On 30 December 2020, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex celebrated the completion of dual-seat JF-17 aircraft for PAF and formally launched the production work of Block-III JF-17 aircraft in a ceremony held at Kamra.
JF-17 Block-III is the most advanced JF-17 variant and represents the cutting edge of aerospace technology and will enable PAF to maintain credible deterrence under the evolving geopolitical environment.
While the option for acquiring the J-10 jets had been on Pakistan’s table for quite some time it was halted with the joint production of the JF-17 fighter jets.
Here is the detailed analysis of why PAF is going for JF-17 Block 3 instead of J-10C
The J-10 and JF-17 first entered service in 2006 and 2008 respectively.
The latest iteration of the J-10, the ‘4++ generation’ J-10C fighter, entered PLA service in 2018 with over 200 operational today. The aircraft has benefited from a range of advanced new features including stealth coatings, more powerful engines with three-dimensional thrust vectoring for extreme maneuverability, an AESA radar, new cockpit displays, and electronic warfare systems, and access to the PL-15 and PL-10 air to air missiles.
A technologically analogous JF-17 variant, the JF-17 Block 3, has benefitted from many of the same technologies with the notable exception of thrust vectoring engines. These technologies have similarly revolutionized the fighter jet’s capabilities, and the new JF-17 variant is expected to enter service around the year 2022 and later be manufactured under license in Pakistan – its primary export client.
Although both the J-10 and the JF-17 are lightweight fighters, the differences between their weights are considerable. While both are much lighter than any Russian aircraft currently in production, they can be compared in weight range to the respective American F-16 and Swedish Gripen.
The JF-17, by virtue of it being lighter and using a smaller engine than the J-10, is not only significantly cheaper to manufacture, but is also much cheaper and easier to operate.
Lower maintenance requirements and a resulting high sortie and availability rate are one factor which makes the JF-17 comparable to the Gripen.
The J-10, by contrast, is significantly more costly both to operate and to manufacture, although still very cheap relative to medium or heavyweight jets like the J-16, but benefits from a much better flight performance.
The larger jet can carry a heavier radar, and its powerful engine provides it with an unrivalled degree of manoeuvrability and the world’s highest climb rate for a single-engine jet.
The JF-17 Block 3, while overall less capable than the J-10C, can still pose a comparable threat in beyond visual range combat due to its similar avionics and its access to PL-15 missiles – widely considered the most capable air to air missile in the world today and benefitting from both AESA radar guidance and a 250-300km range.
In addition, integration of the PL-10 missile has reduced the need for a more manoeuvrable airframe – allowing the pilot to fire at very extreme angles in visual range combat and removing the requirement for pointing the jet at the enemy which gave more manoeuvrable jets an advantage over older JF-17 variants.
The JF-17 Block 3 may well be the more cost-effective of the two fighter classes, particularly for countries with smaller defence budgets like Pakistan which require lower operational costs to maintain large combat fleets, and the aircraft is expected to see considerably more foreign interest than its predecessors which were technologically almost two decades behind it.
Although Pakistan is reportedly considering acquiring the J-10C to form elite new fighter units, or possibly to replace some of the older F-16 airframes in service which have been operational for close to 40 years, the JF-17 Block 3 is expected to account for the vast majority of new acquisitions and could well be purchased in larger numbers than the older JF-17 models.
The aircraft will be the first in Pakistani service capable of going head to head with Indian MiG-29 and even Su-30MKI fighters from an advantageous position, at least at long ranges, and has significant room to incorporate upgrades over the coming decades.
The JF-17 Block 3 is expected to be much more popular than its predecessors on export markets due to its far superior capabilities and uniquely low cost for an aircraft with advanced next-generation technologies, with Egypt, Iran, Myanmar, and North Korea considered leading potential clients.
The fighter could also be the first JF-17 variant to gain interest from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army itself and provides a promising replacement for older variants of the J-7 fighter which could be chosen over the J-10C due to its considerably cheaper operational cost.