China just agreed to deliver up to 50 JF-17 Thunder multi role fighter planes to Pakistan ‘available immediately’. China is reported to be assuming all the costs involved in the agreement. This latest announcement comes after a 4-days official visit to China by Pakistan’s prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. The move is intended as a public display of a close friendship between the two nations. Pakistan had come under increasing international scrutiny, particularly from Washington following the discovery of Bin Laden hiding there. At stake is the possible curtailing of Foreign Military Sales from the US which has contributed more than $7.1 billion allocated in various forms since 2001 in exchange for Pakistan’s collaboration in the war on terror. According to congressional research documents, during fiscal year 2002-2010, Pakistan acquired up to 95 Mid Life Upgrade kits worth more than $1 billion for its fleet of F-16A/B. The fleet of F-16 aircraft that Pakistan received in the early 90’s had fallen in disrepair following the arms embargo imposed on account of its successful nuclear military program in 1997. The east Asian nation also received 14 F-16A/B excess inventory from the US and more importantly was allowed to purchase 18 new more advanced F-16C/D Block 50/52, critical to bringing its air force at parity with India’s. In addition, more sophisticated armament for the F-16 was delivered; this includes 500 Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missiles, 1450 2000-pounds bombs, 500 Joint Direct Attack Munition tail kits, 1,600 Enhanced Paveway laser-guided kits ($629 million), 100 Harpoon anti-shipping missiles ($95 million), 500 sidewinder short range air-to-air missiles ($95 million). In its 2010 Military Balance, the International Institute for Strategic Studies places Pakistan as 7th leading purchaser of US defense articles and services between 2006 and 2009.
China’s FC-1 Xiaolong /JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft project initiated cooperatively with Pakistan in 1999 aimed at providing advanced multi-role fighter capabilities superior to the obsolescent Mirage III family, and comparable to the F-16A/B. The prototype first flew in 2003 and a first batch of 8 aircraft ordered began arriving in Pakistan in 2007-2008, re-equipping Squadron number 26. A follow-up order for 42 aircraft was signed in March 2009 putting the aircraft price below the rumored price of $15 million per unit. With a total Pakistan Air Force requirement of 250 aircraft, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) has acquired “the exclusive rights of 58% of JF-17 airframe co-production work “ according to their website. Additionally PAC also offers expertise engineering services in integrating the JF-17 radar; the S7 Griffo. Initially developed by M/S Selex Galileo of Italy, the S7 operates in the X-band. Its Pulse Doppler wave and digital fire control system allow all weather look down/shoot down capability, offers 25 different working modes as well as 70-100km Beyond Visual Range target engagement. The aircraft can also conduct precision laser-guided air to ground strikes. The S7 claims a very high Mean Time Before Failure. However the latest batch of 50 JF-17 is likely to incorporate the newer Chinese indigenous KLJ-7 radar developed by Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology (NRIET) which, according to Janes can manage up to 40 targets.
The aircraft fuselage provides a basic semi-monocoque design with near identical dimensions with the Mirage 2000 and slightly smaller than a F-16 in length and wingspan. The JF-17 is at a clear disadvantage in maximum take off weight at 28,000lbs. It is 14,000lbs less than a F-16 and around 9,500 lbs below the Mirage 2000. In operation, this disadvantage is more palpable as the aircraft is limited to 7 hardpoints attachments for stores and armament which can not exceed 8,200lbs. The FC-1/JF-17 is powered by a Chinese derivative of the famous Russian-made Klimov RD-93 turbofan jet engine rated 49.4kN dry or 84.4kN with afterburning although a redesigned indigenous turbofan engine alternative designated WS-13 (or Tianshan-21) is likely to find its way to the JF-17.
Avionics systems comprise a modern glass cockpit using 3 Multi Function Displays and smart Heads-Up Display (HUD). The pilot can leverage on Hands On Throttle And Stick control interface set up. A dual redundant mission computers, a 1553 mil std bus, advanced ring laser gyro Inertial Navigation System / Global Positioning System increase the aircraft mission envelop.
The JF-17 is a highly maneuverable aircraft employing a quadruple redundant fly by wire system with advanced aerodynamics features such as slat leading edge moving flaps and dual ventral fins for increased directional stability at high angles of attack maneuvers. Yet these features are incorporated within a traditional design with a single vertical tail and two horizontal tails.
The slightly curved strakes leading edges are attached to the side-mounted air inlets, blending smoothly with the wing root while providing better lift at higher angle of attack. The JF-17 air inlets implement the innovative DSI fuselage bumps to optimize air flow entering the engine ducts and compressor during various regimes of flight. Normally the rush of air flow along a fuselage surface tends to form a very thin layer where the air flow can slow down dramatically, resulting in an inadequate flow of air to the engine. Traditional designs would normally require a ‘lip’ separating the actual air flowing through the engine inlet from the boundary layer forming on the fuselage outer skin. Locating a Divertless Supersonic Inlet (DSI) ‘bump’ at the base of the air inlet prevents the boundary layer to form there. This approach precludes the employment of moving air inlet mechanisms while improving overall design simplicity and even radar signature (stealth).
The Pakistan Air Force who entered the war on terror pursuing a two-fold procurement strategy of sourcing additional F-16 and/or parts while furthering the development and deployment of a cheaper, embargo-proof, non-US alternative, appears now confined to the latter option.
On April 30th 2011 we reported the test launch of Pakistan’s new Air launched cruise Missile. The Raad, delivered from a Mirage III offers precision strikes capabilities at ranges of 215 miles (350 km) with an estimated 9 ft (3 m) target accuracy probability (Circular Error Probability -CEP) carrying both conventional or nuclear warhead. This Tomahawk-like weapon complements the evolving stand-off missile launch capability within the Pakistani Air Force arsenal. With India as a strategic rival, the newer JF-17 because it is now likely to become available in much larger numbers than the very advanced F-16s (particularly the Block 52) will be the dominant platform for both nuclear and conventional role in the near future.