As we have reported earlier, the First JF-17 Thunder Block III Fighter Jet Made Its Maiden Flight. 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 latest, powered-up version of the JF-17 fighter jet reportedly features technologies from China’s advanced J-20 fighter jet, as the warplane saw major electronic upgrades that will drastically increase its combat efficiency.
According to photos circulated on the Chinese social platform, the aircraft is installed with many commercial off-the-shelf technologies from the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China, the report said.
Visually, it is hard to detect many differences between earlier versions of the JF-17 and the new Block III.
One notable difference appears to be a new and larger holographic wide-angle head-up display and integrated cockpit display similar to the one used by the J-20, in addition to an advanced infrared missile approach warning system used by the J-10C, J-16, and J-20 fighter jets, the magazine reported.
In addition, there appears to be the addition of radar warning receivers aft of the aircraft intakes and on the tail. At Paris, the program official said a key structural difference with Block III would be a larger intake. In early images of Block III, however, the intake appears similar to Block I and II.
The new fighter is set to revolutionize aerial warfare capabilities, incorporating an advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar (possibly the Chinese made KLJ-7A), new electronic warfare systems, a new fly by wire digital flight control system, a new helmet-mounted display, and access to a new wider range of more sophisticated munitions.
These are reported to include new longer-ranged and more sophisticated air to air munitions, the PL-15 according to some reports, and possibly more advanced variants of the PL-12, which will considerably enhance the aircraft’s performance in the air to air combat.
Other possible upgrades to the JF-17 design which will be integrated onto the Block III variant include an infrared search and track system and a radar cross-section reducing ‘pseudo-stealthy’ airframe.
It is unclear if there are other changes to the airframe. However, FlightGlobal reported that the Block-III will have its “intakes widened to improve airflow.” The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) will continue using the Klimov RD-93 turbofan engine, so the inlet changes could be for optimizing the existing engine further.
One of the most noticeable modifications was at the rear of the aircraft by the vertical stabilizer, a slightly enlarged spine, and integration of sensors to the vertical stabilizer and side inlet areas. The latter may be radar warning receivers (RWR) and/or missile alert warning systems (MAWS).
For the airframe itself, PAC is reportedly set to manufacture 58%, with Chengdu manufacturing the remaining 42%. The possibility for upgrading older variants of the JF-17 with new radars and avionics, particularly the JF-17 Block I which retains below average situational awareness, has also been raised.
The PAF recently inaugurated a new integration facility at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra, which will allow it to “integrate avionics and weapon systems of choice with JF-17 aircraft.” In other words, the second and third steps could take place at PAC in the coming months.
The PAF currently intends to procure 50 JF-17 Block IIIs. The first two aircraft are already in the production line and will be assembled in 2020. CAC and PAC will roll out 12 per year from 2021 to 2024.
PAC also completed eight twin-seat JF-17Bs in 2019, and it will produce 14 in 2020 and four in 2021. With the JF-17 Block III and JF-17B, PAC will roll out 16 aircraft per year in 2020 and 2021 (i.e., two Block IIIs and 14 JF-17Bs in 2020 and 12 Block IIIs and four JF-17Bs in 2021).
However, PAC’s output is currently set at 12 in 2022-2024, which is less than the average of 16 aircraft per year. This could either indicate a constraint (e.g., Block III is costlier), space for exports, or the PAF opting to maintain a flexible outlay that it could increase later.