JF-17 Thunder Multi-role fighter aircraft - Not a Blunder
JF-17 was designed specifically to meet the requirements of Pakistani Air force. Pakistan air force needed an affordable fighter, which could be produced in significant numbers with decent capabilities. It was supposed to be an inexpensive light-weight medium-tech fighter jet, not prone to western sanctions. When everything was said and done, JF-17 had met all these requirements. When the aircraft entered service, it was superior than all types of aircrafts in Pakistani inventory other than Block 52 F-16 C/D. Let’s not forget though, that as per Pakistani defense minister Mr. Mukhtar, JF-17 comes at a price of $20-25m a piece, as compared to F-16s, costing $80mn a unit. Fighter jet's design was completed and it entered operational service in a very short amount of time.
If we’re fishing for blunders, we need not look much further than in our own neighborhood. Compare JF-17 with a similar program of a neighboring country, where lack of capabilities, bureaucratic inefficiencies and changing goal posts has meant that an aircraft has been under development for more than two decades. The testing of the supposed indigenous LCA-TEJAS is still ongoing, despite having technological and hardware support from USA, Russia, Israel and Europe. While LCA-Tejas still goes through the trials, the production of Block-II JF-17s will commence shortly in China, if not started already. The Block-IIs are reported to have superior avionics and better performance than the current versions of JF-17s. What is known so far of JF-17’s upgrade path includes design changes to incorporate stealthy capabilities, AESA radars, IRST, retractable air-refueling probe and more use of composite materials. Pakistan will have at least 90 JF-17s by the end of 2011. LCAs will get operational clearance by late 2012, provided that no more delays occur, by that time Block-III JF-17s are expected to be in production.
Indian online communities once touted that LCA-Tejas was as good as any Euro-canard, yet we saw all Euro-canards participate in MMRCA, with Dassault Rafale and Euro-fighter making it into the finals. If LCA-Tejas was actually on par and had been ready on time, India would not be spending over $10bn on foreign aircrafts if the supposed indigenous aircraft was superior or even close in capabilities to MMRCA contestants. But as we know, the reality is far from it.
Another myth, considered to be reality amongst segments of certain areas elements in Indian online communities is that JF-17 is similar and/or on par with J-7s (Mig-21). Anyone having slightest of knowledge in aviation knows that not only is the JF-17 design very different from that of Mig-21, but that it is clearly superior than that plane. Compared to Mig-21, JF-17 has superior design, superior airframe, superior engine, superior avionics and superior weaponry. JF-17 was always supposed to be well superior of Mig-21 variants. Why would Pakistan spend money to replace Mig-21 variants with an aircraft that is similar in capabilities?
It has often been argued that since JF-17 is all Chinese, it is somehow going to be inferior. As we have discovered, China is only the third country in the world to develop a stealth fighter. Only second country to be able to fund the development entirely. The aviation industry of China has moved at a rapid pace. They have decades of experience in aviation industry, there expertise far surpasses that of Indian industry.
Pakistan had option to integrate European avionics yet Pakistan chose to go with Chinese versions. According to PAF, the Chinese avionics met air force’s requirements and at a cheaper price than what was offered by the Europeans. Let us not forget the idea of JF-17s gained momentum only after western sanctions when the western weapons were rendered very limited. JF-17s will not be affected by western sanctions.
JF-17 is a stunning success story and a model for other developing nations.