JF-17 Thunder FC-1 Multirole Fighter Aircraft

FC-1/ JF-17, armed
JF-17 Thunder FC-1 Multirole Fighter Aircraft

1st PAF squadron inducted; Russia’s UAC complains re: engine exports; PAF to use Chinese radars, BVR missiles instead of French. (Nov 18/10)
The JF-17 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 would host modern electronics, and represent a step up from its Chinese MiG-19/21 derivatives, and French Mirage fighters. This positioning addresses a market that the West once dominated, but has nearly abandoned in recent decades.
China has made no decisions yet for the PLAAF, but Pakistan has signed an agreement for the first 42 operational JF-17 aircraft, and is reportedly seeking additional agreements with Western firms for avionics and weapons upgrades. 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. The 2 countries have set up a joint JF-17 marketing agency to promote export sales, and their offering has received initial interest.

    JF-17 at IDEAS 2008
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    The JF-17/FC-1 is a sub-$20 million 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.
    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, giving the aircraft an engine that is reliable 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, commercial processors, and reports that software coding was done in the commercial C++ language rather than a military language like Ada.
    Conflicting reports exist regarding its databuses (MIL-STD-1553 or the more advanced MIL-STD-1760), which will affect its range of usable weapons. GPS-guided weapons in particular require the -1760 databus. Its multi-mode radar has also in some question. China’s KLJ-7 mechanically-scanned array, or the derivative KLJ-10 that equips China’s J-10/FC-20 fighters, are now the most likely, despite media references to a deal with Thales, or for Selex Galileo’s Grifo that already equips Pakistan’s F-7s (Grifo-7), and some of its Mirage III/Vs (Grifo M3/M5). Selex Galileo’s own materials [PDF] describe the Grifo S7 as “The version selected for the JF-17 aircraft”, but multiple reports in November 2010 indicate that its radar will be Chinese instead.

    Farnborough array
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    Fixed weapons include a GSh-23 dual-barrel 23mm cannon, which can be upgraded to a GSh-30 dual-30mm cannon at a weight and ammunition penalty. Up to 3,700 kg/ 8,150 pounds of payload can be carried on its centerline station, plus 2 underwing and 1 wingtip pylons on each wing. The aircraft will reportedly be qualified to take AIM-9P Sidewinder or Chinese PL-7/8/9 short range air-to-air missiles on the wingtip rails and underwing. China’s PL-12/SD-10 medium range missiles have been confirmed as its main armament.
    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 laser designator pod. Full status as a recognized multirole fighter, however, must wait until their the ability to use precision laser guidance and/or GPS-guided ground attack weapons is confirmed.

    PAF F-16A drops Mk.82s
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    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.

    Chinese J-7E
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    Ultimately, Pakistan intends to induct 150 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). That number could rise, and some reports place potential 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.
    China has remained on the fence regarding the program, with no orders placed to date. The PLAAF 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), however, 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 around the world, even as the USAF equipped itself with larger and more expensive designs instead.
    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. These include the MRTA transport aircraft, and reportedly a “5th generation fighter” project, even as the MiG-29OVT/MiG-35 is touted as the likely winner of the multi-billion MRCA fighter contract. 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.

    PL-12 & PL-8 on JF-17
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    Dec 22/10: Aviation Week reports that about half of the 42 JF-17s Pakistan has ordered 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 surprises.
    Nov 18/10: 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: 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 Rosoboronexports 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: 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.

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    Dec 23/09: 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.”
    Nov 23/09: 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: 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.
    Jan 1/09: 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 PACs capacity, and so has a $15 million contract from Boeing for aircraft parts.
    Nov 28/08: 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 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 more attention, however. Pakistan Daily | Pak Tribune.
    April 11/08: 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 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: 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

    Nov 29/07: 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: 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.
    March 29/07: 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: 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: PT-04 makes its first flight with fully operational avionics.
    April 2004: 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 |
    Aug 25/03: First prototype aircraft flies.
    July 1/03: First prototype completes first taxi trials.
    May 13/03: First prototype aircraft rolled out.
    September 2001: The FC-1/JF-17’s detailed design is finalized.
    1999: China and Pakistan agreed on 50-50 joint development of the FC-1/Super 7.
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