The Joint Fighter-17 (JF-17) Thunder, also known as the Fighter China-1 (FC-1) Fierce Dragon in China, is a single-seat multirole fighter aircraft co-developed by Pakistan and China. It is expected to be introduced into the Pakistan Air Force in March 2007.
The JF-17 is designed to be a low cost plane which can meet the tactical and strategic needs of the Pakistani Air Force with a minimal reliance on imports from other countries. In addition, the requirement was for the aircraft to have sufficient space for future upgrades and/or equipment specified by export buyers.
The JF-17 is being built by China's Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC) and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC). Initial reports claimed that the aircraft was based on the design of the MiG-33, a proposed single-engined version of the MiG-29, which was rejected by the Soviet Air Force. However, the FC-1/JF-17 is instead derived from the "Super Seven" project, not the Project 33 (not to be confused with the MiG-33) or the failed Chengdu J-9. Indications are that MiG assisted the program by contributing their light fighter design as well as providing additional design & development assistance. The project is expected to cost about US$500 million, divided equally between China and Pakistan, while each individual aircraft is expected to have a fly-away cost of $15-20 million. Pakistan has announced that it will procure 150 but, this may easily go up to 300. The JF-17 will replace Pakistan's MiG-21-derived Chengdu F-7, A-5 (Q-5) and Mirage III/V currently in service. Other countries which have expressed interest in purchasing the JF-17 are Egypt, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Burma, Zimbabwe, Morocco and Algeria.
In 1986, China signed an agreement with Grumman to develop an upgrade for the J-7 known as the "Saber II", the replacement of the abandoned "Super 7" upgrade of J-7. The program was cancelled in 1990, primarily due to worsening relations with the US following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. However, CAC kept the program alive by providing low-level funding from its own resources. After US sanctions were imposed on Pakistan in 1990, Pakistan also became interested in the project. In June 1999, during the regime of exiled prime minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan and China made an agreement to restart the program with Pakistan paying about 50% of the development costs. The project became known as JF-17 in Pakistan and FC-1 in China. The first prototype was rolled out on 31 May 2003, conducted its first taxi trials on 1 July, and made its first flight on 24 August of the same year. The prototype 03 made its first flight in April 2004. On 28 April 2006, the prototype 04 made its first flight with fully operational avionics. Serial production has begun in June 2006 and the first 16 aircraft would be rolled out in early 2007. Serial production from 2007-2008 will be at an annual 10-15 planes per year while in 2008+ it will be at 25-30 planes per year. President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf declared in his Independence day speech on 14 August 2006 that the JF-17 will be flying in Pakistani skies by 23 March 2007. According to Air Marshal Khalid Choudhry, Chairman of Pakistan Aeronautical Complex on 22 November 2006, first two JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft will be delivered to Pakistan Air Force on 23 March 2007, while the remaining of the first batch of eight aircraft will arrive later in the same year.
- Advanced 4.5th generation EFIS (Electronic Flight Instrument System) with cockpit displays that are compatible with western systems such as those built by Rockwell Collins and Honeywell.
- The current MIL-STD-1553B data bus can be readily replaced by MIL-STD-1773 fiber optics data bus upon customer's request.
- Control panel consisting of 3 color screens (20.3 cm×20.3 cm) only
- All information is processed and displayed on them
- The functions of each screen are exchangeable
- Brightness & contrast can be adjusted either automatically or manually
- Displays can also be adjusted to be compatible with night vision goggles.
- Each screen can be re-defined
- The current CRT display can be readily replaced by LCD upon customer's request, and touch screen option is also available (However, neither the Chinese Air Force nor the Pakistani Air Force has shown any interests in the touch screen options, and there is no known successful export either).
- HUD is a state-of-the-art system developed by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC)
- Many images/information can be displayed at the same time
- All HUD and head-down displays are compatible with the standard electro-optical targeting pod that is carried externally.
- HOTAS control
- Intelligent avionics
- Avionics system is all-digital and fully integrated
- Distributed structure
- Two independent but exchangeable (can backup each other) STD-MTL-1553B data buses connect all equipment, plus two powerful control computers (that can also backup each other)
- Each computer controls one data bus
Initially, Pakistan wanted to use the Italian Grifo-S7 radar. However, the Chinese offer had some key advantages over the Italian one, such as compatibility with Chinese weapon systems.
- Radar has strong ECCM capacity and multiple modes, such as A2A (both BVR & close), air-to-ground, air-to-sea, terrain avoidance, etc. Terrain following mode is not standard, but can be added upon customer's request by either incorporating an external pod such as the Chinese Blue Sky navigational and targeting pods, or alternatively, the direct integration of the radar itself.
- It can simultaneously detect 40+ targets, simultaneously track 10 of 40 detected targets, and simultaneously engage 2 of the 10 tracked targets by guiding 2 semi-active radar homing BVR missiles to attack two separate targets. Alternatively, two missiles can be fired at the same target to insure the kill probability.
- When active radar homing air-to-air missiles are used, the number of targets that can be simultaneously engaged are increased to 4.
- The detection range for a typical air target of RC 3 m² is 125+ km; looking downrange is 45+ km; range for sea target is 250+ km.
- When engaging land targets, the Chinese radar can lock on to individual vehicle like American radars do, instead of only being able to lock on to a large group of vehicles like the Russian Phazotron Kopyo (Spear) radar onboard MiG-21-93.
- Easy to access LRUs with fully digitized solid state electronics and built-in self test functions.
- Plenty of room for improvement is incorporated in the design so that the current plannar slotted array that can be readily replaced by a passive phased array.
- Reprogrammable digital processor with open architecture design.
- Option to incorporate IFF.
- The internally mounted electro-optics is not standard for JF-17, but the radar is compatible with them for their rapid integration upon customer's request.
Helmet Mounted Sight
Though the exact type of the helmet mounted sights for JF-17 is yet to be determined, the HMS will be standard. JF-17 is compatible with a wide range of HMS, and its HMS will be at least equal or better than the HMS offered for J-7E/F-7PG, which first appeared in 2002 at air show and various defense / electronics exhibitions held in China. The HMS offered for J-7E/F-7PG is already better than the lastest Russian HMS available on the export market in that the Chinese HMS is specifically designed to improve the performance of the Russian system, and it outperforms its Russian counterparts in various fields:
- In comparison to the original standard Russian ASP-PVD-21 HMS onboard the MiG-29 and Flanker family, the field of view of the Chinese HMS for J-7E/F-7PG is +/- 90 degrees, which is far greater than the mere +/- 8 degrees of the Russian ASP-PVD-21 HMS.
- In comparison to the latest Russian HMS available with +/- 60 degrees of field of view, the Chinese HMS for J-7E/F-7PG still enjoys much greater field of view at +/- 90 degrees.
- The elevation of the latest Russian HMS designed to replace the original ASP-PVD-21 HMS onboard MiG-29 and Flanker family is only +/- 40 degrees, while in contrast, the Chinese HMS for J-7E/F-7PG is already +/- 45 degrees.
- The Chinese HMS for J-7E/F-7PG already had higher reliability than the Russian HMS.
- The Chinese HMS for J-7E/F-7PG are easier and much cheaper to manufacture than its Russian counterparts.
Although the Chinese HMS for J-7E/F-7PG has already enjoyed numerous advantages over the latest Russian HMS developed later, it still might not be the final type of HMS selected for JF-17, because even as the Chinese HMS for J-7E/F-7PG was first revealed in 2002, the Chinese manufacturers such as the 613th Institute had already started the development of newer HMS designed to replace the HMS for J-7E/F-7PG. Improvement included the adoptation of common attachments and power sources so that all night vision goggles and HMS are interchangeable, without the need to replace the entire system. The weight would be further reduced from the 200 grams weight of the Chinese HMS for J-7E/F-7PG, while the performance is further increased (mainly in the increase of elevation angles). While it can not be confirmed the claims by various sources that the more advanced Chinese HMS onboard Chengdu J-10 developed from HMS onboard the J-7E/F-7PG would be selected for JF-17, the aircraft is certainly compatible with the more advanced Chinese HMS onboard Chengdu J-10.
- The computer can store more than 500 existing radar signals for identification, which is around 5 times of that F-7MP/P, and actually already stores more than 250 known radar signal patterns
- 360-degree field of view for the missile approach warning system with both infrared & ultraviolet spectrum detection
- Very sensitive to the "afterburn" of missiles
- The detection range is 60+ km
- One detection sensor is in the tail and two at the front
- Moreover, it can provide a certain capacity of tracking and positioning of approaching missiles
The JF-17 has two communication radios; one of them has the capacity for data link to exchange data from either a ground control center or an AWACS/AEW.
The modular design of solid state avionics has enabled the data link for the air-to-ground precision guided munitions to be carried internally, thus eliminating the need to carry external data link pods that are common for current Russian and Vietnam War era American systems, but this only applies to the radar or GPS guided air-to-surface missiles, because for television, infrared, or laser guided munitions, the aircraft lacks built-in electro-optics targeting and weapon control systems, so an external electro-optic targeting pod must be carried.
All weapon systems are designed to be compatible with both Western systems (ie. supporting MIL-STD-1760 data bus) and Russian systems (and Chinese systems also).
The JF-17 is primarily an export-oriented fighter, thus can be built according a customer's specifications and use a variety of Chinese, Western, South African & Russian munitions. These include air-to-air beyond and visual range missiles.
- PL-9C for within visual range combat
- SD-10 BVRAAM for beyond visual range combat.
- R-Darter BVR-AAM (Proposed at IDEAS 2006, Karachi, Pakistan)
- A-Darter WVR-AAM (Proposed at IDEAS 2006, Karachi, Pakistan)
- IRIS-T WVR-AAM (Proposed at IDEAS 2006, Karachi, Pakistan)
- AIM-9L/M SidewinderWVR-AAM
- AIM-7F Sparrow BVR-AAM
In addition to unguided bombs and rockets, the aircraft is adopted to deploy a wide range of precision guided munitions, including:
- FT (Fei Teng) family of GPS guided bombs
- LT (Lei Ting) family of laser guided bombs
- LS (Lei Shi) family of GPS guided long range gliding bombs
- C-701 Air-to-surface missile
- TL-10 Anti-ship missile for boats with displacement upto 500 tons
- TL-6 Anti-ship missile for boats/ships with displacement upto 1,000 tons
- C-704 Anti-ship missile for ships with displacement upto 3,000 - 4,000 tons
- C-801/802 Anti-ship missile for ships displace greater than 4,000 tons
- DPGM (Precision Guided Bomb)
- Raptor-I precision-guided long-range glide bomb (60km)
- Raptor II precision-guided long-range glide bomb (120km)
- Anti-ship missile such as Exocet and Harpoon missile.
All precision guided munitions listed above are either GPS or radar guided, and when the television or laser guided munitions are deployed, addition electro-optical targeting pods such as the Chinese-built Blue Sky pod must be carried externally in order to provide guidance and targeting information.
- Crew: One
- Length: 14.97 m (ft in)
- Wingspan: 9.46 m (ft in)
- Height: 4.77 m (ft in)
- Wing area: m² (ft²)
- Empty weight: 6,411 kg (lb)
- Loaded weight: 10,072 kg (lb)
- Max takeoff weight: 15,474 kg ()
- Powerplant: 1× Russian-made RD-93 turbofan (81.3 kN) (Production version to have further improved RD-93B with 10% more thrust. For the long term, TVT or thrust vectoring nozzle to enhance maneuverability will also be an option in the future upon customer's request)
- Maximum speed: Mach 1.6-1.8 (mph) at high altitude
- Range: 3000 km ()
- Service ceiling: 20,500 m (50,000 ft)
- Wing loading: kg/m² (lb/ft²)
- Gun :One internal GSh-23-2 twin-barrel 23mm cannon
- Short (PL-9C/AIM-9M/Magic 2).
- Beyond-visual-range missiles (SD-10/Aspide).
- Bombs :
- Laser guided bombs.
- Other guided munitions and targeting pod can also be carried for precision strike missions
- Italian FIAR Grifo S-7 on Pakistani-built export versions. The Radar for Pakistan Air Force's JF-17 is not yet decided. However, early PAF JF-17s will most probably be equipped with Chinese radar which PLAAF will also be using.
- Global Positioning System
- Head-up display (HUD), infra-red search-and-track (IRST) system (external), night-vision goggle (NVG) capability and Fly-by-Wire(FBW)