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JF-17 Thunder

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The Joint Fighter-17 (JF-17) Thunder multi-role fighter was started life as a joint US and Chinese program. In the late 1980s Chengdu and Grumman made a deign study to upgrade Chinese Xian F-7M fighters to Super 7 standard. This new aircraft was planned to be offered for export by China as a low-cost replacement for the American Northrop F-5, Chinese F-6 and F-7, as well as Soviet MiG-21. This new aircraft was planned to be fitted with Western radar, engine and avionics. However this programme was cancelled in 1990. China continued the Super 7 project on its own and renamed the design as the Fighter China-1 (FC-1) or FC-1 Xiaolong (Fiece Dragon). This design further evolved into a JF-17, that was jointly developed by China and Pakistan. Development started in 1999. Most of the development was carried out in China by Chengdu, however development costs were split equally. It was reported that Russian Mikoyan design bureau provided some assistance in development of this aircraft. The JF-17 made its maiden flight in 2003. First 8 Chinese-built fighters were delivered to Pakistan in 2007-2008. In 2009 an order was signed for a further 42 fighters. These were license-produced locally by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. By 2015 Pakistan Air Force operated 60 of these aircraft. By 2020 a total of 135 of these multi-role fighters were in Pakistani service and another 64 were on order. Production of this aircraft continues. It is estimated that total requirement of the Pakistani Air Force could be for 250 new fighters. Currently Pakistan Air Force also operate a number of ageing A-5C, F-7P, Mirage 3 and Mirage 5 that a due to be replaced. The JF-17 multi-role aircraft is also proposed for developing countries as a low-cost replacement for their ageing types. It has been exported to Myanmar (16) and Nigeria (3).

The JF-17 Thunder has a conventional aerodynamic layout. Aircraft is fitted with Russian Klimov RD-93 turbofan engine with afterburner. It is a derivative of the RD-33, used on the MiG-29. In 2007 a contract was signed to supply 150 RD-93 engines for the JF-17, exported to Pakistan. China is also developing an indigenous turbofan engine, which is a copy of the RD-93, but has some modifications. It is designated as the WS-13 (Tianshan-21).

The Thunder multi-role fighters delivered to Pakistan are fitted with Italian Grifo S-7 multi-track, multi-mode pulse Doppler radar. It has look-down, shoot-down capability. Other radars can be fitted. Some sources claim, that aircraft are fitted with the Russian radars. Avionics systems will be gradually upgraded in later batches.

This aircraft is intended for air defense and ground attack missions. It is armed with a single 23 mm GSh-23 or 30 mm GSh-30 twin-barrel cannon. Maximum weapon payload is about 3.7 t. There are five hardpoints and two wingtips for missiles and fuel tanks. The JF-17 has beyond visual range attack capability. Its primary weapon are Chinese PL-12/SD-10 medium-range air-to-air missiles with active radar-homing. Aircraft also carries short-range Chinese PL-7, PL-8, PL-9 or US AIM-9P, mounted on wingtip rails. The JF-17 multi-role fighter can also carry general purpose of laser-guided bombs. Aircraft has no in-flight refueling capability.

Each JF-17 fighter costs around $17 Million. Improved JF-17 (Block 2) fighter costs around $25 Million.




JF-17A (Block 1) is an initial single-seat variant. Its production began in China in 2006.

JF-17A (Block 2) is an improved production single-seat variant. In 2013 Pakistan began production of improved JF-17 Thunder with improved countermeasures systems and in-flight refueling capability. Also this fighter aircraft can use more different weapons.

JF-17B is a twin-seater variant. It can be used as a conversion trainer, lead-in fighter trainer, ground attack aircraft of reconnaissance aircraft. It was delivered to Myanmar and Pakistan.

JF-17A (Block 3) is a further improved single-seat variant. It has a new engine, new Active Electronically-Scanned Array (AESA) radar. It is paired with an Infrared Search and Track (IRST) system. This fighter also has improved avionics. Due to its new engine it is faster and can exceed speeds of Mach 2 (2 469 km/h). Its design was finalized in 2016.

JF-17B (Block 2) is improved two-seat variant.