Serial production of JF-17 Thunder expedited

Serial production of JF-17 Thunder expedited

While the India Tejas (LCA) remains mired in testing and failures for the past two decades, the Pakistani establishment and the PAF has shared technology with the Chinese and developed a brand new fighter in a record 4 years.The Pakistan Air Force has traditionally been known as one of the most professional air forces in the world. But the 1990s was a tough decade for the PAF and much of their prestige was lost. Pakistan chose to invest in nuclear weapons and diverted resources there. Damaging sanctions against Pakistan also hurt the PAF more than any other armed service. Thus, a decade was lost and PAF was left behind. The Indian Air Force meanwhile, found the 1990s most fruitful.


Indians progressed in leaps and bounds, as the Indian economy expanded, military equipment from the West and Russia opened up, and the IAF started learning and incorporating Western standards of air combat. Yet, there were times when India’s political environment forced itself upon the IAF.

Forced to wait for a local replacement for its MiG-21s that has been in development for over 20 years, and forced to abandon purchases because of political interference from within India, the IAF, on the turn of the century, found itself restrained.

Analysis of the PAF vs. IAF - Air Combat Over the Subcontinent by M. Hussain

In the 80s Pakistan faced sanctions from the USA its traditional supplier of arms. The sanctions turned out to be a blessings in disguise.

After winning the war in Afghanistan, defeating the USSR and observing the implosion of the Soviet Union Pakistanis wanted to celebrate with their American allies. Pakistan has always been proud of the Sabres, the F-104s and the F-16s.

Every Pakistani truck in the 90s had an F-16 painted on its side and back. Pakistan paid $450 million to the USA for F-16 aircraft. Before the aircraft were delivered a cascading level of crippling sanctions were imposed on Pakistan.

The F-16s aircraft, the pride and jof of the PAF were never delivered and the money was never returned. This theft, to this day remains one of the biggest points of Anti-Americanism in Pakistan.


Pakistan meanwhile gained momentum. Years of sanctions led to the development of a joint project with China - the JF-17. Unlike the Indian effort, this bore fruit quickly, under the able leadership of the PAF and astute decision making on the part of their military leader Musharraf.

And after 9/11, the doors to Western equipment and military aid opened up again. But constant stalling plagued them such that little of concrete and operational value has been inducted.

The PAF is nevertheless modernizing, and by 2012 would have caught up with the IAF. With induction in numbers of JF-17s and J-10s by the end of 2009, the PAF will see the gap vis-à-vis the IAF close rapidly. Analysis of the PAF vs. IAF - Air Combat Over the Subcontinent by M. Hussain

The project was originally expected to cost about US$500 million, divided equally between Pakistan and China. Each plane will cost Pakistan about US$15-20 million. The JF-17 Thunder initial development project was completed in a record period of four years. However, later improvements to the project have taken up more time–though without delays.

After robust testing and extensive flight tests, the JF-17 Thunder is now in serial production per schedule.

Yet, in the Winter of 2008/2009, the PAF is yet half-made and the threat of war is thrust upon her. The PAF and IAF are on their highest alert, as the IAF sees its last opportunity to break the PAF, and the PAF holds strong and does not back down. The vital question thus becomes, what will happen if war broke out now? Today? Would the PAF collapse? Such a question cannot be answered without looking carefully at the assets and capabilities of both air forces. Analysis of the PAF vs. IAF - Air Combat Over the Subcontinent by M. Hussain

Per plan 30-50 planes will be produced per year though there is an expectation that this production schedule may be improved upon based on export targets. The planes come fitted with “Beyond Visual Range Missiles” and expanded custom developed functionality to reach far away targets without refueling. It can fire the Pakistani developed nuclear tipped missiles and Pakistani cruise missiles also. The indigenous production capability will increase exponentially because also wants to export these planes.
The first salients we notice is that the IAF is far larger, with about 740 combat aircraft versus the PAF’s approximate 400 aircraft. We see that the IAF has over 100 FLANKERs that are modernized and top-rate against the PAF’s handful of early block F-16As. The IAF fields BVR missiles in platforms ranging from the MiG-21 Bisons to the Su-30 MKI against a PAF which officially does not have BVRs.
Yet, everything is not as it seems. What at first glance seems overwhelming odds against the PAF, on closer examination, do not seem as overwhelming. The IAF has far lower serviceability of its aircraft, their pilot training, as evidenced by recent Red Flag exercises with the US is also not yet up to par with the PAF, their maintenance crews are not as diligent, their mainly Russian/Soviet technology is generally less reliable and less effective than advertised, and a large part of their fleet of MiG-21s and MiG-27s are outdated. PAF aircraft are either of Western stock or Chinese and are far more maintenance friendly. Pakistan has also been upgrading their aircraft massively and have incorporated a complex combination of technology from across the globe - from China to Brazil, from South Africa to the US. PAF also very likely has BVRs that are not advertised of South African and Chinese origin. PAF pilot training is on par with the best in the world, and its maintenance crews are trained on the level of Western maintenance crews. Lastly, fighting an air war over Pakistan gives the PAF a home advantage and makes their radar and SAM infrastructure very relevant.
IAF aircraft are mainly of Soviet/Russian origin and are not designed for easy maintenance. The Soviets designed aircraft for mass production and on the view that combat aircraft would have short lives in a full scale conflict. As such, ease of maintenance was the last item on their mind. Even the latest Indian acquisition of Russian aircraft, the Su-30 MKI is known for being highly maintenance intensive and extremely fragile. Modifications to the FLANKERs have made them even more difficult to maintain - and example being that IAF sometimes faces tire shortages because the increased tonnage of the Indian FLANKERs make their tires burn out very rapidly.

Indian maintenance crews are also not up to par - at least compared to Western air forces. The large number of IAF crashes is indicative of this, one of the highest rates amongst air forces of the world. What compounds this problem is the age of large sections of the Indian fleet which has large numbers of MiG-21s and MiG-27s that are, besides the Bisons, highly outdated and are sometimes referred to as “Flying Coffins” by their pilots. It is no wonder that India has a hard time recruiting and retaining pilots .

Analysis of the PAF vs. IAF - Air Combat Over the Subcontinent by M. Hussain

Pakistan is already working on a new plane based on the J-10 and the J-11 or the latest Russian planes

Pakistan on the other hand has no problems recruiting pilots - the PAF has one of the highest rejection rates amongst air forces in the world. The PAF also has a better pilot to aircaft ratio than the IAF, meaning it could sustain a greater sortie rate over a protracted conflict. PAF aircraft are also “pimped” in that they have been extensively modified. Thus, while on paper PAF is flying ancient Mirages that were bought second hand from the Australians, when one actually examines any such model, one is surprised at how extensively they have been rebuilt - almost from scratch and the hardware is extremely lethal. Other than the secretive BVR AAMs, the PAF has extensively incorporated the strike element into its Mirages, at a level only matched by the IAF’s Mirage-2000s and Su-30 FLANKERs, and even then, some of the equipment has no IAF equivalent.
Let us also remember than any conflict between the two forces would last a maximum of 2 weeks as neither side has either the logistics or the political will to fight a longer war. This means that the smaller air force can sustain itself on a more equal footing for the briefer period of time.
The IAF’s fleet of MiG-21s are very short legged. the PAF’s F-7s have better ranges and also don’t need to fly as far given that they would be defending. Considering how large the IAF’s fleet of MiG-21, this becomes a rather relevant point. It would be hard to imagine IAF’s MiG-21s being able to sustain a presence over Pakistani airspace. Meanwhile, Pakistani cruise missiles and ballistic missiles are significantly more developed, effective and numerous than their Indian counterparts. This means that many of the forward Indian air bases would effectively be discounted, further compounding the problem for the IAF.
All these factors suggest a far more complex and mixed picture of the balance between the two air forces. To quantify military power in a more concrete way and to see how this balance plays out, let us look at a model of the PAF and the IAF. Analysis of the PAF vs. IAF - Air Combat Over the Subcontinent by M. Hussain
2012 is the crucial ear for Pakistan Air Force. This is the year that the PAF is expected to overtake the IAF in all its aspects. Serial production of JF-17 aircraft to start soon, NA body told
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) would soon start serial production of JF-17 Thunder in collaboration with China, Standing Committee of the National Assembly on Defence Production was informed on Thursday.
The committee, headed by Sheikh Aftab Ahmad, visited the PAC and was given a detailed briefing on the ongoing projects. PAC Chairman Air Marshal Khalid Chaudhry gave a detailed briefing on the projects, informing them that the PAC has set up the factory for initiating the serial aircraft’s production. He said PAC had the capability to manufacture 75 percent of avionics and 58 percent of air-frame of the fighter aircraft.
About other projects being carried out by PAC, he said facility had been overhauling around 180 engines of various fighter jets and 60 aircraft a year. He also said the Mirage Rebuild Factory, which is a part of PAC has been rebuilding 35-year old Mirage aircraft, which were bought as scrap from various countries.
The chairman as well as members of the committee appreciated the work being carried out at PAC. They assured their full support to the management of PAC. app
Pakistan has announced that it could procure 150-300 aircraft to meet the tactical and strategic needs of its Air Force and to replace the Chengdu F-7P fighters in current service. Beijing delivered two $20-million JF-17 fighters equipped with Russian-made RD-93 engines to Pakistan in March 2007, prompting Indian protests which were overruled by Russia. Pakistan’s backup pla was to use the WC-13 Chinese version of the RD-93 engine. Sooner rather than later the JF-Thunder will switch to the Chinese version of the engine and eventually to the Pakistan engine being developed. Part of the jets development used the plans from Israel’s Lavi fighter.
JF-17 in other areas have also been improved. Aerodynamic improvements have increased their mobility, as well as the ability to engage in a variety of tasks. The small batches manufactured JF-17 is likely to represent the ultimate models of aircraft body Design. Particularly noteworthy is the central fuselage of DSI inlet used in the JF-17 has brought some stealth capability. Other improvements include reduced body weight, through redesigned interior more space has been created, an increase of the fuel carrying capacity, and increased range. Aircraft will achieve speed of 1.8 Mach. After the the improved engine, aircraft’s performance will further be enhanced. The new information shows that the current design will be frozen for the next three years before some further changes are introduced.
Let us consider three main elements - number of aircraft, how valuable each aircraft is in battle and aircraft serviceability. We have the number of aircraft as a given. We assign percentages for serviceability, and assign a value between 0 and 1 for how effective each aircraft is. To get a broadly accurate picture, these numbers do not have to be absolutely accurate, but relatively accurate.

JF-17 Evolution Continues:

The JF-17 is a truly remarkable plane. Starting from the basic designs that Chengdu and the PAF were tinkering with, the Super-7 with basically a MiG-21 with side intakes, it has evolved into a completely different beast. The Military Aviation community was taken by complete surprise, almost shock when the JF-17 came out with a modern cockpit, DSI intakes and previously unseen quality of build.

Yet, when even the most ardent followers of the program had thought that the JF-17 had fully evolved, it has once again surprised all of us in its next evolution. It is likely that this evolution is going to take shape after the second batch. Changes are comprehensive and across the board and include greater range, lower RCS, AESA radar and a new engine with greater TWR (thrust to weight ratio).

The lower RCS is to be reached using new materials, including advanced composites. A new RAM paint is also rumored that is said to be similar to that being used on the F-35.

The nose will see comprehensive redesign and is rumored to incorporate a new AESA radar set of Chinese origin. One proposition is that the single tail is replaced with twin-tails similar to the F-35. A new DSI is also projected that will further lower RCS.

The TWR of the engine is projected to increase with the WS-13, which are likely to go into the second batch. The iteration of the WS-13, possibly the “WS-13A” is likely to go into the stealthier JF-17. Another painted scenario is of a further iteration of the RD-93. This will marginally increase the TWR further, which itself will increase the TWR marginally.

However, this increase in the TWR of the engine will be moderated by the increase in the wing size, greater internal fuel and the twin tails, amongst other weight increases. On the other hand, newer materials and over all weight decreasing projects in turn will moderate these weight increases.

The stealthier JF-17 will incorporate a larger wing, improving higher altitude maneuverability. This is a crucial aspect that is increasingly becoming important in BVR combat, where the higher and faster jets can in some form take pot shots at slower and lower BVR platforms. Another aspect of the larger wing will be increased internal fuel carrying capacity. This is addresses one of the areas that the JF-17 is weaker in - range and the ability to stay on station longer.

The Table below illustrates this model:

. Pakistan Air Force        
. Combat Aircraft Numbers Serviceability Combat Effectiveness Aggregate Combat Value  
. F-16 44 90% 0.9 35.64  
. JF-17 17 95% 0.93 15.0195  
. F-7 PG 55 85% 0.75 35.0625  
. F-7 MP/P 105 70% 0.7 51.45  
. Mirage Rose 125 70% 0.8 70  
. Mirages - other 20 60% 0.7 8.4  
. A-5III/C ‘Fantan’ 40 50% 0.25 5  
.   406 72.78% 0.72 220.572  
. Indian Air Force        
. Combat Aircraft Numbers Serviceability Combat Effectiveness Aggregate Combat Value  
. Su-30 MKI 100 70% 0.99 69.3  
. Mirage 2000H/TH Vajra 51 80% 0.9 36.72  
. Jaguar S(I) Shamsher 139 75% 0.6 62.55  
. Mig-29/UB Baaz 62 50% 0.8 24.8  
. Mig-27 Bahadur 130 50% 0.55 35.75  
. MiG-21 Bison 120 60% 0.75 54  
. MiG-21 Bis 56 50% 0.3 8.4  
. MiG-21 M/MF 80 50% 0.25 10  
.   738 61.12% 0.65 301.52  
. Capability Gap 36.70% (relative to PAF)      
. Numbers Gap 81.77% (relative to PAF)      
. Serviceability Gap -16.03% (relative to PAF)      
. Combat Effectiveness Gap -10.94% (relative to PAF)      

We find the aggregate combat value by multiplying each of the factors and the number of aircraft. As you notice, I have not included factors such as home advantage to the PAF, PAF’s higher pilot ratio or PAF’s better training. I have also not included the short-legged nature of the MiG-21s and India’s likely inability to lose (or risk not losing) their forward air bases, effectively rendering them nonoperational. These factors are more intrinsic and are harder to quantify, so I will leave the reader to judge by how much to upgrade the PAF’s score on these parameters, or discount the IAF’s.
I am assuming that Air-to-Ground capabilities will also be an important aspect as destroying enemy aircraft on the ground or important installations is a significant element of the air war. I therefore am holding higher numbers of effectiveness for aircraft on both sides that otherwise would be completely redundant such as the IAF MiG-27. Of course, Air-to-Air is more important generally but strike missions should also be considered relevant. As such the model is only moderately biased towards air-to-air capabilities.


It would appear that the IAF is still the superior force. And while accounting for the exogenous items in this model would further lower the gap than the massive 37% gap shown in the table, depending on how it is discounted, it is still decidedly in India’s favor. However, given the short nature of any conflict between India and Pakistan, the gap does not lend credibility to India attaining air superiority over Pakistan under any scenario as could be concluded if we took the 82% gap in numbers.

The PAF would likely sustain significant causalities but would likely be able to deny the IAF any semblance of air superiority over Pakistan, at least for any conflict lasting up to a few weeks. As long as PAF can deny the IAF air superiority, it can be considered to have done its job and would be ready to pick the pieces up from where it left it in the last conflict over Kargil. Analysis of the PAF vs. IAF - Air Combat Over the Subcontinent by M. Hussain

Officially the JF-Thunder will be upgraded in 2012. Then the possibility of upgrading the Chinese engine used in the J-10 may be considered. The engine upgrade may be a two step process. First the upgrade to Chinese WS-13 and then perhaps an upgrade to the J-10 engine.

Concurrently Pakistan has a parallel program for another jet to be revealed in 2012. Pakistan has acquired F-16 block 52 (the latest F-16s are block 60 flown by the UAE Airforce). By 2012 Pakistan will be producing the avionics indigenously. However newer technologies are already being purchased from Italy, France and Germany.

Janes Defense weekly reports that Pakistan is in the process of acquiring the latest air-to-air missiles from France’s MBDA and radars from Thales.

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