The JF-17B could be the foundation of the Block-III
September 22, 2017

The JF-17B could be the foundation of the Block-III

Last week, the dual-seat variant of the JF-17 – i.e. the JF-17B – conducted a successful maiden flight at Chengdu Aerospace Corporation’s (CAC) testing facility. CAC began manufacturing the JF-17B prototype last year in April; of the three prototypes planned, two will join the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). The PAF itself was satisfied with using simulators to convert its pilots to the JF-17, hence it did not plan for a twin-seater in the beginning.[1] The principal driver of the JF-17B was on improving the Thunder’s exportability, but in time, the PAF itself had expressed interest in the platform, potentially as a lead-in-fighter-trainer (LIFT).[2]

The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) is excited about the JF-17B’s market prospects, especially as an affordable and combat-ready LIFT. The general manager of China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation Yang Ying reportedly claimed that the JF-17B secured overseas orders before its maiden test flight. However, the excitement could be stemming from more than just the second seat – it could be a result of implementing much-anticipated improvements to the JF-17.

In its current form (i.e. Block-I and Block-II), the JF-17 is a result of the core requirements set by the PAF in the 1990s. At that time, the goal was to primarily have an affordable lightweight fighter capable of firing beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missiles (AAM) and, in turn, quickly phase-out ageing Nanchang A-5, Chengdu F-7P and Dassault Mirage III/5 fighters. The JF-17 achieved those goals: the PAF has more than 70 JF-17s in use with five squadrons – with the latest being No. 14 – and is on-track to supplanting its entire F-7P and most of its Mirage III/5 units by the end of 2019.

However, these achievements do not change the reality that the JF-17 is powered by a variant (i.e. RD-93) of the early generation Klimov RD-33 turbofan engine, which does not possess the fuel efficiency and maintenance friendliness of its modern-day counterparts, such as the RD-33MK. Nor does it alter the fact that initial builds of the JF-17’s flight control system were built using a hybrid system reliant on mechanical controls for bank and yaw (with the pitch managed electronically).[3] Wide-scale induction does not take away from the fact that initial JF-17 batches did not have enough space to store an internal electronic warfare (EW) jamming system.[4] While the JF-17 has a modern human-machine interface (HMI), one built upon a glass cockpit and hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) system, the JF-17 does not yet benefit from a helmet-mounted display and sight (HMD/S) system. These deficiencies are major gaps relative to the JF-17’s competitors, such as the JAS-39C/D Gripen and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Tejas.[5]

It would be erroneous to argue that the JF-17 is not hampered by its drawbacks, but it would be equally disingenuous to argue that there were feasible and accessible alternatives. The JF-17’s baseline design – i.e. the Super-7 – was frozen at a time when Pakistan was sanctioned by the U.S., which in turn resulted in the non-delivery of 71 Lockheed Martin F-16A/B Block-15s. In the absence of accessible alternatives, the only alternate avenue for the PAF would have been to retire aging A-5s, F-7Ps and Mirage III and 5s without enough replacements, thereby causing a sharp downfall in fleet size.

The JF-17 was to return to the drawing board anyways (to accommodate for emerging technology trends – i.e. Block-III), but the cost of its absence would have been buying costlier imports. Since 18 F-16 Block-52+ cost $1.4 billion U.S., the alternative (in the 2000s and 2010s) would have, at best, been another one or two new F-16 squadrons. The PAF tried to offset the design limitations with relatively good Western subsystems and avionics, most notably from Thales, but this too fell through due to cost as well as Paris’ desire to reinforce its efforts to sell the Dassault Rafale to India.

Ultimately, the PAF proceeded with the JF-17 as-is, and successfully supplanted its A-5s, F-7Ps and Mirages. In addition, the JF-17 emerged as a credible air defence complement to the F-16s, resulting a doubling of network-enabled and BVRAAM-capable fighters in the PAF (to 150+ fighters). It also increased the number of fighters capable of deploying stand-off range air-to-surface munitions, especially since the F-16s have yet to be equipped with such munitions. In 2015, the PAF confirmed that the JF-17 was cleared for using the C-802 anti-ship missile and Mectron MAR-1 anti-radiation missile (for engaging ground-based radars).[6] In March 2017, the PAF celebrated the successful integration of the Global Industrial & Defence Solutions Range Extension Kit, a precision-guided glide-bomb kit (providing 50-60 km in range) for Mk-8x-series general purpose bombs.

The JF-17 was also accompanied by other important gains. Besides being a fighter the PAF could freely equip and configure, it also enabled Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) to build a strong local supply channel to support the fighter. This began with merely assembling kits from China, but by 2015, PAC was responsible for manufacturing 58% of the fighter (with AVIC providing the remaining 42% under the original workshare agreement).[7]

The local channel also enables the PAF to support the JF-17 using domestic currency and labour costs, enabling the fighter’s operational costs to be more affordable than imports. PAC is also serving a vital role in being the supplier of the JF-17’s electronics, which it is manufacturing under co-production or licensing agreements. Not only are Chinese systems being produced under license, but several Western subsystems are also being built at PAC (under co-production deals).

While the PAF opted to induct the JF-17 Block-I and Block-II, it was fully cognizant of the capabilities found on and expected of contemporary high-technology fighters. For the JF-17, the PAF may have pushed the bulk of those requirements to the forthcoming JF-17 Block-III. Granted, the slated subsystems – such as the active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar and HMD/S – would be significant upgrades, but the JF-17B seems to suggest that the Block-III will be more than just tacking new equipment to an existing design. The design itself may see several key alterations.

The swept-back vertical stabilizer of the JF-17B is housing components for a new three-axis fly-by-wire system.[8] If this is replacing the hybrid flight control system of the Block-I/II, then it may mean a reduction in weight as well as added net internal space. Interestingly, a CAC representative (Zhu Zeng) was quoted saying in 2013 that while the JF-17 Block-I was using a hybrid flight control system, CAC did have a fully digital flight control system it could develop in two years.[9] This may have been put into the JF-17B.

Externally, the JF-17B is larger than the JF-17 Block-I/II. The JF-17B has an enlarged nose to accommodate an AESA radar, but there are other airframe changes as well. AVIC’s purported JF-17B brochure states that the JF-17B’s wingspan is a half-metre longer than that of the JF-17 Block-I/II (9.5 m vs. 9.0 m[10]). It is also slightly longer than the Block-I/II (14.5 m vs. 14.26 m[11]). The lengthened wingspan may indicate an increase in payload, which is one of the JF-17 Block-III’s additions (Aviation Weeksubscription required). The JF-17B airframe may also been built differently than the Block-I/II, at least in terms of materials (see below).

If this is a representation of greater composite materials usage, then this could be indicative of further weight reduction. It will be interesting to see if relaxed stability and lower wing loading were also incorporated into the design, especially with the presence of a digital fly-by-wire system. This would help improve the JF-17’s maneuverability.

The tail/engine exhaust area has also been altered, though it is unlikely that this is indicative of an engine switch at this time. The PAF did express interest in a new turbofan engine – the RD-33MK and WS-13. Either one of these engines would improve the JF-17’s fuel efficiency, maintenance costs, and thrust-to-weight ratio (TWR). As per Alan Warnes (via Aviation Weeksubscription required), an engine switch will likely happen, though it is not known if this is slotted for the JF-17 Block-III or for later builds.

The PAF was finalizing the Block-III’s design in 2015, which was also around the time the PAF confirmed that the JF-17B will be developed and produced. Since the JF-17B itself was a new program, it is possible that the JF-17B and JF-17 Block-III are connected. Seeing the additional changes, the JF-17B is evidently a separate stream from the JF-17 Block-I/II, and it would make sense to scale the cost of developing the JF-17B to the JF-17 Block-III. Not scaling the JF-17B’s development to the Block-III would mean isolating the JF-17B as a different aircraft, which would not be cost-effective for end-users.

[1] Alan Warnes. “JF-17 Thunder: Pakistan’s Multi-Role Fighter.” June 2015.

[2] Alan Warnes. “Exclusive Interview with the new Pakistan Air Force Chief. PAF’s Cutting Edge Grows.” AirForces Monthly. June 2015

[3] Tomislav Mesaric. “JF-17 Thunder: Pride of Pakistan.” December 2013.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Alan Warnes. “JF-17 Thunder: Pakistan’s Multi-Role Fighter.” June 2015.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Alan Warnes. “Two-seat JF-17B progresses.” AirForces Monthly. April 2017

[9] Tomislav Mesaric. “JF-17 Thunder: Pride of Pakistan.” December 2013.

[10] Alan Warnes. “JF-17 Thunder: Pakistan’s Multi-Role Fighter.” June 2015.

[11] Ibid.

  • Aaif khan

    For regular reader:- start reading from the 10th provision/paragraph. Thank you.

    • Aman

      Thanks for Guidance!!!!!!!

  • Aman

    Keep Going ……….. but Faster !!!!!!

  • Aman

    JF-17 block III should be equipped with “khibiny” type of electronic warfare system-

    I love that system , Why i love it , here are reasons-

    1st – Su-24 carrying “khibiny” made USS Donald cook impotent

    2nd- Su-34 carrying “khibiny” Jammed Georgian Anti aircraft system in Georgia war.

    3rd – Recently few Tu-95 Bear bombers jammed US radars in Alaska.

    • ahmria

      Don’t believe all the Russian hype about their electronic warfare capabilities. Yes their current tech is very impressive but the SU24 would have been detected and blown out of the sky by the American destroyer and her Aegis/SM2 system if it was an actual war footing. The SU24 buzzed the destroyer and the captain decided or was under instructions not to react to the provocation. The incident in Alaska was probably something similar. Tu-95 bombers approaching the Alaskan coast would have been spotted by long range radar and are routinely intercepted/escorted by F22 Raptors based at Elmendorf AFB in Alaska.

      • Aman

        If they Can they could have blown up Su-24 or Tu-95 because they fear no one.
        Many times in history they blown up each others aircrafts.

        Even turkey shot down Su-24 , so how USA can not ?
        Reality is that they were not able to do that at that time , Got it ?

        This statement by you ahmria is just a justification of potency of US defence systems, nothing else !!!!!!!

        • Common sense

          Wow, it’s funny how peoplet who know nothing, tend to be the most confident about their statement.

          Firay of all, the US and Russia have never fought each other directly, because it could instigate war, they’ve only ever fought through proxies.

          Second, it is a FACT that Russian tech is inferior to US tech.

          While the Russians are still trying to build their first 5th gen fighter, the Americans are already looking to develop a 6th gen.

          Your comment is ridiculous.

        • ahmria

          Turkey just about got away with shooting down the SU-24 that flew into Turkish air space briefly and even then there was a huge amount of economic fallout that hit the Turkish tourism industry as before the incident Turkey was a very popular tourist destination for Russians. Turkey also a fruit exporter to Russia and the Russian slapped sanctions on Turkish imports for a time.
          Can you also imagine how quickly an incident would escalate if the Americans or Russian military started shooting down each other’s jets for airspace violations. So no matter how provocative the incident both major NUCLEAR powers will refrain from doing so unless they want it to go to war.
          As I mentioned Russian electronic warfare tech is impressive but American technology in terms of electronic warfare is significantly better at this time.

          • Aman

            “As I mentioned Russian electronic warfare tech is impressive but American technology in terms of electronic warfare is significantly better at this time.”

            So could you please name any American jammer for fighter jets that have ever worked ?

          • Aaif khan

            Plus the pilot who shoot down the su-24 was later come out to be a Gulenist.

  • SP

    Important airframe design changes have been made to the JF-17B which would most likely be reflected also in the Block 3.

    Block 3 will be the most significant upgrade to the JF-17. The only thing lacking currently is a more powerful engine, which hopefully we will see soon in Block 3.

    • Aman

      I hope so !!!!!

    • Syed Bushra

      PAF is focusing on Block-III and the engine upgrade will likely come in the future. Engines take a long time to mature so postponing the upgrade, whether RD-33MK or WS-13, is the right thing to do.

  • Sami Shahid

    Could be the foundation of block 3 ? Oh common it is ! In fact it is the foundation of F-16’s competitor or an alternate for at least Pakistan !

    • Syed Bushra

      Bilal is never going to say this unless ACM Sohail Aman himself confirms it. This is why I love Quwa so much – consistently great analysis without the hype or gossip.

    • umar rana

      tell me it is competitor of f-16 which is laking in capability from indian Tejas.WHAT A COMPETITOR

      • Aaif khan

        Let the Tejas become battle ready like jf17 and others than compàre. And if you really can’t resist than add some more features to jf17 like HOBS HMDS new avionics and engines.

      • Haroon Basharat Khan

        No its not lacking
        Tejas is failed project.
        Block 1 acts As a base for Pakistan. Pakistan is making changes according to its needs and now it appears PAF is stepping up and we’ve export orders as well.
        Thunder meets the early requirements of F-16
        With AESA radar, better avionics
        Turkish targeting pod
        Ws 13 engine
        Airframe improvements
        More light weight
        And helmet mounted displays
        Will eventually make thunder as powerful as F -16 and su 30.
        With every new block coming. Its improving

        • Jack More

          Tejas is a failed project really?I mean a failed project is better than jf17 comparing technical specs.

  • Zill e Hussnain

    this is by far the most neutral and unbiased forum i have ever visited, kindly block the trolls and ignorant fanboys to keep things smooth enough for the readers

  • Chanakya

    A question to the experts
    1) Why Pakistan in not interested in the co-production of J-10 fighter jet?
    China has plenty of J-10 fighter in their air-force but not any JF-17.
    So why Pakistan is obsessed with a relative inferior JF-17?

    2) The world has moved towards Fifth generation fighter jets. What are Pak plans for 5th gen fighter jets?

    • Sami Shahid

      JF-17 is not an inferior Air craft. China does not induct FC-1 because China has a huge airspace and for that reason it manufactures twin engine air crafts. J-10 is a single engine but equipped with Mach 2.2 engine whereas, JF-17 can be equipped with maximum Mach 1.8 engine which is suitable for Pakistan. More importantly, there is a difference between FC-1 and JF-17. JF-17 is a multi role aircraft because it is built according to Pakistan requirements. Pakistan might replace JF-17 block 3 with F-16 and might buy stealth air crafts from Turkey or China. Turkey and UK have started their work on the development of stealth aircraft.

    • John Rue

      It takes a very long time to adopt an aircraft unless its an American aircraft and in that case PAF will do anything to get hold of it. You bet if US offers 24 F-15s or F-18s at reasonable price. PAF wont think twice but its Chinese plane so it will need to be evaluated under microscope and its adoption will take time and so and so.
      PAF will be wise to invest in some twin engine next generation plane with China. No other western country will offer them anything. They dont even stand chance of securing used F-16s from other nations because that will also require US congressional approval. Its about time PAF should start buying hi tech equipment from China.
      Invest in high tech programs run by Chinese and try to negotiate ToT and build at least a percentage of them locally.

  • John Rue

    is the more bubbly shaped JF-17B going to be as agile and maneuverable as standard one? I guess it can be. Probably bigger nose for AESA radar is more important. Its good not to have much difference between trainer and front line fighter models.

    • It will be interesting to see if the bubblier canopy incentives the PAF to just buy JF-17B-based airframes. I think they can be modified into single-seat fighters (like the MiG-29M2 and L-159).

  • Aman

    If you say i am wrong then i might be wrong.
    Because I have words to reply but not to you Brother
    I respect you !!!
    Even if you said me wrong i up vote you
    here it goes !!!!!!!

    • Aaif khan

      Jazak’allah khair. I am honored by your respect. It’s good to hear from you. When I was at your age I used stunt bike and roam wih frnd all day and night.

      • Aman

        Thanks brother for such grateful response !!!!!!!!

        But please tell me Your age ?

        • Aaif khan

          Dear Aman, I am 22 year old. I belong from ALigarh setteld in Kolkata and right now in Delhi. You must visit Kolkata. Bengalis are very kind and hospitable people. They are very good in debates and they laugh a lot.

          • Aman

            Kolkata is safest place for Muslims in India good to hear that you live in kolkata .
            I will try to visit !!!!!!
            I promise i will meet you in kolkata in next 2 years.

        • Aaif khan

          I wanted to tell you that you should be very respectful here because you never what kind of people visits here. I remind you that this is a defence forum.
          And yes we shouldn’t socialize this forum with all these personal life talks.(not being arrogant) I am saying for the sake of this forum.

          • Aman


  • Syed Bushra

    Thank you for this detailed analysis, Bilal sahab.

    I have a few questions if anyone can share their view.

    PAC was responsible for manufacturing 58% of the fighter (with AVIC providing the remaining 42% under the original workshare agreement

    Given that there is a workshare agreement in place, I assume, JF-17 manufacturing in Pakistan will remain under 70%? I know none of us have seen the workshare agreement and we are all speculating here but interested to know what you think.

    Another question, given the number of airframe changes in Block-III are significant (swept-back vertical stabilizer, composite materials, larger wingspan etc.), is it even possible to bring Block-I/II to Block-III standard or will PAF be looking to operate a mix of Block-I/II/III to reduce cost?

    • The workshare agreement is a reflection of each side’s funding commitment. While the PLAAF itself didn’t buy any FC-1/JF-17s, AVIC still paid its share of the development costs and so it will accrue that proportion (~48%) in all future sales. The only ways to bring more of the production to Pakistan is (1) for Pakistan to buy out AVIC’s share and/or (2) have AVIC set-up a subsidiary in Pakistan and manufacture from there.

      At the 2015 Paris Air Show, the PAF said that Block-I and Block-IIs could be upgraded to Block-III. They might consider it once the Block-I/II reach their allotted 4,000 hour lifespan – they would need to remanufacture them into Block-IIIs.

  • Z-man

    Actually the two seater looks better and more airworthy than the single seater.

  • Danish Hussain

    what generation aircraft is this JF-17B? anyone.

    • Aman

      Basically JF-17B will be used For training & Reconnaissance Purpose .

      JF-17 Block 2 is 4th generation fighter jet.

      And Upcoming JF-17 Block 3 will be “4th generation plus” Fighter jet

      according to Wikipedia sources!!!!!!!

  • Salman

    This article is good, well-balanced, and uses the clear indictment of speculation and uncertainty. But there are video makers on Youtube who have said exactly all above, but with complete certainty and “good news!” deduction. This plane now resembles highly the J-10B, and this really makes me wonder why, if in the end another J-10 would be made, this false derision and delusion to our country and our people that we actually put something into its development. We didn’t. We should have faced our problems and if we had to, learned from the chinese how to make the J-10. I see and know many Pakistani faces that light up when thinking of this “clandestine”, “landmark”, and “hallmark” achievement of the JF-17. Is it not funny, surreal, and very embarrassing that when the topic of further development comes, we start looking at other countries? If we had faced these problems instead of that smoky plane with Pakistani flag livery, we would have been somewhere since late 90’s. And China is not a particularly perfect or even close to good partner to be learning things from. They have cheated and still tripped and failed to even copy the Fulcrum engines, and their J-11 barely makes it to land from the, “carrier”. Isn’t it embarrassing that they are trying all the good political and economic winds that are running against Russia and using them against Russia into buying 4th gen Su-35 fighters when they claim to have ‘completed’ fifth gen highly “tactile”, “maneuverable”, and “stealthy” fighters with the Ki(m Jong)ng of thrust vectoring engines?

    • The flaw in your argument is that your casting judgment on the PAF using the benefit of hindsight.

      When the PAF and CAC began working on the Super-7 in earnest (early/mid-1990s), the J-10 was a secret and arguably China’s most difficult and complex fighter program to-date (at that time). The J-10 was a complex high-tech platform, and like many of its contemporaries, it stood the risk of serious delays, technical challenges and failure.

      There were no shortage of hi-tech fighter programs in the late 1980s and early 1990s – from Africa, Central Europe to Latin America. Every one of those other programs died – but the J-10 survived and thrived (relatively speaking) thanks to China’s heavy investment, backing and CAC’s growth as an aircraft developer.

      However, we know this in hindsight; for the PAF in the 1990s, the J-10 route could have been like the Lavi, Novi Avion and Carver. Scarred by the F-16 embargo, there was no money for heavy risks nor bandwidth for it – the goal was to get a fighter that could fulfill specific baseline requirements with as few technical risks as possible.

      As for asking for what Pakistan contributed to the JF-17, why ask this question? We all know Pakistan isn’t the paragon of aerospace engineering or development. Here, we know the contribution centered on co-investing in the program and was built upon trying to achieve a result, not to showcase ability. Rather, the aim was to build ability through the program, and the results are emerging – e.g. partial manufacturing, subsystems and weapons integration, building a domestic supply channel, etc. Finally, the PAF did contribute to the JF-17’s development in some areas, e.g. the cockpit.

  • Abdul Rashid

    Thread re-opened for comments.

  • RighteousLeft

    Slightly off topic, but I’m wondering if Pakistan has considered sourcing the GE F110 engine from Turkey for the JF-17? TEI makes the engine which powers all Turkish F-16s and also Egyptian F-16s. Perhaps there are export licensing issues with that?

  • Azeem Waqar

    My Question If JF-17 is better why Pakistan still try to buy F-16s………………Is it better to invest more in JF-17 or try something new like new better jet……………….What assembly of F-16 in india means to Pakistan………………………..If Pakistan have the Option between J-31 china and Su-PAK russia which one would be better??????

  • Pakistan Zindabad

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