China Aviation News (CAN) reports that the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) received a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter at its Aircraft Maintenance Factory in Chengfei for major overhaul on November 07.
The specific fighter has been in service with the PAF since 2007. According to CAN, this will be a joint pilot program between China and Pakistan, and will support the Chinese aviation industry’s wider transition to supporting current generation Chinese-made export fighters from previous generation models. According to Sina News, a separate major overhaul facility will be built at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC).
The Chengfei facility has long been undertaking maintenance work for Chengdu J-7/F-7 and J-10 fighters for overseas and domestic users, respectively. The JF-17 is the first of AVIC’s new generation fighters to require major overhaul, making this an important project for AVIC as it continues marketing the Thunder as well as its contemporaries, i.e. the FC-20 and L-15.
Notes & Comments:
The JF-17 is a mainstay fighter of the PAF. As of September 2017, PAC had rolled out 90 JF-17 Block-I and Block-II fighters, which are in use by four fighter squadrons and a training unit with the Sargodha-based Combat Commanders School (CCS). Being a multi-role platform, the JF-17 has been tasked with air-to-air, air-to-ground and air-to-sea roles. The fleet logged 19,000 cumulative flight hours by April 2016.
Briefly, major aircraft overhaul would involve disassembling the entire aircraft down to its individual parts, after which each part is closely inspected for damage or anomalies. These parts will either be repaired or replaced entirely with brand new components. During the overhaul process the depot would also examine the aircraft’s wiring as well as hydraulic and fuel pipes, which may necessitate repair or replacing. The aircraft is re-assembled and put through tests before returning to use.
The PAF’s Block-I fighters will require major overhaul work through the 2020s. Although PAC is slated to establish its own facility, it will be interesting to see if this requires expansion at PAC or if it will subsume the existing maintenance site of the Chengdu F-7P, which the JF-17 has mostly supplanted, with the No. 18 operational conversion unit (OCU) being the sole F-7P and FT-7P operator in the PAF.
It should also be noted that in June of this year, PAC ordered a Damage Tolerance Analysis and Structural Health Management (DTA/SHM) System from Critical Materials in Portugal. PAC could pair the DTA/SHM system to its entire maintenance system before initiating the major overhaul process by continuously monitoring the health and airframe integrity of each aircraft, be it the JF-17 or other platforms.
With domestic support being a critical aspect of the JF-17 program, PAC had also looked to establish a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility for the JF-17’s powerplant, the Klimov RD-93 (IHS Jane’s).
Like airframe MRO, engine MRO typically involves stripping the engine down to individual parts for inspection and thorough cleaning, and conducting non-destructive inspections (NDI) to identify defects and other anomalies. In the case of PAC’s ATAR-09C MRO, the ability to manufacture specific new components is also in place. Such a capability enables PAC to effectively lengthen each ATAR-09C’s lifespan.
Substantive movement in this area should begin in the near-term, if not already, considering that the pervasiveness of the RD-93 in the PAF fleet. Thanks to the ATAR-09C MRO base, PAC already possesses a suite of systems to undertake the engine MRO process, it is a matter of having Klimov provide the means and expertise to connect the RD-93 to that wider system.