The dual-seat variant of the JF-17 – the JF-17B – has successfully undertaken its maiden test flight on April 27.
Production of the JF-17B prototype began in April 2016; the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had hoped to induct the JF-17B by this time. Currently, the JF-17B is entering the testing phase. Aviation journalist Alan Warnes reports (via AirForces Monthly) that three JF-17Bs are under production, two of which will join the PAF.
Besides having a second seat, the JF-17B exhibits several major design changes to the single-seat JF-17. It has a dorsal spine, possibly for fuel (to compensate for the space taken by the rear-seat). The vertical stabilizer has also been modified; as per Alan Warnes, the swept tail houses components for a new three-axis fly-by-wire flight control system. The nose was also enlarged to accommodate an active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar, which will be a core subsystem of the forthcoming JF-17 Block-III.
The JF-17B was primarily developed to meet the needs of prospective export users, which called for the type for in-flight evaluation and conversion training. Currently, the PAF is undertaking conversion training using simulators. However, the PAF leadership had hinted that the JF-17B could see use as a lead-in-fighter-trainer (LIFT) platform within its own fleet.
With advanced targeting pods and commercially available electronic warfare (EW) jamming pods, the JF-17B could also potentially be deployed as a strike or stand-off EW platform, respectively.
The PAF formally inducted its fifth JF-17 unit – i.e. No. 14 squadron – in February with Block-II aircraft, which include aircraft capable of in-flight refuelling. In March, the PAF announced that it successfully integrated a stand-off weapon system to the JF-17. There are more than 70 JF-17s in service with the PAF, and the PAF is expected to place its order for 50 Block-IIIs in 2017. CAC and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) have also secured export orders from Myanmar and Nigeria.