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Pakistan Air Force’s JF-17 Test Fires New Precision Guided Weapon

On 12 March 2019, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) announced that it test fired a new domestically developed precision-guided munition from a JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter.

“The successful trial has provided JF-17 Thunder a very potent and assured day and night capability to engage variety of targets with pinpoint accuracy,” the PAF stated through an official press release.

The PAF did not provide information about the munition’s range or capabilities, except releasing a video of the munition launching and hitting its target.

Interestingly, the object in the video was obscured with a black box, indicating that the PAF did not want to disclose the design or characteristics of the new munition.

Had the new munition been a Range Extension Kit (REK)-equipped Mark-80-series general purpose bomb (GPB), there would have been little reason to obscure its new test video.

The REK had already been revealed to the public, with the PAF even showing a video of it launching from the JF-17 during the 2018 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) in November of last year.

Moreover, the REK’s marketing company, Global Industrial & Defence Solutions (GIDS), also revealed the technical specifications and capabilities of the REK since at least IDEAS 2016.

The REK is analogous to the Joint Direct Attack Munition Extended Range (JDAM-ER). The kit extends the range of the GPB while improving its accuracy with an INS/GPS system. It has a maximum range of 100 km and an accuracy of within 10 m CEP. Like the JDAM-ER, the REK is meant to be a low-cost SOW solution.

The REK and the C-802 anti-ship missiles (AShM) are the JF-17’s main stand-off weapons (SOW) thus far, but this recent test would suggest that there is a third SOW joining the JF-17’s armament inventory.

A close look at the obscured box shows a winged-munition, so it appears to be glide-capable. However, it is unclear if it is a variant of the REK or a JF-17-compatible version of the H-2 and H-4 (i.e., the Denel Raptor and Raptor II built in Pakistan and on use from the PAF’s Mirage ROSE aircraft).

In our view of the video, it appears that the munition makes a terminal-stage correction immediately right before hitting its target. Though it is not a conclusive sign, a move of this nature would amount to the PAF developing a directly analogous solution to the Rafael SPICE.

Like the REK, the SPICE is a refit kit for GPBs, but it also has an electro-optical (EO) seeker to enable for an even tighter accuracy of within 3 m CEP.

By fitting the REK with an EO seeker, the PAF could acquire a PGB – and that too through domestic means – that is not just like the SPICE, but similar to the H-2 and H-4 (i.e., another EO-equipped SOW). Similar to the Raptor-I/II, the H-2 and H-4 have ranges of 60 km and 120 km, respectively.

Compared to the REK or Mark-80-series GPBs, the H-2/H-4 offer the benefit of using penetration warheads against reinforced targets, such as hardened aircraft shelters and bunkers. The EO seeker also offers both a back-up to INS/GPS failing by enabling the end-user to control it remotely.

In fact, obscuring the video could be taken as an attempt to hide the munition’s actual form, especially as the PAF did not officially disclose images or video of the H-2/H-4.

One alternative theory could be that the new munition is the H-2/H-4, or a variant of it made compatible with the JF-17. Interestingly, in its 2017 financial report the South African weapons development company Denel Dynamics stated that it tested “a medium-range, low-cost guided weapon” for “a client.”

Today, the PAF can rely on its own instrumented Weapon Test Range (WTR) at the Sonmiani Firing Range, but this was inaugurated in February 2018. Prior to that, one can speculate that the PAF relied on outside WTRs, such as Denel’s Overberg WTR, to test some of its munitions technology.

But today, the PAF could test its SOW technology domestically at Sonmiani, which is likely to drive serious munitions technology development in Pakistan in the coming years. Between this test and finalizing deals with Ukraine and, reportedly, Turkey to jointly develop a range of munitions, all signs point to this fact.

The next factor is the JF-17. Besides the JF-17 Block-III (and, potentially, future variants) and Project Azm, the only sure factor is additional JF-17s. With the Block-III on the horizon, it makes sense to enable the JF-17 to carry the full gamut of munitions necessary to the PAF’s tactical and strategic requirements.

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