The latest, powered-up version of the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet reportedly features technologies from China’s high-end J-20 fighter jet that will immensely boost its combat efficiency.
While the JF-17 Block 2 represents is far from a qualitative peer to the majority of the Indian fleet, the upcoming JF-17 Block 3 variant unveiled in December 2019 appears set to be a game changer for Pakistani aerial warfare capabilities.
The fighter integrates some limited stealth features, a more powerful engine, a larger AESA radar, the first-ever infra red search and track system on a Pakistani fighter, new electronic warfare systems and PL-15 long-range air to air missiles.
With an estimated range of 200-300km, the PL-15 will outrange all of India’s existing air to air missiles built for use against fighters – from the 80km range MICA used by Rafale and Mirage 2000 jets to the 110km range R-77 used by the MiG-21, MiG-29, and Su-30MKI.
With Pakistan potentially fielding over 100 of these new fighters, including both single and twin-seat variants, the JF-17 Block 3 could be a serious game-changer.
Indian Air Force veteran Vijainder K Thakur stated in an interview with Russian state media outlet Sputnik regarding the threat posed by the new JF-17 variant that India’s focus on acquiring more capable fighters, at the expense of providing them with sufficiently capable missiles and sensors, could leave aircraft technically superior to the JF-17 such as the Su-30MKI at a disadvantage. He stated to this effect:
“The India Air Force allowed itself to be outgunned by focusing on platform acquisitions, rather than weapon system and sensor upgrades. With sufficient military foresight, the IAF could have armed its Su-30MKI with longer range air-to-air missiles acquired from Russia rather than continuing to rely on the lesser ranged missile ordered years ago from Ukraine.” These Russian and Ukrainian missiles likely referred to the R-37M and R-77 – the newer Russian missiles – rather than the older R-27 which is today produced in both Russia and Ukraine.
The Indian Air Force is planning massive investments fo the modernisation of its fighter fleet, and alongside ongoing orders for elite Su-30MKI heavyweight fighters and Rafale and MiG-29 medium fighters the country is pursuing the indigenous Tejas light fighter program and planning additional contracts for foreign jets.
he MMRCA competition will select one of seven current contenders from Russia and the West to be manufactured in India under licence, with the MiG-35, Rafale and Su-35 considered the three leading frontrunners. Upgrades to the Su-30MKI are also ongoing ensuring that it will remain the country’s most capable fighter – including the possible integration of the next generation Irbis-E radar, AL-41 engines and R-37M hypersonic missiles which would make it far more potent in air to air combat.