The JF-17 Thunder fighter, co-developed by China’s Avic and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), is to receive improvements that will start being produced with the Block-2 version from next year.
The enhancements will effect the data link and electronic warfare capabilities. An air-to-air refueling capability will be added, as will be new guided weapons. A two-seat variant is being developed, too. The current program schedule calls for the Pakistan-based factory to deliver the JF-17 Block-2 to the PAF from mid-2012 to 2015. Then, a Block-3 version is planned from 2016. Block-1 aircraft are being delivered until the middle of next year.
PAF Air Chief Marshall Rao Qamar Suleiman said marketing efforts focus on those countries needing to replace old fighters such as the MiG-21, early Mirage, F-5 and Phantom types. The program’s target export countries can be found in Latin America, Africa and Asia. “We offer performance comparable to U.S. and European fighters when it comes to radar, dogfight missile, range and BVR [beyond visual range] capabilities, for one third of the cost,” Suleiman claimed.
So far, five countries are said to have taken a close look at the aircraft. China itself is currently evaluating the JF-17 and a decision is expected “shortly.” Avic and the PAF expect to sell “between 300 and 500 JF-17s” over the next 10 years.
The in-service fleet has logged a total of 10,000 flight hours with the PAF. In China, the JF-17 is also known as the FC-1 Xiaolong.