Next month a ceremony will be held in Pakistan to mark the delivery of the 50th JF-17 multirole fighter from the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) factory at Kamra. The handover marks the completion of production of the first batch of aircraft for the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). Designed in China by Chengdu as the FC-1, the JF-17 Thunder is being jointly developed and marketed by the Chinese and PAC.
With the first batch completed, the Kamra factory is gearing up to begin Block 2 production, with a gap of a few weeks to reconfigure the assembly line to provide for the new version. Block 2 JF-17s differ by between 10 and 15 percent from Block 1 machines, with improvements implemented across much of the avionics suite. The most important difference is the addition of an air-to-air refueling capability.
Block 2 will cover a further 50 aircraft and will complete the current firm orders from the PAF for 100 JF-17s. However, the eventual force requirement is considerably greater as the JF-17 replaces the F-5, F-7 and Mirage in PAF service. The factory is currently producing at a rate of 16 aircraft per year, but can increase to 25 if needed. All JF-17s are assembled in Pakistan, but China retains around 40 percent of the total workshare.
The JF-17 partnership is currently in the process of defining what the configuration of the Block 3 production aircraft will be, with the main aim of enhancing capability. This may include new weapons, from both Chinese and other origins, and possibly new radar and engine. The JF-17 already has the SD-10 (PL-12) active-radar air-to-air missile, and other weapons are being explored. PAC claims that integration of new weapons can be accomplished in a quick and cost-effective fashion.
Chengdu has schemed a two-seat trainer version that may prove attractive to some customers. It is understood that the project remains an engineering study only for now, and any further development would depend on a customer requirement. Pakistan has no such need for a trainer for the time being, as it has found the JF-17 to be an easy aircraft to fly with an excellent human/machine interface. The development of capable simulators means that the conversion of pilots to the type can be accomplished without the need for a two-seater, even for ab initio pilots flying the JF-17 as their first operational type. However, the future development of a two-seat combat aircraft is a possibility.
Here at Dubai the JF-17 is being displayed daily by Wing Commander Ronald, commander of No. 16 ‘Black Panthers’ Squadron. PAC has sent three aircraft to the show to promote the JF-17 to potential buyers. The company suggests that there is a global requirement to replace up to 4,000 early-generation jet fighters, and it is pitching the JF-17 as a cost-effective aircraft that offers true multi-role capability. PAC reports that 11 countries are showing strong interest in the type.