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What did Pakistan gain from the JF-17?

Although we have touched upon this issue in practically every article we have published about the JF-17 Thunder, it is important to give the question (titled) attention. Why? If Pakistan and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF)’s objectives with regards to the JF-17 are not properly understood and put into context, then we all run the risk of missing the point of the JF-17 program. If the objectives are not clearly understood, then we basically risk misplacing the JF-17 program (above or below its potential), and in turn, not identify the next steps the PAF (and Pakistan Armed Forces) ought to take in the coming years.

There are two aspects to the JF-17 program: the fighter and the domestic support base. The JF-17 as a fighter we have discussed quite a bit on Quwa (you can find our articles here), but the domestic support base needs some attention. To the point, the JF-17 has been a success; while it did not result in Pakistan producing an entire fighter from scratch, it has infused a much needed and very valuable foundation for more intensive development in the future.

Of course, Pakistan should have gotten to this stage earlier, and it might have had it not taken U.S. aid and access to arms for granted in the 1960s and 1980s, but in the end, necessity won. It won the first time when the PAF understood that it cannot build a backbone fighter via imports, and it won again in recent days when the PAF understood that it cannot even look to build the qualitative edge via imports.

In the case of the PAF and Pakistan broadly, depending on a foreign supplier – especially the U.S. – has and will continue to be fraught with problems in the form of cost, limited end-user rights (especially in regards to modifications and upgrades), and potentially even precarious long-term support.

Dependency may not be an issue for an air force that is deeply integrated within a coalition comprised of strong allies. Dependency may not be an issue for an air force that has little need for stand-off range munitions to put an adversary’s distant assets at risk. Dependency may not be an issue for an air force that does not have to deter geo-strategic rivals looking to raise their interests at their neighbour’s expense.

But Pakistan cannot afford to be dependent, not at this stage, and certainly not in the medium to long-term. The JF-17 in terms of its domestic support goals was designed to begin rectifying this dependency problem; with the Thunder, the PAF can integrate its choice of weapons and avionics in the fighter. It did not enter the program with the aim of proving that it has the ability to design and develop a fighter. To suggest such a thing would be a bad joke given that Pakistan openly stated that it is depending on China to develop the fighter. Granted, co-funding the development of the JF-17 has given the PAF freedom in terms of co-owning the fighter platform (e.g. integrating its choice of weapon at will), but the JF-17 was not meant to be a reflection of Pakistan’s abilities. It was meant to build Pakistan’s abilities.

Thanks to the JF-17, Pakistan today possess an aircraft manufacturing facility that produces 58% of the JF-17’s airframe and a proportion of its avionics under license. At the bare minimum, it can at least fully support the fighter to the end of its life via a locally available supply base of spare-parts and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO). In truth, it can go a bit further, and in relatively important ways. While the PAF would have to wait on U.S. approval for making the F-16 capable of firing a high off-boresight (HOBS) air-to-air missile (AAM), it can acquire and integrate the HOBS AAM of its choice on the JF-17. Yes, there are issues in terms of funding, but these obstacles are dependent on Pakistan, not Washington.

It takes human capital development to get this far, even though in the grand scheme of things it is only a little progress, it is necessary in order to keep going further. While JF-17 was designed from the onset as a cost-centric backbone fighter, and thus, inherently limited in what it can offer, the foundation it has laid has given the PAF a clearer idea of what it needs to do in order locally source a more capable platform (thus ending the need for the ‘metaphorical F-16’ in the future).

In fact, there is a sense that the PAF’s next-generation fighter program will become quantitative and qualitative driver of the PAF’s future fighter fleet. In other words, this platform may (and we certainly hope that it does) become a no-compromise fighter. How that impacts the configuration or design is not known to anyone at this time, but the expectations behind the next-generation fighter are certainly higher than that of the Super-7.

There is an important caveat. While the PAF’s pursuit to build the necessary human capital via the Kamra Aviation City project ought to be commended, there are structural realities that still need to be addressed. Pakistan’s precarious economic condition is not news to anyone, but strong emphasis needs to be placed on the development of wide scale science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and applied research. Even Kamra Aviation City’s masters and postdoctoral programs will need competent graduates of bachelors-level STEM majors, who in turn will need sufficient school-level STEM teaching. Not to mention the need for a wide pool of technicians and applied technology specialists to help with integration and implementation at every step. Sadly, this is not (and should not) be the purview of the PAF (a war fighting arm).

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  • by Smoking a Tejas
    Posted June 1, 2016 12:29 am 0Likes

    I think you’re downplaying a very important factor which was PAF engineers having a lot of input in the design of the JF 17 and being instrumental in tailoring the final product. While the basic components weren’t ours, the expertise to tailor a specific machine from them was PAF all the way. You can see that In the final product, which combines significant amounts of Russian, Chinese and American influences. Not too mention, the guts to revise the design until the last minute to extract maximum performance.

  • by Ike Khan
    Posted June 1, 2016 2:22 am 0Likes

    Your points are well taken but Pakistan in general and PAF in particular have another problem. They need to stop thinking in terms of export. Just provide solution for your own problems. All three services need to find common solutions and technologies. Simple technologies can build good base. For example, Cargo and transport planes, even under license can be a good training ground. Just concentrate on acquisition of technologies and throw away MBA book.

  • by Shershahsuri
    Posted June 1, 2016 4:16 am 0Likes

    No odouit is thanks JF-17 that Pakistan does not feel so much worried over the blockade of FMF for F-16 deal as it did in 1990s when f-16s were held up and the money too. However PAC should gradually increase its share from 58% to 100 % . The PAC should also develop the local R&D to introduce a larger variant of JFT like twin engine and stealth in later 2020s.

  • by sufi
    Posted June 1, 2016 4:47 am 0Likes

    thank you bilal …..try to find a way to get it published in a widely circulated news website so that an average person who is not a military buff shall be able to understand where we stand.

    one thing that pisses me off is our emphasis on high end professionals ( like Phd’s ) without realizing that its the technicians and machinists who’s skills need to be polished ……they are the ones who do the hands on job.

  • by Sam
    Posted June 1, 2016 5:15 am 0Likes

    I think JF-17 program is the foundational step in journey towards complete transformation from an importing mindset towards engineering and innovation. Strategy & roadmap, R&D and setting ambitious goals and attaining them is not in our national DNA. You have made a great point that there has to be a complete echo-system addressing all aspects of strategy not just one component. PAF cannot do everything on its own.

    Sometimes I really wonder whether we are cash-poor or outright lunatics. On one hand we are loosing billions of dollars each year in corruption and on the other consistently complaining about meagre resources.

    The holistic approach should include stopping the economy from bleeding and re-directing the resources towards establishing a viable and sustainable defence & aerospace program.

    I am also not a great fan of being overly cost conscious and being defensive in strategy. The multi-tier strategy should include continuous progression of JF-17 program, aggressive fifth-generation platform program and even indigenous helicopters etc. We are looking down the barrel and JF-17 program alone is not going to thwart the challenge.

  • by Salman Khan
    Posted June 1, 2016 5:34 am 0Likes

    It’s still very sad that the plane still pulls a max +8g, and that development is so frustratingly slow.

  • by Salman Khan
    Posted June 1, 2016 5:49 am 0Likes

    I think that Tejas was also designed for the same specific purpose; to develop the Indian aerospace industry. But, they did more than that. They actually never cared to push Tejas into induction. Tejas was for them just a fertile platform to learn new and advanced technologies. They never learned on their own of course. Seeing Tejas fitted with Israeli avionics produced in India is alarming. Now Tejas Mk.2 will come, and it’ll have a advanced Israeli AESA radar. Indians wont start induction of Tejas until it’s in the Mk.2 specification. Therefore the fact we’re actually lacking behind qualitatively is very sad. It’s very clear that there’s a nil chance for Pakistan to acquire western avionics, and Block 3 would feature a lacking Chinese AESA radar.

    Quote “it won again in recent days when the PAF understood that it cannot even look to build the qualitative edge via imports”

    I believe Pakistan lost when it secluded itself for no damn reason from the world. The qualitative edge is there in the West not in China. Chinese technologies are just polished old western technologies smuggled to China in the 80’s/90’s. Why did we seclude ourselves from the world? Are we the extreme KSA?

  • by Hindukush
    Posted June 1, 2016 7:07 am 0Likes

    It’s development is so frustratingly slow …..that argument is as real as a Bollywood khan

  • by Salman Khan
    Posted June 1, 2016 7:28 am 0Likes

    Good thing you resorted to making jokes. Anyway, I recall that Block 2 was promised long ago approx. in 2012, and it has only materialized this year. Also we all agree that Block 3 would arrive around in 2020. So yes, compared to India, our pace is very slow. The basic reason being that we cannot afford economically or politically to put anything Western on the plane, hence we are forced to wait for Chinese technology to come up to our standards.

  • by sanjay khan
    Posted June 1, 2016 7:49 am 0Likes

    LOL we should continue this charade…….keep on chugging”SALMAN KHAN”

  • by Shershahsuri
    Posted June 1, 2016 10:41 am 0Likes

    JFT development is not slow. Rather it is faster than Tejas. Tejas Programme started at 3 decades ago while JFT programme started 15 years ago. JFT block 2 was also introduced well in time. Block 3 will be unveiled in 2018 and in 2020 Pakistan will have a squadron of block 3. No doubt India is not in hurry to induct Tejas because they can acquire new and modern platform from everywhere–Russia, France, USA etc. But when Pakistan was sanctioned in 1990s for Nuke Program PAF suffered badly. Pakistan was in hurry for JFT.

  • by MT
    Posted June 1, 2016 10:52 am 0Likes

    Pak produces 58% of the JF-17’s airframe and a proportion of its avionics under license.


    1. Pakistan doesn’t make airframes alloys so the slabs are imported but kamra does claim assembly of 58% airframe

    2. avionics made in pakistan under license
    >> assembled should be appropriate term

  • by MT
    Posted June 1, 2016 10:56 am 0Likes

    Pakistan cheen jf17 program is ahead of tejas although engine avionics radar bvr are nor at par.

    Jf also lack basic e$o pod which is available in tejas since 2011

  • by Smoking a Tejas
    Posted June 1, 2016 11:00 am 0Likes

    That can be compensated for by changes in the flight control parameters but it’ll put a lot more stress on the airframe reducing life. Adding increment improvements in the form of composites are probably in the pipeline in future.

  • by Smoking a Tejas
    Posted June 1, 2016 11:11 am 0Likes

    Very true but it also about working out your design requirements carefully. The thunder was designed to work because the paf didn’t have money to burn. It’s cousin across the border failed because it wasn’t designed towards fixed parameters but floating objectives that kept moving. Hence it’s long journey to being operational.
    These incremental steps are about critical experience and begs the question of where the paf wants to go from here. Custom adaption to all aspects of a future design might not be a bad compromise for the paf’s next generation fighter. Much like what it achieved in the thunder. And the Chinese will help you with the wherewithall to get there.

  • by Smoking a Tejas
    Posted June 1, 2016 11:13 am 0Likes

    I’m also convinced the future for countries like pakistan are drones and lots of them.

  • by hindkush
    Posted June 1, 2016 11:21 am 0Likes

    Compared to India our pace is slow …..last time checked JF17 has 20000 operational hours ……how many operational hours does your Tejas has,be specific please

  • by Hindukush
    Posted June 1, 2016 12:05 pm 0Likes
  • by Hindukush
    Posted June 1, 2016 12:21 pm 0Likes

    Yup all these guys wearing Labcoats came from madrassas

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted June 1, 2016 12:35 pm 0Likes

    Good video. Very clear evidence Pakistan does indeed MANUFACTURE, not just always assemble “Cheeni knock down kits”. It is mentioned in the video several times and the manufacturing processes shown too. But it is only evidence to those who are sincere in wanting it, otherwise it is a “fake video”, “Cheeni factory shown”, “selective editing” or whatever else under the sky!

  • by Salman Khan
    Posted June 1, 2016 12:40 pm 0Likes

    Oh I’m not Indian btw. That “Khan” came because my dad is from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

    Alright. But we cannot deny that Tejas is far more superior in technology than JF-17. My dear, Tejas Mk.2 would feature an Israeli AESA radar. And Israeli avioinics huh? Are they nothing compared to Chinese avionics? As far as I know, Israel didn’t even accept the current F-35 because they wanted to fit their own avionics. So you might now understand my fear, dear.

    But there’s a catch, and I mentioned it somewhere else.

  • by Smoking a Tejas
    Posted June 1, 2016 1:43 pm 0Likes

    Actually you asked the right question in tech sharing. As even india has found out, the west is not keen on sharing it’s secrets with anybody. Ask the brits if they’ll get the source codes to the f 35. Presently China is willing to share it’s tech with Pakistan when others won’t. And the situation can change on a dime.

  • by middleway1
    Posted June 1, 2016 2:06 pm 0Likes

    The strategy to develop the technological infrastructure has to be multipronged. Resources are limited, so we have to get maximum bang for the buck. The politicians cannot be depended upon, because they are too busy lining their own pockets:
    1. Do the obvious, i.e., develop in-house capabilities, which is what the Armed Forces have done so far. But to move faster, they have to leverage their resources by,
    2. Developing public-private partnership in 2 ways:
    a. With universities and polytechnics: Contract with these institutions, or provide grants, from the Armed forces (done in all Western countries) for task specific R&D and/or training. This will upgrade the level of these institutions for the long term.
    b. With the private sector: Provide seed money, and incubate private corporations to produce specific defense-related products. There is a huge untapped demographic in terms of the Pakistani expatriate community in Silicon Valley, and the US and the West in general, for their technical know-how in all fields of engineering and science; and also relatively wealthy expatriate community who would be willing to invest in Pakistan on the ground floor of these technological enterprises which are backed by the Armed Forces.
    That would be a good start. So there. Who is going to do it?

  • by MT
    Posted June 1, 2016 3:32 pm 0Likes

    I did watch the video. What u see is a assembly of PCB components on empty boards with pre defined outlay map installed via multi step process: PCB stuffing.
    Assembly/integration & testing are core works at kamra.

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted June 1, 2016 4:32 pm 0Likes

    Oh well, I really didn’t expect you to say Pakistan is manufacturing anything even after the video.

    I have worked for Japanese manufacturing companies in my younger years. They designed, assembled and tested their own products. In their production areas you would have seen the same. Automated surface mount machinery positioning and soldering components. Had you took a tour in their injection moulding area, you would have seen plastic moulding being produced, and so on. No one doubted the fact that they were the companies own products . The fact that the raw material granules for the injection moulding process, for example, were sourced from non-Japanese firms did not somehow strip the product of the claim “indigenous”. But then why would it? The firms were not Pakistani and their employees not Indians with a political axe to grind.

  • by Imran Khan
    Posted June 1, 2016 9:31 pm 0Likes

    It takes a long time to develop core competence in any complex system. Which is why it is very difficult to develop them in a world of accelerating competition. Pakistan should follow more of Israel’s or South Africa’s example rather than India’s. Israel being a small country focused on UAVs, radios and radars and established themselves as leaders in the field.
    Pakistan should leverage platforms from China or collaborate with friendly countries like Turkey and Ukraine in developing platforms. Trying to develop complete complex platforms by a Military organization (i.e. PAF) has a very low chance of success IMHO. PAF should actually not run PAC. It should be a public-private venture.

    There is a lot that can be done to enhance platforms.

    You may find couple of my article on the subject below somewhat interesting

    I appreciate Bilal’s effort to encourage constructive discussion.

  • by Bilal Khan - Quwa
    Posted June 1, 2016 10:57 pm 0Likes

    Excellent! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • by Smoking a Tejas
    Posted June 2, 2016 2:48 am 0Likes

    In the last few weeks alone, Pakistan has secured a deal with Leonardo-Finmeccanica for its choppers. Avionics may be just a step away provided its what PAF is willing to pay for in the long run..

    And Tejas was never a technology integrator/demonstrator and shouldn’t be defended as such. It’s simply an example of pedestrian (at best) or bad Program conceptualization and management in operation where billions in funding is poured down a black hole in the name of jingoism. Lets look at the qualitative edge it has provided to the Indian Defence Industry over a period of 3 decades. A composite wonderframe that weighs more than a conventional one. An indigenous engine that can’t meet its minimum design specs and is replaced with another underpowered foreign one. Ditto with the radar and avionic suite which are also outsourced because the local version don’t work as planned.

    Consequently, a ‘Mk2’ is developed with massive airframe changes and redesigns incorporating a new powerplant and so many major tweaks to the airframe that it might well be a new plane. All this while a naval variant struggles with its own demons, not being designed from the ground up for naval operations, its even heavier than the overweight land version. The list goes on. Yes, I can see the ‘qualitative’ edge accumulating real fast.

  • by Syed
    Posted June 2, 2016 12:36 pm 0Likes

    The light weight composite aircraft Tejas is actually heavier than JF17,does that make any sense?no but then that is the usual stuff from Hindustan based on primitive jingoism

  • by MT
    Posted June 2, 2016 3:43 pm 0Likes

    Nope. Its 50-100 kg lighter despite being 40% more surface area due to delta wing.

  • by MT
    Posted June 2, 2016 3:47 pm 0Likes

    Mk2 is marginally :0 5meter longer nd 1feet wider
    Tejas mk1 Weight is 50-100kg lighter than jf despite tejas having delta wing with 40-45%more surface area.
    India has managed to make decent progress on 4th gen aeronautical technology right frm avionics radar to power plant while it has mastered composite avionics actuators airframe & local bvr development.

    Pakistan is still relying on chinese designed/developed technology & it is technologically equivalent to india of 1980.

    Can u name 1 subsystem which was developed by pak for jf17

  • by Smoking a Tejas
    Posted June 2, 2016 5:20 pm 0Likes

    You couldn’t refute any of the observation I made. Yes decent progress is the only statement to make although at an indecent cost.

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