Pakistan on June 30 began the licenced-assembly of the JF-17 ‘Thunder’ new-generation light multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA), with the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Rao Qamar Suleman, saying that this would help retain the ‘balance in airpower’ in South Asia. ACM Rao said this while formally inaugurating the final assembly facility of the JF-17 at the state-owned Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) in Kamra. “The aircraft would add to the PAF’s operational capability manifold and help retain the much-needed balance in airpower in the sub-continent,” he said. Pakistan and China had signed an agreement last March for the licenced-production of the first 42 JF-17s, and ACM Rao said that these new aircraft would begin replacing the PAF’s existing Nanchang A-5IICs and Chengdu F-7Ps and Dassault Mirage IIIPs. The roll-out of the first indigenously-assembled JF-17 is scheduled for this October. “The JF-17 programme has two main objectives—strengthening of our national security through indigenous production of new-generation combat aircraft, and building up Pakistan’s aviation industries. The programme has so far made very significant progress on both these counts,” ACM Rao said. “Most of the technical-industrial infrastructure for building the JF-17s is complete, and both Pakistan and China are looking at third-party export sales in big numbers,” he added.
The JF-17 has been jointly developed by a consortium of companies comprising PAC and China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC), Chengdu Aircraft Group Corp (CAC) and its Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute, China Aero Technology Import and Export Corp (CATIC), and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASIC). The first two JF-17s were airlifted to Kamra from Chengdu in early March, 2005. The aircraft were subsequently assembled at PAC’s brand-new JF-17 assembly line at Kamra (which was commissioned on April 6, 2005) and were ready for flight tests by March 18. The same day, these two aircraft were publicly rolled out for the then Chief of the Air Staff of the PAF, Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed. The first eight JF-17s are fitted with CETC-built KLJ-7 airborne multi-mode X-band monopulse radars, but two of CETC’s state-owned research institutes in Nanjing and Wuxi (No14 Institute and No607 Institute) subsequently won the bid for supplying the improved KLJ-10 multi-mode X-band monopulse radars. The PAF in future is expected to select the Vixen 1000ES AESA radar made by Italy’s Galileo Avionica (the Italian unit of SELEX Sensors and Airborne Systems and part of the Finmeccanica group) for installation on board at least 100 JF-17s as well as on board the 40 Chengdu FC-20 medium-MRCAs. The PAC had licence-assembled 15 JF-17s in 2008 and another 20 this year. Later this year, the PAF will have its first operational JF-17 squadron—26 Sqn—which will be deployed at Peshawar and this will be followed by 16 Sqn. By 2018 the PAF will receive about 240 JF-17s to equip eight squadrons.
The PAF has to date committed to acquiring 150 JF-17s in its present configuration (which has a single-axis fly-by-wire flight control system for yaw, and not for pitch or roll), whilst China is expected to buy 250 for the PLA Air Force depending on the outcome of on-going flight trials. Pakistan will initially produce 50% of the aircraft locally, progressively increasing to 100% of the airframe. The unit price of a JF-17 will be kept under US$20 million. Potential export customers for the JF-17 Thunder include the air forces of Bangladesh, Egypt, Ghana, Iran, Libya, Mynamar, Nigeria, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Originally known as Super-7, the JF-17 Thunder/FC-1 Xiaolong (Fierce Dragon) has been developed at a cost of $150 million (with Pakistan contributing 50% of this amount) by the Chengdu Aerospace Corporation (CAC) under a China-Pakistan joint venture. The JF-17 is a lightweight MRCA powered by a single Klimov RD-93 turbofan (imported off-the-shelf from Russia), rated at 49.4kN (11,103lb st) dry or 84.4kN (18,969lb st) with afterburner. It was in June 1999 that China and Pakistan inked the joint development and production agreement to co-develop the JF-17. The first JF-17 was rolled out on May 31, 2003 and it made its maiden flight on August 24, 2003. This was followed by a second airframe (PT-2) being built for static tests, and two more flying prototypes. The third prototype, called PT-3, joined PT-1 in the flight-test programme on April 9, 2004. First flight of the redesigned and definitive prototype (PT-4) took place on May 10, 2006 at Wenjiang Airport in Chengdu, capital of southwest China’s Sichuan Province. The JF-17’s sixth prototype first flew on September 10, 2006. The first two pre-production JF-17s (Nos101 and 102) were delivered to Pakistan on March 2, 2005. PT-4 was used for avionics integration tests and weapons qualification trials. Conducting the flight tests on behalf of CAC were experimental test pilots Liang Wan Jun and Wang Wen Jiang.
The 13-tonne JF-17 is not a true unstable design, just relaxed stability, which simply means an aircraft that was designed without consideration for positive stability. The airframe features ‘diverterless’ engine inlets, has larger wing leading-edge root extensions, longer ventral strakes either side of the aft fuselage, and a taller, less swept fin. In place of the conventional ramp of the original two-dimensional intake, the new design features a ‘hump’ to aerodynamically divert turbulent boundary-layer airflow away from the engine inlet. Diverter plates are used to separate the boundary layer of air that comes off the body of the aircraft in front of the inlet. The angled sides just in front of the inlets in PT-1 were meant to create a consistent gap between the body of the aircraft and the diverter plates, therefore ensuring a separation of the boundary layer. The JF-17’s fourth prototype—which is the definitive design—uses a diverterless bump to deflect the slowed air coming off the body of the aircraft in the boundary layer. The design no longer depends on a gap but on the angle of the bump and the angle along the body of the aircraft in front of the inlets that air rush in. The mouths of the inlets are also now scooped (angled forward, instead of being perpendicular) as part of the DSI principle of dealing with the boundary layer. The JF-17’s fuselage is built of lightweight aluminium alloys. Airframe life according PAC is 6,000 hours, or 25 years). Internal fuel capacity is 2,200kg. For flight controls, the JF-17 currently uses a Type 634 longitudinal fly-by-wire (FBW) system, while the lateral flight control system is still mechanical. For enhancing the JF-17’s combat radius, a fixed in-flight refuelling probe mounted on the starboard side of the aircraft’s cockpit area has been developed. The RD-93 turbofan’s service life is 2,100 hours (with a time-between-overhaul of 800 hours. Specific fuel consumption is 2.1kg/kgf/hr in afterburner mode. It has been optimised to provide a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 at an altitude of 55,000 feet. Russia’s Rosoboronexport State Corp is currently fulfilling orders under a $267 million contract signed in mid-2005 for the supply of 100 RD-93s, with an option to order another 400 engines. A total of 15 turbofans were supplied by late 2004. Future plans call for Klimov to increase the RD-93’s thrust from 8.3 tonnes to 9 tonnes.
The JF-17’s avionics package, integrated via a MIL-STD-1553B digital databus driven by twin 32-bit mission computers, includes a HUD with a 24-degree field of view, three AMLCD-based multifunction cockpit displays measuring 20.3cm x 30.6cm (8-inch x 12-inch), a hybrid ring laser gyro/GPS-based inertial navigation system, hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) controls, and a health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS). The KLJ-10 radar can currently detect 40 airborne targets, track 10 targets and engage two targets simultaneously at beyond visual range. The radar’s detection range for a 3 square metre target is 75km in the look-up mode, and 45km in the look-down mode. Seaborne targets can be located out to a distance of 135km. The CETC-built radar warning receiver has a library capable of recognising more than 100 threatening emitters. This will later be increased to 300. The on-board HF/VHF/UHF communications suite will be supplemented by a another radio to serve as a receive-only data link for data relayed by airborne early warning and control aircraft like the Saab 2000 AEW & C, four of which are on order by the PAF. For weapons management purposes the JF-17 makes use of a MIL-STD-1760 databus.
The JF-17’s weapons package comprises one internal GSh-23-2 twin-barrel 23mm cannon, and up to 3,629kg (8,000lb) of ordnance carried on up to seven external stations (two wingtip stations, four underwing and one on the centre fuselage). Precision-guided munitions (PGM) to be carried will include the 500kg (1,102lb) Lei Ting LT-2 laser-guided bomb developed by China’s Luoyang Optical-Electro Technology Development Centre, and GPS-guided PGMs like the 500kg FT-1 bomb, 250kg FT-3 bomb, and the LS-6 500kg.
Target designation for the LT-2 will be carried out by a pod-mounted system developed by Xi’an Sicong Group. For air combat, the JF-17 will be armed with the CPMIEC-built PL-12 beyond visual range air-to-air missile and the PL-9C within visual range air combat missile. The SD-10’s range is 70km when launched at an altitude of 60km and it takes only 20 seconds for it to attain a speed of Mach 4 to travel 30km. The missile can attain a maximum g load of 38, and its active radar seeker’s target detection range is 20km.
The PL-9C, weighing 115kg, has a range of 22km, and can sustain a g load of 40. Meanwhile, in what is seen as a counter to India’s effort to jointly develop the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) with Russia’s Sukhoi Aircraft Corp, the PAC and CAC in October 2006 inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to jointly develop an advanced, stealthy, single-seat and single-engined derivative of the JF-17 Thunder MRCA.
Last Updated ( Monday, 17 August 2009 )