In December 2019, allegedly on the 16th although the images were posted the 27th, the first JF-17 Block III “3000” made its maiden flight at the CAC facilities in Chengdu (China).
The fighter represents the fourth variant of the JF-17, a fighter jointly developed by China and Pakistan from the early 2000s which saw its first flight in august 2003.
The JF-17 was designed exclusively for export and does not serve in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, although over 100 of the older JF-17 Block 1 and Block 2 variants are currently in service in the Pakistani Air Force with smaller numbers having been sold to Myanmar and Nigeria.
The third generation of this sino-pak design will feature:
- A KLJ-7A Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar
- The new wide-angle Head-Up Display and a Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) / Radar Warning System (RWS) suite.
- New Engine: Possibly an enhanced derivative of the RD-33MK
Pakistan has a requirement to obtain fifty of these aircraft, the first two Pakistani assembled aircraft are scheduled to appear in 2020 with the first deliveries to take place in 2021
There has been considerable speculation among analysts regarding the Block 3 variant’s capabilities, with the design balancing the need to maintain low production and operational costs with the importance of maximizing performance by integrating next-generation technologies – many of which are extremely costly.
The new fighter’s most outstanding feature appears to be its elongated nose, which is intended to house an active electronically scanned array radar that is not only more sophisticated but also considerably larger than the radars on prior JF-17 variants. AESA radars are not only considerably more powerful than the passive radars on older JF-17 variants, but they also leave a lower radar signature and are less prone to jamming.
The fighters are expected to deploy a number of newer munition types including PL-15 air to air missiles, which a large and powerful AESA radar is critical to guiding against faraway targets. The PL-15 was developed to equip China’s own AESA radar-equipped next-generation fighters, including the J-10C, J-16, and J-20.
The next-generation missile retains an engagement range of up to 200km, allowing it to comfortably outrange missiles such as the R-77 and MICA used by Indian MiG-29 and Rafale fighters.
The JF-17 Block 3 is expected to be considerably more costly than prior variants, but its next-generation capabilities have the potential to make it far more successful on the export market.
Other than a new radar and next-generation avionics and electronic warfare systems, other features of the JF-17 Block 3 design such as its rumored infrared tracking system, new engine and high composite airframe all have yet to be confirmed.
The fighter’s new air inlets, however, indicate that a new engine has been installed – possibly an enhanced derivative of the RD-33MK which powers the Russian MiG-35.
The Sino-Pakistani fighter is expected to improve on the already considerable range of its predecessor, and may also be compatible with new classes of cruise missile to replace the YJ-12.
Paired with its considerable range, this could make the JF-17 Block 3 a formidable maritime strike fighter.
The evolution of the JF-17 Block 3 program, and the date of its expected entry into service, remain uncertain, as does the scale of production in both China and Pakistan.