7 fighter (MiG-21 copy) under the “Super-7” upgrade project, with US and British firms competing to provide the engine and avionics. The project was canceled after the Tienanmen Square massacre, but Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation managed to continue the program with its own resources, and the project was eventually re-branded as FC-1 (Fighter China-1).

The next big step forward for FC-1 came when the USA imposed military export sanctions in response to Pakistan’s nuclear program, and to Chinese-Pakistani transfers of ballistic missile components. With spares for its top-of-the-line F-16s in question, and additional F-16s removed as an option, Pakistan sought help from its Chinese ally.

A joint development and production agreement was signed in June 1999, with China Aviation Import and Export Corporation (CATIC) and Pakistan each contributing 50% of the estimated $150 million in development costs. The design was finalized in 2001, with initial prototype flights beginning in 2003. A JF-17 did not fly with its full avionics suite until 2006, but testing and development appear to have progressed smoothly. Until political complications intervened.

Unfortunately for India, the engine export understanding that they thought they had with Russia, was reversed by Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. JF-17 production began in 2009, complete with Russian engines.

Chinese J-7E
(click to view full)

Ultimately, Pakistan intends to induct 150-250 JF-17s into its air force, replacing most of its Mirage III/Vs, F-7s (Chinese MiG-21 copies), and A-5Cs (massively modified Chinese MiG-19 derivatives). The A-5s will retire more or less immediately as JF-17s enter service, and the Mirages are next in line for replacement due to their uncertain spares situation. The number of JF-17s requested could rise, and some reports place potential Pakistani orders as high as 300 aircraft. Even at the JF-17’s bargain price, however, Pakistan’s budgets will be hard-pressed to afford that many. In the short term, even reaching the desired goal of 150 JF-17s could prove challenging without external aid.

China has remained on the fence regarding the program, with no PLAAF orders to date. Their air force appears to be more focused on their 4+ generation J-10 design, which offers more advanced capabilities and aerodynamics. The FC-1 remains a candidate to replace large numbers of PLAAF MiG-17s (J-5) and MiG-19s (J-6/ Q-5), if the PLAAF decides it needs to take steps to maintain the size of its force. If not, the FC-1’s role is likely to resemble the Northrop F-5’s. The USA sold them in large numbers to other countries, even as the USAF equipped itself with larger and more expensive designs instead.

Stuck in Sichuan: The Saga

The Pakistan Government had hoped to sign a deal to acquire 150 JF-17/FC-1 fighters in 2007, with 8 aircraft in service by year’s end. China had reportedly even bought 100 Klimov RD-93 engines from Russia for installing on JF-17s, with an option to contract for another 400 engines.

In January 2007, however, Forecast International reported that Russia had refused permission for the transfer of its RD-93 engines, derived from the RD-33 that equips the MiG-29. According to FI the decision came only a few days after a visit to India by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, during which a number of joint defense projects were discussed and agreements were signed. January 2007, DID:

“The military world has no shortage of irony. The defense industry has its moments too, as Pakistan just discovered. An aircraft whose development was driven by military sanctions from the US and Europe is now derailed by military sanctions [regarding its engines]. This leaves the Pakistani Air Force dependent on an alternative from… America. Meanwhile, the Chinese are left with no export launch customer for a plane they may now have to reluctantly buy themselves, instead of the favoured and more capable J-10. Somewhere in Delhi, champagne is pouring – but first, a bit of background.”

Coincidence? Didn’t look like it. Replacement with another engine? Unless it’s a very close copy, that requires re-work of the entire fighter design and takes years. Just ask the Chinese J-10 project team.

As it turned out, however, that wasn’t necessary. The arms market also features no shortage of change, and Russia eventually chose not prevent re-export of the RD-93 engines, in an announcement that caught even India’s diplomats by surprise. The RD-93 comes with some disadvantages, including a tendency to leave smoke trails, but tacit re-export approval removed a huge potential roadblock, and let the program proceed more or less on schedule.

Updates and Key Events

2015 – 2017

Dubai 2013

November 17/16: Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) has said it will open up to allow the private defense sector to participate in programs such as the JF-17 Thunder fighter and Super Mushshak trainer. As well as looking for new design and development programs for upgrades to the aircraft, PAC is also entertaining the possibility of allowing collaboration on the manufacture of propulsion and industrial gas turbines. Benefits of opening up the domestic industry include using public funds that otherwise would have gone abroad as domestic stimulus and making it easier for foreign vendors to pick private firms in matters involving sensitive technology intellectual property, which could make transfer-of-technology and expertise easier to negotiate.

November 9/16: Head of the Saudi Royal Air Force, Gen. Muhammad bin Saleh Al Qtaibi, has expressed his country’s interest in purchasing Pakistani aircraft. Al Qtaibi is on an official visit to Pakistan to discuss ongoing security issues in the region, but expressed Saudi intentions towards a hefty procurement of JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighters and Super Mushshak trainers. The Saudis already operate approximately 20 Super Mushshaks but the prospect of a significant export order for JF-17s from the Gulf kingdom adds to the fighter’s growing interest abroad.

October 31/16: Qatar has been linked to the possible purchase of more JF-17 fighter and Super Mushshak trainer aircraft following the release of a statement from Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office. Mr. Sharif’s office also wishes to set up military cooperation and production of equipment in Qatar with the assistance of Pakistan and Turkey. He went on to say that Pakistan, Qatar, and Turkey can set up joint ventures for undertaking defence related manufacturing of military equipment. “Our relationship with Qatar means a lot to us and you can count on Pakistan as your closest ally and brotherly state,” he remarked.

September 19/16: The Pakistani-Chinese JF-17 fighter will be making its way to Nigeria after a memorandum of understanding was signed at this year’s AAD. While the exact amount of the fighters has yet to be revealed, further details on the deal are expected to be announced in November during the IDEAS show in Karachi, Pakistan. Nigerian budget allocations released in January, however, earmarked $25 million for three JF-17s, with approximately half that amount made available for the acquisition of ten PAC Super Mushshak basic trainers.

May 3/16: The Sri Lankan media has reported that Pakistan has offered its JF-17 fighter at $29 million each to the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF). Islamabad has been pressing the Sri Lankan government to replace its fleet of MiG-27 and Kfir fleets with its indigenous aircraft, but the deal has been met with opposition from India. Instead, it is thought that the SLAF will purchase fighters from Russia, believed to be in the price range of $20-25 million per aircraft.

February 11/16: The Emir of Qatar will witness a display of the PAF JF-17 fighters as Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visits the country this week. A contingent from the Pakistan Air Force are in Doha preparing for the display, as Sharif, along with a high-level delegation, visits to commence a series of diplomatic talks. Areas where both Qatar and Pakistan may improve bilateral relations include energy cooperation, trade and investment, employment opportunities for the Pakistani workforce in Qatar, and in various defense related fields. While a number of Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) are expected to be signed, an order for the JF-17 may be a bit premature as Qatar awaits the long delayed deal of Rafale fighters from Dassault.

January 19/16: The visit of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Sri Lanka did not result in a purchase of JF-17 fighters. A Sri Lankan Air Force spokesperson said that while the fighter is still being considered, among others, a deal was never going to be signed alongside Sharif’s visit to Colombo. The JF-17 still seems to be the top choice for Sri Lanka which is looking to replace the Israeli Kfri jet currently in use.

January 12/16: Following hot on the heels of Sri Lanka and Nigeria, Azerbaijan looks to be the next in line for an order of JF-17s from Pakistan. Following his recent trip to the country, Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain said that a deal regarding the sale of defense products to Azerbaijan was just one of several areas in which both were looking to increase cooperation. The potential for increased Azerbaijani-Pakistani trade comes as Chinese officials signed a number of documents with the Caucasus nation in December. Beijing, Pakistan’s partner in the development in the JF-17 program, is looking to develop a “Silk Way” economic belt stretching along developing countries that encompass the historical trade route.

January 8/16: Funding has been set aside for the Nigerian government to purchase three JF-17 aircraft. $25 million has been set aside for the acquisitions. The planned purchase of the Sino-Pakistan developed jet was announced as part of the federal governments defense budget for the 2016 fiscal year and follows the recent order by Sri Lanka for eight JF-17s. Funds have also been set aside to acquire two Mi-35 gunships ($58.2 million) and ten Mushak trainer aircraft ($10.3 million). The Nigerian Army will see $28 million spent on new equipment and trucks for armed personnel as they conduct operations against Boko Haram militants in the north of the country.

January 7/16: Despite the recent rounds of rumors and will-they-won’t-theys, Sri Lanka looks set to purchase eight JF-17 fighters from Pakistan according to Pakistani news sources. Officials to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that a number of agreements were signed between both nations on his visit to Colombo on Tuesday. The agreements cover a wide range of defense, security, trade and counter-terrorism issues and included the provision of the aircraft to Sri Lanka.

January 5/16: The recent heavy promotion by Pakistan of its indigenously produced JF-17 fighter has led to claims that export orders are on the increase. Despite this, Sri Lanka has claimed that it has not made a decision on whether they are to purchase the aircraft for themselves. Recent weeks have seen much ink used in reporting interest in the aircraft by both the Sri Lankan and Indonesian air forces, but as of yet, no official confirmation for orders have been issued. The JF-17 Thunder is co-produced between Pakistan and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation.

December 30/15: While praising the abilities of the home made JF-17 Thunder fighter, Pakistan’s Air Chief Marshal, Sohail Aman has said that they are in negotiations with the US government to procure some of the latest F-16s. The announcement was made as the 16th JF-17 aircraft was unveiled and handed over to the Pakistan Air Force. Manufactured locally in cooperation with China, the JF-17 has been lauded as being able to compete with the best of other lightweight multi-role aircraft, and has been marketed heavily by Pakistan at recent air shows. While production for export seems to be on the increase, one wonders exactly why Islamabad is looking to purchase foreign made fighters ahead of locally produced ones, as well as planning to retire older aircraft simultaneously.

December 23/15: Malaysia’s defense minister has said that his government is not interested in purchasing Pakistan’s JF-17 fighter as part of their air force modernization plans. The denial comes after a Malaysian diplomat was reported to have said that his country may look at procuring the JF-17 to help increase the amount of bilateral trade between the two nations. While Malaysia is looking to replace its fleet of F-5E/F and MiG-29 planes with a modern fighter, the Sino-Pakistan produced JF-17 had not been under consideration.

December 22/15: Malaysia may consider purchasing Pakistan’s JF-17 aircraft as part of its current fighter replacement program. Malaysian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Dr. Hasrul Sani made the announcement citing the excellent relations both nations currently have in terms of defense cooperation. The sale would also see further increase in the bilateral trade between the two, which currently stands at over $2 billion per annum. Other options currently being considered are the Dassault Rafale, Boeing’s F/A-18 and Lockheed Martin’s F-16V. The interest in the JF-17 comes alongside the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project which will see over $40 billion invested in Pakistan’s infrastructure and economic development. Dr. Sani stated that the whole region would stand to benefit from the CPEC project.

November 24/15: Pakistan is to keep using the the Russian made RD-93 engine for its series of JF-17 fighters. The confirmation comes after hints made by Chinese officials that Pakistan would revert back to an original arrangement with China but Pakistan Air Force (PAF) officials are happy with the Russian engine. PAF officials have said that improvements to the JF-17 along with the reliability of the RD-93 engine has resulted in a number of interested parties. Russia on the other hand will be happy to see product solidarity due to economic sanctions over Ukraine closing many export markets.

October 12/15: Sri Lankan Air Force officials are due to arrive in Islamabad in November to discuss a possible acquisition of JF-17 fighters, according to Pakistani press reports. Sri Lanka played down reports in June that the country was the first export customer for the JF-17, stating that a decision has yet to be made on a possible procurement of the fighter.

2010 – 2014

1st & 2nd squadrons stand up; Fatal JF-17 crash; JF-17 Block II production begins; Myanmar interested again; Saudi Arabia’s interest a puzzle.

June 15/14: Myanmar. The government of Myanmar has stepped back from its close Chinese alliance in recent years, but reports indicate that they may be taking a second look at the JF-17. The junta recently bought more Russian MiG-29s instead (q.v. Dec 23/09), but MiG-29s are notoriously difficult to keep in service. The problem is a combination of short part lifespans, and byzantine Russian “service” procedures.

“The Government of Myanmar is planning to acquire technologies from China and Pakistan to build JF-17 multirole combat aircraft at its own aircraft factory to boost its Air Force…. The force is plagued by serviceability issues due to lack of spare parts and trained manpower however introduction of JF-17 would mean that Myanmar Air Force will be investing in such areas to mitigate its short comings.”

Production may be a stretch, but parts production and a local servicing depot may be doable. The report offers an existing force breakdown of 32 MiG-29B/SE as the modern force, plus 25 F-7Ms (Chinese MiG-21 knockoff) and 21 Nanchang A-5C (Chinese plane based on MiG-19 but heavily modified). A mix of 16 Chinese (K-8) and Serbian (Sokol Galeb) jet trainers are used for ground attack roles, as well as pilot training. Sources: Burma Times, “Myanmar plans JF-17 production” | The Diplomat, “Burma to Purchase Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 Fighter Jets” | See also DID, “More MiG-29s for Myanmar”.

June 20/14: R&D. Defense News begins a report in a very odd way, saying that “Contrary to speculation, development of the JF-17 aircraft continues apace…” We’re scratching our heads as to why anyone ever thought otherwise, given announcements re: Block II development and the jet’s clear importance to Pakistan. Indeed, Chief Project Director and Air Vice Marshal Javed Ahmed was quick to aver that the PAF’s 3rd squadron would be operational by year-end.

Ahmed adds that avionics improvements are underway, using the words “situational awareness” but not specifically corroborating rumors of a helmet-mounted display. Near-term improvements will also reportedly focus on “integrating some additional smart and indigenously developed weapons”. The Chinese NRIET KLJ-7 will remain the fighter’s main radar, however, as possible substitutions won’t be considered until the program reaches Block III. An AESA radar, and the possibility of offering drop-in western radar & avionics for export, are both under investigation.

On the other hand, former Pakistani Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail claims that the JF-17’s range is an issue, citing the frequency of flights with drop tanks and the averaged length of sorties. MiG-29s, which use a very similar engine, are known to have range issues, but the JF-17 uses only 1 engine. The Klimov RD-93 is less efficient than GE’s F404/F414, however, and public information gives the JF-17 fuel reserves and operational weight that are similar to the short range Indian Tejas LCA. Tufail may have a point. Sources: Defense News, “JF-17 Developments Indicate Aircraft Is Still On Track”.

Jan 23/14: Saudi Arabia. After Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Salman Bin Sultan visits Pakistan and tours the JF-17 production complex, the World Tribune reports that:

“…officials said representatives of the ministry as well as the Royal Saudi Air Force were examining the feasibility of procuring JF-17 as part of cooperation with Islamabad. “This project could provide the kingdom with technology that could be used in future projects,” an official said.”

Saudi Arabia is an important donor to Pakistan’s government, and there are persistent rumors that the Saudis even financed Pakistan’s nuclear program. On the one hand, JF-17 cooperation could make sense industrially. The Saudis tried to set up a local Eurofighter final assembly and check-out line with BAE, but the kingdom backed off when it became clear that this wouldn’t work. The JF-17 might be an easier starting point, and it would also fit with growing Saudi interest in defense equipment that requires zero American involvement.

On the other hand, there’s no real hole in the RSAF that JF-17s need to fill. The RSAF’s F-5s are no longer frontline fighters; they and the Tornado F3 ADV interceptors have effectively been replaced by an order for 72 high-end Eurofighter Typhoons. The Typhoons already offer a potent non-American option, and the depth and breadth of the pre-existing Al-Yamamah partnership with Britain would make any cancellation a region-altering diplomatic event. Meanwhile, an in-progress order for 84 new Boeing F-15SA Strike Eagles is well underway, and contract penalties would make the order almost pointless to cancel at this point.

The Saudis are already expanding their fighter fleet with these buys. They would have to either expand it further to accommodate the JF-17 – or become industrial partners, and then use JF-17s as a form of regional aid that isn’t subject to American ITAR regulations. Most likely: they do none of those things, while making an ally feel good by being publicly impressed, and holding some initial discussions that go nowhere. Sources: World Tribune, “Saudi eyeing Pakistan’s JF-17 fighter jet, modeled from U.S. F-16”.

Dec 19/13: Block-II begins. Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra rolls out their 50th JF-17 fighter, and reportedly launches production of the Block II variant with improved avionics, air-to-air refueling capability, and additional weapons. Flight International’s World Air Forces 2013 lists total Pakistan’s JF-17 orders as 70 planes, plus 50 more pending finalization. Meanwhile:

“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif…. mentioned the Pakistan China Economic Corridor project, which would link Gwadar to China through Khunjrab Pass and said that economic zones would be set up along the Corridor. The project would have far-reaching impact on the future of both countries, he added. Nawaz said cheap labour in Pakistan would also contribute to the smooth materialisation of projects with China.”

Block 2 production is expected to continue until at least 2016, after which some sources say manufacture of Block 3 will begin. That variant may get a new engine, either an updated RD-93 or possibly a Chinese engine if one is ready. Sources: DAWN, “Production of improved version of JF-17 aircraft launched” | Pakistan’s The Nation, “Production of JF-17 fighter jet launched” | Defense News, “Pakistan Rolls Out 50th JF-17, Block II Production To Commence” | The Diplomat, “Pakistan Begins Producing Block-II JF-17 Aircraft”.

Block II begins

Nov 19/13: Weapons. Flight International carries a report regarding a large Chinese precision strike missile. It’s hard to say how accurate such presentations are, but here’s the claim:

“A full list of specifications for the CM-400AKG missile was played on a loop inside the AVIC exhibit stand at the Dubai air show; a marketing venue for the JF-17 fighter jointly developed between China and Pakistan…. News reports have indicated the CM-400 has entered service with the Pakistan air force. The AVIC video notes vaguely that the 910kg (2,000lb) weapon “can be carried by JF-17, etc”. It is usually compared with the Indian/Russian Brahmos high-speed cruise missile.”

The CM-400AKG export variant of China’s YJ-12 missile supposedly has a reach of up to 130 nmi, in order to keep it within MTCR treaty limits. It flies at Mach 3+ and high altitude, using GPS/INS as base guidance within 50m CEP, with the ability to switch to Imaging Infrared for final targeting of moving items like ships, possibly augmented by L/S/X-band passive radar. Sources: Flight Global, “DUBAI: China details performance of ‘carrier killer’ missile for JF-17”.

Nov 14/11: A Pakistani JF-17 crashes in the mountainous Attock Distrct, killing Squadron Leader Muhammad Hussain. He had ejected successfully, but his parachute failed to open properly. Pak Tribune.


May 19/11: Shortly after American special forces killed Osama Bin Laden in a unilateral raid 40 miles from Islamabad, Pakistan announces a wide swath of major defense projects with China. The most consequential is that the deep water port of Gwadar in western Pakistan will be run by its paymasters, the Chinese government. Pakistan also wants the Chinese to build a naval base there, and no doubt expects to have its own ships use that facility alongside the Chinese PLAN.

The flashiest aspect of the announcements involve the JF-17, with reports that China will be sending Pakistan 50 improved JF-17 fighters, with upgraded electronics. To date, JF-17s have rolled off of Pakistani manufacturing/finishing lines, but these will reportedly involve more Chinese manufacturing to speed delivery, arriving within 6 months. Reports say that China is financing the deal, though they differ on the terms, and how much of the cost China is absorbing. Some reports paint the fighters as more or less a gift.

The interest in a batch of 50 more JF-17s isn’t a surprise, nor are the planned improvements (vid. Dec 22/10 entry). If deliveries do complete in that time frame, the end of 2011 will see Pakistan with over 92 serving JF-17s. India’s comparable Tejas will have over a year to go before the 1st squadron is formally inducted, and will still be waiting to conduct qualification tests of key weapons. DAWN | DAWN re: expediting | Kakuda Hafiz | Tribune || India’s NDTV | Economic Times || Wall St. Journal.

Chinese A-5/Q-5
(click to view full)

April 12/11: 2nd squadron. PAF No. 16 Squadron at PAFB Peshawar becomes the 2nd operational squadron with the CAIC-PAC JF-17 Thunder.

The ceremony also marks the retirement of the PAF’s A-5C Fantans, a heavily modified derivative of the MiG-19. The Panthers of 16 Sqn. were the 1st PAF squadron to covert to the A-5C in 1983, and the last to operate the type. AirForces Monthly.

March 1/11: Aviation Week reports that Pakistan is in negotiations with the U.S. to get more Lockheed Martin F-16s, but also quotes PAF Air Chief Marshall Rao Qamar Suleman as saying that indigenous projects will remain a priority. As part of that effort, Pakistan intends to eventually field a supplementary datalink, which would work alongside the Link 16 systems carried by the F-16s and communicate with the JF-17 fleet. With respect to the JF-17s:

“Rao says Pakistan will have the second squadron of JF-17s enter operation at the end of March while simultaneously phasing out all of its Nanchang A-5s… “As for the Chengdu F-7s and Dassault Mirages, we will phase these out as we get JF-17s,” Rao says. “Some of Pakistan’s Mirages are the oldest in the world,” he says, adding that some were built in 1967. Phasing out the older Mirages is a top priority. The Mirages are difficult and costly to maintain because no one is producing spare parts for these aircraft anymore, he says. “We are getting secondhand parts, but we don’t know the history of these spare parts we are getting. It’s a flight safety issue and a nightmare for me,” he adds.”

Jan 26/11: Iraq. JF-17s for Iraq? Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh tells a press conference that the Council of Ministers has approved the purchase of 18 F-16s, and budgeted an unspecified sum. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who is also the acting Defense Minister, would negotiate the deal’s final parameters. There has been talk of a $13 billion weapons buy, which would include the existing DSCA request for F-16IQs, but no confirmation as yet.

The USA will reportedly deliver the F-16s to Iraq within 2-3 years, but in the meantime, and even for some time thereafter, Iraq will not be able to police its own airspace effectively. Iraq Order of Battle author DJ Elliott believes that 2018 would be the earliest. The French are presenting a complementary offer of upgraded Mirage F1s, and DJ Elliott reports that the Iraqis may also be looking at a 3rd option: China & Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder. Iraq-Business News | DJ Elliott’s Montrose Toast | UPI | Saudi Arab News re: Iraqi readiness.

Dec 22/10: 1st squadron. Aviation Week reports that about half of the 42 JF-17s Pakistan has ordered (q.v. March 7/09) are now in place, and one squadron is operational. PAF officials now plan to set up a 2nd unit. The focus, as is true in all initial inductions, is on getting all staff familiar with the equipment. Fully qualifying crews for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions will be the next step.

PAF Air Commodore Junaid told the magazine that the government hopes to order a second batch of 50 fighters in 2011, with undefined “enhanced features,” though the avionics package fielded on the baseline JF-17 has reportedly been a positive surprise.

PL-12 & PL-8 on JF-17
(click to view entire)

Nov 18/10: Avionics & Weapons. Reports from Pakistan indicate that the PAF’s JF-17s will be equipped with Chinese radars and SD-10A/PL-12 medium range air-to-air missiles, thanks to a recent contract with China.

The Thales/MBDA ATE consortium had been seen as front runners for a $1.2 billion contract to equip the first 50 Pakistani JF-17s with radars and missiles, and could stand to reap another EUR 15 million or so per plane thereafter. In April 2010, however, Le Monde reported that the French government had refused to clear the deal. That’s not surprising, since France has a $4+ billion contract to build submarines for India, is competing in the $10-11 billion M-MRCA fighter competition, and wants to sell equipment like frigates and missiles in future. France isn’t in the same geo-political position as the USA, which means retaliation for a defense sale of that magnitude is more likely. France’s DCNS still won India’s Scorpene submarine contract, despite building Agosta AIP submarines for Pakistan, but the French government evidently decided not to chance it this time.

PAF Chief Air Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman told The Nation in an exclusive interview that “PAF has no plans to install Western devices and weapons on the aircraft for the time being.” Pakistan’s The Nation || Agence France Presse | India’s Hindustan Times | Russia’s RIA Novosti | India’s Sify.

July 5/10: Engines & Egypt. India isn’t the only party with reservations about Russian engine exports for the JF-17. United Aircraft Corp. CEO Mikhail Pogosyan publicly opposes the sale of 100 RD-93 jet engines to China, citing the threat of FC-1/JF-17 competition against the MiG-29. He says that said the re-export of technologies should be approved by the original manufacturers to avoid unfair competition, but Rosoboronexport’s position is that re-export rights is a government decision with no manufacturer input. RIA Novosti adds that:

“A Russian aircraft industry source said the FC-1 is inferior to MiG-29 in performance, but sells for about $10 million, while the price of a MiG-29 is about $35 mln. MiG-29s are currently competing with FC-1s in an Egyptian tender on the delivery of 32 fighters. In addition, Egypt has launched negotiations with Pakistan on the licensed production of FC-1 aircraft. Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) approved the re-export of RD-93 engines to Egypt as part of the FC-1 fighter package in November 2007.”

Feb 18/10: 1st squadron. The first squadron of JF-17 Thunder aircraft is formally indicted into Pakistan’s Air Force by Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman. DAWN.

1999 – 2009

From MoU through test aircraft, 8 initial planes, and an order for 42; Russia OK’s engines to allow the program to proceed; 1st locally-built JF-17 rolls out; Export loss in Myanmar.

(click to view full)

Dec 23/09: Myanmar. Myanmar (ex-Burma) reportedly buys 20 MiG-29s from Russia, preferring them over Chinese options that are said to have included the JF-17/ FC-1. Read “More MiG-29s for Myanmar.”

Myanmar loss

Nov 23/09: Industrial. The first JF-17 Thunder built at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) at Kamra rolls out. The rest of the order is expected to undergo final assembly at by PAC Kamra within the next 3 years. Associated Press of Pakistan | DAWN | Pakistan’s Daily Times | Pakistan’s The Nation | Pakistan Times | SANA News || Chandigarh Tribune | Press Trust of India | China’s Xinhua.

March 7/09: +42. The Associated Press of Pakistan reports that a contract for 42 co-produced JF-17s has been signed in Islamabad by China’s CATIC and the Pakistani Air Force, financed by “seller’s credit.” Production capacity is listed at 15 aircraft in the first year, rising to 30 aircraft per year thereafter.

Pakistan has been flying 8 aircraft to work out tactics, techniques, and procedures, and expects to stand up the first JF-17 squadron before the end of 2009. The aircraft will be based at Peshawar, alongside existing Chinese-made Q-5/A-5C “Fantan” fighters that are a hugely modified Chinese derivative of the MiG-19, and their accompanying JJ-6/FT-6 MiG-19 trainers.

The article adds a quote from Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mehmood Ahmed. He reiterated that cooperation on China’s canard-winged J-10/FC-20 is also progressing, with first deliveries to Pakistan expected in 2014-15. CATIC’s President MA Zhiping reportedly added that the first FC-20 aircraft built under that agreement would fly in 2009. APP | Pakistan’s The News.

42 JF-17 Block I

Jan 1/09: Industrial. Associated Press of Pakistan quotes Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) chairman Air Marshal Khalid Chaudhry HI (M) T Bt re: the JF-17 project, and PAC’s work more generally. The report was triggered by briefings associated with a visit from Sheikh Aftab Ahmad, head of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly on Defence Production. Air Marshal Chadhry reportedly said that PAC has the capability to manufacture 75% of the JF-17’s avionics, and 58% of its air frame.

The firm is currently deepening its experience and earning revenue by overhauling about 180 aircraft engines and 60 aircraft per year, including work undertaken by PAC’s Mirage rebuild factory that helps maintain Pakistan’s aged Mirage III/V fighters, and refurbishes scrap Mirages from other countries in order to keep overall fleet numbers up. High-tech avionics machinery recently imported “from various developed countries” is extending PAC’s capacity, and so has a $15 million contract from Boeing for aircraft parts.

Nov 28/08: Exports. Pakistani Ministry of Defence Production Secretary Shahid Siddiq Tirmizi claims that as many as 8 countries have shown interest in buying the JF-17 Thunder fighter. Azerbaijan, Sudan, and Zimbabwe are 3 countries that have been linked to export interest in the past. The News International.

A Pakistan Defense article widens that potential field to include Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka.

Nov 20/08: Pakistani Chief of Air Staff ACM(Air Chief Marshal) Tanvir Mahmood Ahmad says that aid the first JF-17 squadron would be inducted into the PAF fleet in the first quarter of 2009.

His accompanying announcement that another 36 high-tech combat aircraft (FC-20, probably a version of China’s J-10) would be inducted into the PAF fleet by 2010 got even more attention, but that didn’t come to pass. Pakistan Daily | Pak Tribune.

April 11/08: Exports. Jane’s Defence Weekly reports that:

“Pakistan and China have established a joint marketing organisation to promote international sales of their JF-17 ‘Thunder’ fighter aircraft, the head of the main Pakistani arms export agency has told Jane’s. Major General Muhammad Farooq, director general of Pakistan’s Defence Export Promotion Organisation (DEPO), described the JF-17 in early April as an ideal “choice for countries which are mindful of their finances.”

March 19/08: An article in Pakistan Defence claims that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) now has 8 JF-17 Thunder aircraft, after 6 more planes were received this March. All 8 will be used for testing and evaluation; the aircraft hasn’t been formally inducted into service yet.

Serial production has begun, and Pakistan’s Air Cheif Marshal reportedly said that about 60% of the airframe and 80% of the avionics would be manufactured in Pakistan by 2010, with production capacity rising to 25 aircraft per year by 2011. If true, it seems likely that deals with significant industrial offsets may be in the cards, as the article also claims that negotiations have begun with British, Italian, and French defense firms over potential avionics and other systems; France has reportedly offered its RC-400 radar and MBDA MICA missile.

Finally, the article claims that that:

“Thirteen countries have so far expressed interest in purchasing the JF-17 aircraft are Azerbaijan, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Sudan.”

Jan 22/08: Industrial. According to India Defence, Pakistan’s national TV reports that it has begun in-country manufacturing of the JF-17 fighter. About half of the on-board equipment and avionics will be manufactured in Kamra, Pakistan, with the rest coming from China.

PakAF Chief of Air Staff Ahmed reportedly committed to 15 aircraft built in 2008 and 20 in 2009, with the goal of building 25-30 per year.

FC-1/ JF-17
(click to view full)

Nov 29/07: Exports. The IWPA reports that:

“Azerbaijan is currently negotiating with Pakistan for the purchase of 24 Chinese-made JF-17 Thunder combat planes, worth between 16 and 18 million dollars each.”

In February 2009, however, Azerbaijan’s APA files a report that says the parties are still in talks, rather than under contract.

Nov 13/07: Jane’s Defense Weekly quotes Pakistani Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed as saying that the Pakistan Air Force will have an operational capability with JF-17 Thunder light fighter aircraft by the end of 2008, and expects to have its first 8 aircraft under a “small batch order” within the next few months.

“Speaking to Jane’s at the Dubai Air Show on 12 November, ACM Ahmed dismissed concerns over the Russian RD-93 engine that powers the joint Sino-Pakistan aircraft as “an issue created from here and there.”

April 26/07: Engine OK. India may need to hold that champagne, in the wake of recent reports. India Defence relays a report from the Russian newspaper Kommersant, which said that Vladimir Putin himself had personally supervised and signed a “Sino-Russian Fighter Assembly Agreement” which included joint assembly of JF-17 fighter aircraft with RD-93 engines, and their supply to third countries. Kommersant added that:

“This permission will enable the supply of 150 Chinese JF-17 fighter aircrafts to Pakistan, and help implement the contract for the supply of Russian engines worth USD 238 million.”

Kommersant added that “the permission does not imply Pakistan’s inclusion in the list of countries with which Russia has direct military-technical cooperation.” The question is whether Russian military-technical cooperation would be required under the Sino-Russian agreement. Meanwhile, the Indians appear to have been blindsided. The Press Counsellor of the Indian Embassy in Moscow Ramesh Chandra told Kommersant that “the Embassy was not aware” of the permission for re-export. See India Defence | India’s domain-b.

Russia OKs engines

March 29/07: Program. Pakistan’s The News International references an interview that Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mehmood Ahmed gves to Jane’s:

“The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) aims to acquire 200-250 JF-17 Thunder (FC-1) fighter aircraft in place of the 150 originally envisaged, Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mehmood Ahmed has said… According to Jane’s Russian sources had initially said emphatically, that the RD-93 engines… could not be re-exported to Pakistan. This position was reversed in November 2006… during a joint [Klimov/ Chengdu] press briefing at the Zhuhai Air Show in China… Pakistani sources claim they have a clear understanding from Chinese authorities that there will be no Russian effort to block the supply of the RD-93 engines to Pakistan. “The Chinese have told us the Russians haven’t issued a written licence but the Russians will not block the supply of the RD-93 to Pakistan,” one senior Pakistani government official told Jane’s.”

March 2/07: Delivery. China delivers a pair of JF-17 fighters equipped with Russian-made RD-93 engines to Pakistan, prompting Indian protests that claim a violation of the end-user agreement between Russia and China. The aircraft were officially presented on March 12/07, and made their first public appearance during the Pakistan Day Parade on March 23/07. Scramble.

April 28/06: Testing. PT-04 makes its first flight with fully operational avionics. Source.

April 2004: Testing. Second prototype flies, though some sources contend that the aircraft in question was PT-03 instead. A total of 4 aircraft were manufactured for flight testing, while PT-05 was designed for static fatigue testing on the ground. APP | Wikipedia.

Aug 25/03: Testing. First prototype aircraft flies. Source.

July 1/03: First prototype completes first taxi trials. Source.

May 13/03: First prototype aircraft rolled out. Source.

1st prototype

September 2001: The FC-1/JF-17’s detailed design is finalized. Source.

1999: MoU. China and Pakistan agreed on 50-50 joint development of the FC-1/Super 7.

Development MoU

Additional Readings

Background: JF-17 Thunder

Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra – JF-17 Aircraft. See also Avionics Systems Co-produced Projects.

Sino Defence – FC-1/JF-17 Multirole Fighter Aircraft.

Wikipedia – JF-17 Thunder.

GlobalSecurity – FC-1 “Chao Qi” / JF-17 Thunder. The Chinese name translates as “Fierce Dragon.”

GlobalSecurity – JF-17 Thunder.

JF-17.com. Not an official site.

Background: Aircraft Ancillaries

Klimov – RD-33 Family. Of which the RD-93 engine is one.

Selex Galileo – Selex Galileo’s Grifo. The firm is a Finmeccanica subsidiary. While their material has said in the past that their Grifo S7 radar would equip the JF-17, that role seems to have gone to the Chinese.

Sino Defence – PiLi-12 Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile.

Sino Defence – PiLi-5 Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile. The PAF reportedly uses the PL-5E II.

Sino Defence – LeiShi-6 Precision Guided Glide Bomb.

Global Security – C-802 / YJ-2 / Ying Ji-802 / CSS-C-8 / SACCADE/ C-8xx / YJ-22 / YJ-82.

Sino Defence – KongDi-88 (C-802KD) Air-Launched

Show more