JF-17s At Last

Two JF-17 Thunders flew on Pakistan Day on March 23 in Islamabad. The two fighters were flown in from Chengdu on March 12 for further test and evaluation flights. Of course, President Musharraf had to stick it to everyone and say “Pakistan will be a fortress of democracy” in his speech at the Jinnah Stadium in Islamabad on Saturday. A video of the flypast is available here. An impressive display (note the turn rate!) if there ever was one, but there’s still much more to be seen. Hopefully our counterparts in Pakistan will upload more videos soon. But overt jingoism (the likes of which we’re so used to here) makes it easy to forget that neither the JF-17 nor the Indian LCA Tejas (for all practical purposes, the direct counterpart) will fly operationally this year, though it almost certain that the Thunders will be operationalised and commissioned sooner.

Obviously, however, there’s the notion that the Thunder will have had a few years in the air when the LCA lumbers into service, hopefully by 2012-13, by which time the Sino-Pak fighter may even be at the beginnings of an Mark-II stage. Then again, the LCA versus JF-17 debate is one that can stretch indefinitely and laboriously, with no real conclusions. The Pakistanis don’t know much about the Tejas, and we continue to speculate on the JF-17. We don’t for example know (and nor does the average Pakistani defence enthusiast, it emerges!) what weapons, powerplant, avionics and countermeasures the final JF-17 will be integrated with.

No judgement calls here, but BR’s Mihir Shah had this to say on a LCA/JF-17 comparison discussion: “We aren’t trying to point put flaws in the JF. What we have *proved* is that the super-duper Pakistan-spec JF that you kids are having wet dreams about doesn’t exist. And none of you have been able to prove us wrong.” It’s not surprising that all discussions begin nicely and then degenerate into bouts of rapid flaming!

This is how the “which is a better fighter jet” discussion ended: Shah said, “You don’t see us denying justice to those affected. Unlike your lovely country, the so called fortress of Islam where Shias are ruthlessly butchered, nuke whore extraordinare, and a country which cannot give basic shelter after an earthquake to the Kashmiris it “freed”. It took the pseudo-secularist nation with the world’s largest chunk of below poverty line people to offer a helping hand – a hand of friendship which Pakistan brushed aside due to “military sensitivities.” Ok, I’ve made my point. There’s just no point in these discussions — they hate our experts, we hate theirs, what’s the point. I mean, seriously.

This is not, of course, to say that we’re all smooth cheese here with the LCA, a project that has swallowed funds and remained almost permanently adrift. Notwithstanding the new optimism (which we all hope pays off), there’s loads of work yet. The so called “spin-offs” that everyone talks about are well and good — but we need the damn fighter, not some spin-offs, for crying out loud. There’s an end to those. If HAL can dig the IJT out of bad-luck city, maybe the spin-offs will look and sound better than they are right now.

Since we’re not going to see the LCA and JF going head to head anytime soon, we’ll have to depend on these “sources” until both fighters are cleared for operational flight. And everyone hopes that’s soon.

24 thoughts on “JF-17s At Last”

  1. Seriously speaking we cant even call it a Sinao-Pak aircraft. What is Pakistan’s contribution in it? Except money nothing.

    And LCA and JF-17 are almost on the same state. Alteast for LCA we know it will Ge-f404 and 2032 intially.It cant even be said the same for JF17.

    And the Great China takes some many years to flight test a Mig -21 upgrade,which does not even invovle a complete FBW system. No weaponisation yet, speculative WS engine stil not developed,speculative radar. Being way larger than LCA,the loadout weight is almost the same.

    Frankly in the same hole as LCA. Atleast LCA has better specs.

  2. Dear Shiv,

    I am following all your posts since 1 month and i like them all.. Thank you for such useful posts..

    I read from Wikipedia that JF-17 is powered by Russian-made RD-93 turbofan, a higher version of the Engine in Mig-29 of Indian Version Airforce, which in future will have thrust vectoring nozzle too.. Since,it`s a Russian Engine and will power for Pakistani Airforce, isn`t it Russians are now helping with the Enemy of Indians,The Pakistan.. Won`t this be a major mishap for the long relationship India had with Russia and hurdle for the ongoing and future relatinships with Russia??? Pls mail me..

    Thanks in advance for reply..

  3. Shivji,
    I live in a neighbourhood with a sizable Paki population. You wanna get me killed, kya? 😀

    Anyway, I had to put these idiots in their place – having wet dreams about an AESA-equipped JF-17 armed with a super-super BVRAAM. Jeez! The plane has no radar, no confirmed BVRAAM, and *zero* Pakistani contribution except for money. It is an out-and-out Chinese product. When I point this out, they start off with how India has “the world largest chunk of below poverty line ppl”. LOL!

  4. Vinayak,
    Russian engines powering a Pakistani might not be as bad as we assume. RD-93 or no RD-93, the JF-17 will fly with Pakistani colours, let us be clear about that. The Pakistanis have invested too much money in the project to watch it go down the drain. It will get a French/American/Chinese engine if the RD-93 is denied – delaying the induction by a few years at the most. So isn’t it better if they fly with sanction-prone Russian engines?

    All the same, nobody really knows which engines it has. A Pakistani friiend of mine who is in the know claims that it has the French M-88, and JF-17s have already been tested in China with that engine.

  5. Hi Mr. Aroor. I think that any development on JF-17 should be tracked not only from military point of opinion, but also because it constitutes to the development of aviation in the subcontinent, although the statement of “anonymous” is accurate that JF-17 is a Chinese fighter, which is only partly funded by Pakistan.

    In my view, the JF-17 is a modern 4th generation fighter, whose threat assessment also must be carried in detail by the IAF at par with that of the F-16s that are to be acquired by the PAF.

    Although not to declare myself as an “expert” or “knowledgeble”, I have followed the JF-17 since 2005.
    I may disagree with some of the views expressed by you :

    * There is substantial difference in what data—technical, test chronology, major milestones, future plans etc.—are publicly made available in case of the JF-17 and Tejas.
    Whatever that is known about the JF-17, is due only to babel-fish/machine translations from Chinese media that appear roughly once in 6 months. These appear first at Chinese discussion boards, and are then circulated at Pakistani boards.

    They are often cited as official reference material.

    As an example, the post made by “tphuang” on a Chinese board probably detailed publicly for the first time, what BASIC technologies have been incorporated into the JF-17, like HOTAS, HUD, FBW, 2 Mil-Std 1553 buses, range of its radar, RWR etc.


    This post was circulated for many days in many Pakistani defence fora.

    In comparison, these details about the Tejas are “taken for granted”. The reference section on the page on Tejas at wikipedia, has articles ranging from technical papers on high AoA testing of the Tejas, (with complete statistics of various tests provided), to interviews and photos of the team members who developed the flight-control software for the Tejas in the USA. News reports exclusively detailing about the indigenous and unique HUD, ejection seat and the Titanium alloys that have been developed are also present. There are also photographs of lightning-tests and wind-tunnel tests that have been conducted on the Tejas. The ADA website records each flight test that has taken place since 4 Jan 2001.

    The most comprehensive information that is available about the Tejas is about its development history, which indeed makes for interesting reading. It has been written independently by many authors.

    Various “virulently” critical articles about the Tejas have also appeared across many news publications. In case of JF-17, NO Chinese or Pakistani news report has ever detailed on the design flaws of the JF-17 so much so that major structural changes had to be done. Primary amongst these was designing the air-ducts to what were claimed as DSI intakes, and changing or adding the LEXs.

    There was only one news report from flight-international that reported on the failed design of the JF-17.

    THIS level of detailing of the Tejas is unprecedented and matched only by the data/histories and exact time-lines available for planes like the F-16. It is not, and has never been seen in case of the JF-17. It is moreso because it is being developed in China and Pakistan which keep secrecy on military projects.

    ** I may also disagree that Pakistanis do not know much about the Tejas. It may only be that they do not discuss it, however it is unlikely that they would have ignored the wikipedia page or Mr. B. Harry’s article on Tejas.
    Leaving aside Indians, even Pakistanis and Chinese do not know much about the JF-17, like how many test-flights have taken place, what is the current status of testing (or if it has even been concluded or not), etc.

    It is well-known that the JF-17 was originally scheduled to be inducted in the PAF in early 2006, and with mass production to have begun in the same year. This has been delayed because of major design flaws that I mentioned above (this led to modification of intakes to DSI).

    ***Again, the comparisons of basic performance parameters between the Tejas and JF-17 can be made fairly easily upon comparison of available data from the official websites of ADA and PAC Kamra.

    Tejas has a higher external payload capacity, higher top-speed, higher G-limit, more hardpoints, and comparable range to the JF-17. The JF-17 has FBW restricted to the yaw-axis only, it is Not statically unstable and does not have full-quad FBW. From external sources, it is also not known to have any composites.

    From the above, it may be deterministically concluded that the Tejas has superior performance specifications to the JF-17.

    Now where subjective debates may arise are while comparing avionics like radar (range, etc), cockpit functionality, etc. It is at this point, that debates may degenerate and be inconclusive.

    It may also be mentioned that officials from the IAF have never commented on the JF-17, whereas some unwarranted and inappropriate comments about the Tejas have been made about 2 PAF ACMs. In 2003, the then ACM of PAF Mr. Kaleem Sadat stated that the avionics of Tejas are 5 years behind that of the JF-17. In late 2006, the present PAF ACM made a statement that not much information about the Tejas is publicly available, whereas it is so for the JF-17.

    In my own opinion, in the video of the JF-17 on March 23, the grey-coloured JF-17 looked “better” than the multi-coloured unit that flew ahead.

    Thank you.

    References :

  6. Dear Shiv,

    Though I am satisfied with Mihirji`s response, I am equally disappointed not to get response personally from you..

    Even though Russians may now deny RD-93 Engines delivered to Pakistan in JF-17 fighter (which earlier they knew and agreed to deliver), don’t you think Russians are doing it under pressure as India is pitching for 126 Multirole fighter aircrafts and also now a part of Sukhoi PAK-FA, the fifth generation fighter aircraft program which earlier wasn’t part of PAK-FA as Russians didn’t take consent of Indians in designing it… Also now Indo-US Nuclear deal has happened and as soon as it passes in NSG, Russians has the highest advantage in selling the technology…

    Also won’t you think it would affect Sino-Russian relations??? (denying of RD-93 engines to Pak)

    Request your personal response… and thanks in advance

    Dear Mihirji,
    India and France are having good relations both political and military… Indian military relation with French is right from Cheetah, Cheetak`s to Dhruv`s (ALH`s) and Mirages to Scorpenes and may be in future for Eurofighter.. Also Indian civil aviation Co`s has given higher orders for Airbus’s which is based in France..

    Don’t u think if France delivers M-88 Engines to JF-17 of Pakistan, it would in a way affect Indo-French relations…?

    Waiting for response..

  7. No, it won’t. The French have sold three Agosta 90B subs to Pakistan, and are making a sales pitch for Marlins. These are worth much more than M-88 engines…

  8. vinayak, there are two sides to this. russia does not supply armaments to pakistan (this is by protocol, which is why the RD-93 engine re-export band surfaced). on the other hand, like mihir says, it’s a safer bet for china to re-export with sanctioned engines than spend even more time and money licensing another engine from abroad. furthermore, sino-russian relations are enormous — china is buying huge quantities of arms from russia. they’re buying submarines and frigates like biscuits, among a lot of other stuff. so a single engine manufacturign license isn’t going to tip the scales. sino-russian arms relations are HUGE. this will have little or no bearing on them.

  9. JF-17 is flying with RD-33/93 engine,the ones that were shipped to China as per the 100 engines ordered.
    The smoking enigne is a give that it is RD-33/93.
    And as per the claims about M88 by the pakistani,it is a joke.You cant just like that replace one engine type with another. It requires a major structural changes and avonics upgrade.
    Ever wonder why J-10 has a hump on it’s back. The chinese copied the Lavi(a pretty F-16) and screwed it up with a hump on the back bcoz AL engines are way bigger than American egines for which the Lavi was designed.
    M88 on JF17 ..it’s all Pakistanis kids claiming.

  10. My friend is no “Pakistani Kid”, trust me. He might be wrong, but he ain’t delusional. And he also claims that integration with “a French engine” began almost three years ago. He didn’t mention the M88 – he just said that it was n M80 series engine since they are similar to the RD-93… I misquoted him there.

  11. With regard to the 2 previous comments, it may be mentioned that as 2 JF-17 units having been installed with RD-93 engines have been delivered to Pakistan from China, it implies that Russia has given guarantee and license to China to re-export the RD-93 engines to Pakistan.

    This is contrary to the assurances that were given by Russia to India as late as January 2007. The concerns of India have been aggravated and Not assuaged by Russia besides having resulted in breach of trust.

    As per a statement that was made by either a higher ranked PAF or PAC official, dated in 2005, the JF-17 can be configured to accomodate the M-88 engine. I definitely recall reading the relevant interview, however presently I am unable to find the source.

    However, currently only the RD-93 and (after a few years) the WS-13 are under consideration for the propulsion of JF-17.
    In my view, the M-88 may have been considered as “plan B” i.e. upon refusal by Russia to re-export RD-93 engines and the failure of its local copy, the WS-13 engine.

    However, there have been no reports of the M-88 being flight-tested on the JF-17 airframe. Anyway, China is under an arms embargo from the EU.

    In my previous comment I had mistakenly mentioned that the JF-17 has provision of FBW in the yaw-axis, whereas it is in the pitch-axis. It may be added that the internal fuel capacity of the Tejas, as well as exteral capacity is greater than that of the JF-17. This, along with a much lower weight may result in Tejas having higher range than the JF-17.

    Thank you.

    References :
    “Radiance of the Tejas”, by B. Harry.

  12. Mhir,
    Unfortunately JF-17 has been speculative all the time. The pakistani have been saying RD-33/93,WS-13 and M-88 etc. But then all we have seen is testing going on with RD-33/93.
    Just with a ready made engine they have taken till 2007 even to make 4-6 prototype fly.
    Now if they want to use M-88 the changes will take another year or two,add to that changes in the production mechanism. And the important factor cost. JF-17 is made to be cost cheaply. everything about is as cheap as it gets. hence 20 milion tag price. And the french stuffs ain’t cheap….correct me if i am wrong, think
    m88 is the one on the rafale right?

  13. Mhir,
    Unfortunately JF-17 has been speculative all the time. The pakistani have been saying RD-33/93,WS-13 and M-88 etc. But then all we have seen is testing going on with RD-33/93.
    Just with a ready made engine they have taken till 2007 even to make 4-6 prototype fly.
    Now if they want to use M-88 the changes will take another year or two,add to that changes in the production mechanism. And the important factor cost. JF-17 is made to be cost cheaply. everything about is as cheap as it gets. hence 20 milion tag price. And the french stuffs ain’t cheap….correct me if i am wrong, think
    m88 is the one on the rafale right?

  14. May i request Mr.Anonymous to day his name…

    Dear`s Shiv and Mihirji,

    I thank you for your replies..

    Dear Shiv,

    You said Russians want to have good relations with China and Abhiman mentioned Russians have agreed for re-export of RD-93`s to Pakistan…
    I would like to question about the incredibility of Indo-Russian relations from now on..

    Also, If RD-93`s now to Pak By Russians, then shall we expect re-export and sale of Brahmos, PAK-FA`s to Pakistan????

    I request your replies..

    Thanks in advance..

  15. Vinayak, Brahmos cannot be exported to Pakistan or China despite Russia’s willingness, because on virtue of being a partner in its development its sale can be vetoed by India.

    Regarding the sale of PAK-FA to China or Pakistan, theoretically it can be possible because India is not yet a partner in the project (only a formal proposal has been made). However, China is known to pursue its indigenous 5th generation fighter project termed as J-xx (in addition to the J-10 and J-11 series).

    However it may be stated that the prevalent “trend” in case of the sale of 5th generation fighters is that, they may be procured by only those nations which have invested or assisted in the development of the same.

    As an example, the JSF is being sold to UK, Australia and Turkey all of which have contributed monetarily in its development. In case of the PAK-FA, India has formally been requested to invest an estimated $5 billion in its development.

    Since it is unlikely that the PAK-FA project shall be open to contributions from Pakistan (technologically or monetarily), PAK-FA may not be sold to Pakistan.


  16. To my previous comment I may add that as per a statement from the CAS of PAF, Pakistan is in negotiations with China for a purchase of 40 J-10 fighters.

    These planes have the Al-31 engines of Russia installed in them.

    In my view, India cannot diplomatically persuade Russia every time to abrogate the sales of Russian hardware to Pakistan because :-

    1) India will be asked to make purchases to compensate for the loss in revenue due to halting sales to Pakistan. These purchases may not be optimum and/or even may not be required. Also, being at a weaker negotiating position the price that shall be demanded for the same can be high.

    2) The Pakistani arms market is also growing annually. Although smaller than India, the potential may not be ignored by Russia which is also a major arms exporter.

    Anyway, as per the principle of not exporting weapons to Pakistan as a major criterion, NO contender (including Russia) may qualify to win the tender. USA and France are major suppliers to Pakistan. Sweden is supplying Erieye AWACs costing a few billion dollars to Pakistan, and Russia may be committed to the sale of RD-93 engines to Pak. Finnmechanica of an Italian-UK consortium is a contender for the Grifo or Selex radars for the JF-17.

    In my view, India cannot sustain to restrain suppliers to export military hardware to Pakistan, in lieu of either diplomatic ties, military contracts or other “arm-twisting” measures, any further. Supplier countries may then leverage this condition to impose terms of sales to India that are favourable to them (like forcing additional purchases, and hiking prices).
    It is in this light and in conjunction with the fact that no nation has become a military power by importing weapons, that I think that it may be “high time” that the armed forces become more serious towards Indian-made hardware and not “hanker” after only foreign weapons.

    It may also be hoped that the “repurcussions” of disallowal of sales of RD-93 engines to Pakistan are not affected on the sale of MRCA.

    Thank you.

  17. Corrective addition in my previous comment :- “as per the principle of not exporting weapons to Pakistan as a major criterion, NO contender (including Russia) may qualify to win the MRCA tender.

  18. Hi Shiv,

    Ive been following your blog since the past few weeks.

    This is just to let you know, that I have cited this particular post (JF-17 vs. LCA) on my own blog…. which focuses purely on the LCA, that too on the broader picture.


  19. There are times that we encounter fear and disappointments in life yet we still manage to stand up straight and face it rather that being silent. That was a very good example of being a brave person. Well, I would like to thank you for sharing a very good article it is very much appreciated, good job! You can visit my site too if you want. Have a great day.Enjoy!



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