Pakistan is among the few countries which successfully launched the fourth generation fighter jet programs and completed them, Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder is an example of that. While Israel’s Lavi and India’s Tejas program got lost in the wind, Pakistan, in collaboration with China, successfully launched the most fearsome fighter jet in Pakistan arsenal. Though Pakistan might need a heavier “Air Superiority” fighter to counter India’s Su-30MKI, JF-17 has the capability to take on anything Indian Air Force throws its way.
The race for Pakistan is never over. The struggle to maintain air superiority is ever going between the arch-rivals in Subcontinent.
Pakistan’s JF-17 Block II vs F-16 C
The second installment of Pakistan’s star-fighter, JF-17 Thunder Block II was considered an equal to F-16 in its capabilities of aerial warfare and weapon carrying capacity. The modern version of the American fighter, F-16 C enjoyed several advantages at JF-17 Block-II but those came at a hefty price. F-16 C maintenance cost is too high and it has a considerably low sortie rate.
Even then Pakistani fighter enjoyed several other advantages at US’ top jet. JF-17 Block II’s operational altitude is quite higher and far superior ship busting capabilities due to the munitions it carries. The fearsome C-802 anti-ship cruise missile is loaded in the JF-17. Moreover, there are approximately 65 F-16’s in Pakistan Air Force’s service, of which only 18 are the modern F-16 C while all the other are the old F-16 A variants.
Before JF-17 Block II was inducted in PAF, F-16 C formed what was Pakistan’s small elite unit of PAF because of the fact that the A variants of F-16 in Pakistan’s service lacked modern sensors, avionics, electronic warfare systems and a superior air to air fighting capability. F-16 C was the most advanced fighter PAF flew, exceeding greatly the fighting capabilities of F-16 A and by quite a smaller margin, those of JF-17 Block II.
JF-17 Block III
In comes the JF-17 Block III and changed the way the world looked at Pakistan’s Air Force capabilities. Superior in every way to the most advanced fighter currently in Pakistan’s service, F-16 C, Block III variant of JF-17 Thunder boasts some significant improvements.
The Block III version of the JF-17 is slated to receive the RD-93MA or Chinese WS-13 engine, while its previous version had a Chinese license-built Klimov RD-93MA turbofan engine.
JF-17 Block III variant can exceed the speed of Mach 2, almost 2470 km/h.
The JF-17 Block 3’s avionics are nothing less than a state of the art. JF-17 Block III will have a helmet-mounted display (HMD) and possibly an internal infrared search and tracking (IRST) system. The plane boasts a full glass cockpit and a new single panel multifunctional display.
Pakistan negotiated with British and Italian defense firms regarding avionics and radars for the JF-17 development. Radar options include the Italian Galileo Avionica’s Grifo S7 the French Thomson-CSF’s RC400 (a variant of the RDY-2), and the British company SELEX Galileo’s Vixen 500E active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.
Fifty JF-17s were to be upgraded and an optional fifty from 2013 onwards, at a cost of up to US$1.36 billion. The RC-400 radar, MICA AAMs, and several air-to-surface weapons are believed to be in the contract. The PAF also held talks with South Africa for the supply of Denel A-darter AAMs.
Beyond Visual Range Capabilities
The most significant changes in JF-17 Block III are to its beyond visual range combat capabilities. Advantages of integrating an AESA radar not only allows the JF-17 Block 3 to detect targets at far longer ranges, and to track and lock onto more targets simultaneously, but its is also less prone to jamming and leaves a far lower radar signature – meaning it is both more reliable and makes the fighter more difficult to detect.
Alongside state of the art Chinese electronic warfare systems, and what appears to be a radar cross-section reducing profile, a combination of modern avionics, and AESA radar and PL-15 missiles will make the JF-17 Block 3 an extremely lethal fighter for beyond visual range combat considerably more capable than any fighter currently in Pakistani service including the F-16 C.
Pakistani Project Azm
While JF-17 Block III variant, upon its induction, in 2022 will most likely take up the mantle of Pakistan’s most elite fighter jet, Pakistan has entered the race of making the 5th generation jets currently only being produced by the US, Russia, and China.
Entering the race alone is an admirable feat for Pakistan, a country running on a $280 billion. Pakistan’s ambitious and visionary Project Azm includes the design and development of multiple innovative aviation projects, including the development of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and other projects.