Why IAF Shouldn’t Underestimate The PAF JF-17 Thunder Fighter Jet

A complete analysis of how Pakistan's JF-17 Thunder fends off against India's air arsenal and other state of the art fighter jets.

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Much like the Indian MIG-21 Bison, an upgraded variant of the venerated design which according to Indian reports was highly successful against a Pakistani F-16 – likely due to its high end avionics, electronic warfare, jamming and missile systems which are all of the fourth generation, the JF-17 has long been underestimated for a number of reasons.

Read more: Countries who buy and using JF 17 Thunder fighter jets

The airframe is loosely based on that of the MiG-21 – an evolution of the Chinese J-7 design – but is considerably more capable than that of any other variant or derivative.

The fighter’s engines produce little over half the thrust of the Indian Air Force’s MiG-29 – one third that of the elite Su-30MKI – giving it an inferior thrust/weight ratio when fully armed. These are compensated for by a number of factors, including its access to state of the art sensors and munitions – including the Chinese PL-12 long-range air to air missile – an analogue to the American AIM-120C – and the YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missile. The latter makes the aircraft a potentially highly lethal ship hunter, in some ways comparable to India’s Brahmos cruise missile, and its deployment is an effective asymmetric asset against the large Indian surface fleet.

Here's Why IAF Shouldn’t Underestimate The PAF JF-17 Thunder Fighter Jet

The JF-17 is relatively simple both to operate and maintain, far more so that the F-16 or MiG-29, and the costs of doing so are also extremely low.

While the aircraft is slower and less manoeuvrable than the F-16, it compensates with a higher altitude and arguably far superior options for its weapons load-out. Block II variants deploy data links and high-end electronic capabilities which early F-16 and MiG-29 variants both lacked, while their avionics are also considerably more sophisticated.

Read more: A Bigger, Better and more Fearsome JF-17 Thunder by Pakistan Air Force

The fighters’ NRIET KLJ-7 X band fire control radars are also highly capable – variants of the Chengdu J-10’s formidable KLJ-10 – and are capable of tracking up to ten targets at ranges of over 105km.

Data links allow the aircraft to potentially make use of longer-ranged munitions, particularly when operating alongside AWACS platforms capable of guiding missiles beyond the range of the fighters’ onboard radars.

Here's Why IAF Shouldn’t Underestimate The PAF JF-17 Thunder Fighter Jet

As a key strength of the JF-17 is its compatibility with high-end Chinese munitions, it is highly possible that Block II variants could in future receive longer-range munitions which would benefit from such guidance – with more advanced variants of the PL-12 reportedly also planned for deployment by the upcoming JF-17 Block III.

Ultimately the JF-17 remains a highly capable fourth-generation fighter – more than a match for India’s MiG-21 and Mirage 2000 single-engine light fighters and potentially capable of posing a threat to medium weight platforms such as the MiG-29 and Rafale – though likely still struggling against the Su-30MKI.

Read more: Roar of thunder: JF-17 upgrades to Block 3 as it tests a new weapon

The design is set to be enhanced considerably in the near future with the induction of the Block III variant, which will reportedly deploy a new radar, an infrared search, and tracking system (IRST), helmet-mounted display, new electronic warfare, and jamming systems, and potentially even PL-15 air to air missiles – which considerably outrange anything currently in the Indian arsenal.

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