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KLJ-7A: Proposed AESA radar for JF-17 undergoing tests
November 17, 2018
KLJ-7A AESA radar undergoing tests with the CFTE's 711 unit. Photo source: CCTV (via East Pendulum)

KLJ-7A: Proposed AESA radar for JF-17 undergoing tests

CCTV News footage shows that the Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology (NRIET) KLJ-7A is undergoing tests with the China Flight Test Establishment’s 711 unit.

Revealed at Air Show China 2016, the NRIET KLJ-7A is a proposed AESA radar for the JF-17 Block-III, which is to be the JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter’s most significant upgrade. The JF-17 is the mainstay fighter of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is co-produced by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).

In comparison to current-generation mechanically-steered radars, AESA radars provide key defensibility gains against electronic warfare (EW) jamming and enemy radar detection. Instead of relying on a single array that transmits a different frequency per-single-pulse, AESA radars utilize many arrays – i.e. transmit and receive modules (TRM) – that can each transmit in a different frequency. In unison, these TRMs enable a single AESA radar unit to transmit in different frequencies simultaneously.

East Pendulum was informed by NRIET deputy director Wang Hongzhe that the KLJ-7A has a range of 170 km, though it is unclear if this is against 5m² RCS (radar cross-section) or 3m² RCS targets. It can track 15 targets and engage four simultaneously. Though equipped with 1,000 TRMs, it is not known if the KLJ-7A’s TRMs are built from gallium arsenide (GaA) or gallium nitride (GaN).

In China, NRIET is competing with AVIC’s 607 research institute – i.e. Leihua Electronic Technology Research Institute (LETRI) – for the PAF’s Block-III contract, which is expected to comprise of 50 new-built aircraft. LETRI is pitching an air-cooled AESA radar, which omits dedicated liquid-cooling systems, thereby providing valuable space and weight benefits optimal for lightweight fighter platforms.

Leonardo’s Selex ES division had pitched the Vixen 1000E AESA radar as well, though industry analysts are skeptical that the PAF will select the Vixen. The PAF’s JF-17s are equipped with the SD-10 beyond-visual range (BVR) air-to-air missile (AAM) and C-802 anti-ship missile (AShM). These necessitate direct linkage to the radar for pre-terminal-stage guidance. It is unlikely that either side will cede their respective source codes to make linkage between Chinese munitions and European radars possible.

The PAF is also hoping to eventually manufacture AESA radars domestically at PAC. Proceeding with NRIET and/or LETRI for the JF-17 could set the stage for those entities to assist Pakistan in its efforts, which will be an integral aspect of Project Azm, which envisages developing and producing a 5th-generation fighter for the PAF. It is unlikely that Leonardo would be as forthcoming in this regard.