With the induction of 14 dual-seat JF-17 aircraft, Pakistan Air Force is moving forward to strengthen its fleet of fighter jets and improving high-end training for fighter pilots. The batch of new jets joined Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on Wednesday in a ceremony attended by the country’s top air force officials as well as Chinese and Nigerian diplomats.
At the ceremony, Pakistan’s Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan also announced the production of the most advanced variant of JF-17 Thunder Block III – a 4.5-generation aircraft that would bolster PAF’s air power. “Block III represents the cutting edge of aerospace technology” that would “enable PAF to maintain credible deterrence under the evolving geopolitical environment”, the official statement said.
Pak-China air force collaboration
PAF chief lauded the efforts of Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra in achieving aircraft production targets despite coronavirus challenges and commended the collaboration between the aviation industries of Pakistan and China. Highlighting the “need of indigenisation and self-reliance in military hardware”, he praised PAC’s initiatives for design, development, manufacturing, and overhaul of aerial warfare assets. Ambassador of China, Nong Rong, described the JF-17 programme as a “shining example of cooperation between two countries” over the last two decades. He assured of continued support by China for ongoing and future joint ventures with Pakistan in all domains.
Role of newly inducted aircraft
Talking to Gulf News, defence analyst Shahid Raza termed the induction of the dual-seat JF-17 Block II “an important step forward” for the PAF. The new jets “will enable the PAF to increase the pilot conversion rate to fly the JF-17 Thunder aircraft and also allow fresh cadets to train directly on the JF-17 platform” rather than F-7P, he said. Besides serving as a training platform, “the aircraft will also assist in ground attack roles, close air support and will also be a suitable candidate for the development of a dedicated escort jamming aircraft to perform the Electronic Warfare (EW) missions, similar to the EA-18G Growler of the US Navy” electronic warfare aircraft. The jet’s multi-roles include use as a JF-17 conversion trainer, Lead-In Fighter Trainer (LIFT), reconnaissance aircraft and ground-attack aircraft.
JF-17 Block III – PAF’s first 4.5-gen aircraft
The Block-III variant of JF-17 “will be the first 4.5-generation aircraft in PAF service equipped with modern radar system, upgraded sensors, software, and engine to meet the emerging needs” Raza explained. “It is also going to be armed with the PL-15 and PL-10 missiles that will significantly enhance the air defence capabilities of the JF-17 fighters even surpassing the F-16 Block 52 currently in service with PAF”.
The JF-17 Block III prototype first took to the skies in December 2019. The key features of the advanced variant include a new holographic head-up display, active electronically scanning array (AESA) radar, the latest targeting and electronic warfare systems and upgraded weapons. Raza believes that Block III will “attract international interest as it will be the only 4.5-generation swing-role aircraft with an affordable price tag as opposed to other competitors”. The induction of Block III will immensely improve the operational capabilities of the PAF, placing it at par with global air forces.
JF-17 Thunder is a single-engine, lightweight, multirole combat aircraft, jointly developed by China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC) and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra. In December 2019, Pakistan rolled out the first batch of eight two-seat JF-17 aircraft, developed in a record time of five months. The combat and battle-proven fighter jet is described as the backbone of PAF due to its exceptional air-to-air and air-to-surface combat capabilities. PAF currently operates nearly 120 JF-17 fighter jets. “The state-of-the-art avionics, optimally integrated sub-systems, computerised flight controls and capability to employ latest weapons provides a decisive advantage to JF-17 over adversaries of the same class”, according to PAF.