Being exhibited at the Paris Air Show for the first time, the PAC/Chengdu JF-17 Thunder has secured a first export customer, according to the program office. Details of the customer, or the number of aircraft involved, remain undisclosed, but the first delivery is due in 2017. Furthermore, Air Commodore Khalid Mahmood, chief executive for JF-17 sales and marketing, told AIN that there were “12 interested countries at different stages.”
Located at Kamra, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) has completed the Block 1 production of 50 aircraft for the Pakistan Air Force, the first eight of which were built as a pre-production batch but which have subsequently been raised to full operational capability. Another 50 aircraft in Block 2 are now in production, of which the air force has taken delivery of four. The build rate is currently running at 25 aircraft per year, but PAC is investigating increases that might be required in the future. The Block 2 aircraft feature inflight refuelling capability and improvements to avionics, electronic warfare equipment and other areas.
Now PAC and Chengdu are working on two major developments for the JF-17. Pakistan’s planned Block 3 aircraft is still to be defined, but a key area under study is a new radar, of Chinese origin, which could be a passive or electronically scanned antenna type. Another likely feature of Block 3 is the addition of a chin-station to allow the carriage of a targeting pod without having to give up a weapon station under the wing.
Pakistan has formal plans to acquire 50 Block 3 JF-17s, although that figure could rise. Aircraft from earlier blocks are likely to be upgraded to the later standard.
Two-seat Version Forthcoming
Another line of development for PAC and Chengdu is that of the two-seat JF-17B, driven partly by the needs of the export market. A model was displayed at the 2013 Paris show and again this year, while the formal go-ahead for the project was given around six months ago.
The two-seater is scheduled to fly at Chengdu’s plant in China in December 2016. The JF-17B retains full combat capability, and as much of the existing airframe is being kept as possible. The design features a humped dorsal spine to restore the fuel capacity displaced by the second seat, in turn requiring a dorsal fin to restore keel area.
In terms of JF-17 powerplant, Air Commodore Mahmood told AIN that, “We’re satisfied with the [Russian Klimov] RD-93, but some customers may want another engine. We have done preliminary studies on the [Eurojet] EJ200 and [Snecma] M88. They are doable.”
One area in which the JF-17 team is expanding options is that of ordnance. Currently, the aircraft is integrated with three Chinese weapons–the PL-5 and SD-10 air-to-air missiles and the C-802AK long-range anti-ship missile. Other ordnance used by the aircraft is produced in Pakistan by the Air Weapons Complex.
Recognizing that potential customers may wish to use older weapons in their inventories or those from other sources, a dedicated air force flight-test group has been established at Kamra to conduct weapons integration and other trials. The unit is currently involved in testing a GPS-guided kit of Pakistani origin that converts Mk 80-series bombs into precision weapons.
The air force has also implemented an integrated logistics support system for the JF-17, and full support is part of the export offering being made by Chengdu and PAC. The two companies are both marketing the JF-17 (also known as FC-1), either jointly or independently, focusing particularly on the low cost of acquisition compared with other fighters, as well as the low operating costs that accompany a new aircraft as opposed to the purchase of second-hand fighters. Regardless of which nation secures a sale, the work share for any export deal is similar.