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Next Steps for PAC and the JF-17 Thunder


Our mounting aversion to the idea of Pakistan spending any money towards new-built F-16C/D Block-52+ is no secret, and our strong support for the JF-17 Thunder is well-established.

As a general point, the greatest value of the JF-17 (at least for Pakistan) does not rest in its performance, but in the reality that Pakistan has authority over the platform. By “authority” we refer to the fact that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) can configure the JF-17 according to its will. This is the most essential point. While the F-16 is inherently the superior platform in terms of performance and quality, the PAF does not have the luxury to push the Viper to its available potential.

Just consider the fact that the PAF cannot readily integrate a high off-boresight (HOBS) air-to-air missile (AAM) onto its F-16s without U.S. approval of some shape or form. Even HOBS AAM that have been technically cleared for the F-16, such as the IRIS-T (developed by the German company Diehl BGT), cannot be configured onto the PAF’s F-16s without the U.S.’ approval. It would basically have to wait on America’s willingness to release the comparable AIM-9X; and this story is repetitive – the PAF’s F-16s have yet to be equipped with stand-off weapons (SOW), anti-ship missiles (AShM), and anti-radiation missiles (ARM).

On the other hand, despite the JF-17’s comparatively limited performance, the PAF has been able to arm the JF-17 with the C-802 AShM, and has the H-2/H-4 SOW and MAR-1 ARM in the pipeline (if not in the process of integration). And as we have repeatedly stated in earlier articles, it is the JF-17 that has a HOBS AAM, active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar, infrared search and track (IRST), and air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) integration in the pipeline – not the PAF’s F-16s. What benefit does the F-16’s multi-role prowess offer the PAF when that prowess is gradually eroding in the face of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy (IN)’s impressive qualitative advancements?

Finally, there is the reality that unlike the F-16, the PAF benefits from an increasingly adept domestic base capable of thoroughly supporting the JF-17. Yes, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) is a novice in terms of being an aerospace industry entity, but it is gradually and incrementally becoming capable, despite the difficult political and economic limitations Pakistan throws onto itself. The workshare agreement has shifted 58% of the JF-17’s airframe manufacturing to Kamra, and efforts are underway to bring a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) for Klimov turbofans as well. With the maintenance and support channel being domestic, the PAF can draw upon the benefits of assured and affordable accessibility. The necessities produced in Pakistan (and in some cases imported from China and Russia) are at the affordable side of the cost-spectrum; the money that goes back into PAC also goes back into Pakistan.

To be honest, the points being explained in this article are mostly earlier ideas being conveyed from a different set of angles, but they set the basis of why it is important to consider ideas about next steps, not just for the PAF, but for PAC and the JF-17 Thunder program.

The F-16 (and import route generally) has become a difficult path to take on, hence the reason why it is imperative that domestic development now take on a much higher level of importance. The PAF ought to seriously consider the value of bringing more of the airframe manufacturing to Kamra. China has been a dependable partner, but urgency and the desire to not take relationships for granted needs to be adopted.

There is a learning curve and a lot of building blocks to set-up, but the expertise and infrastructure built for the JF-17 will prove valuable for future projects. Make no mistake, a unique and independent program is not going to happen, but Pakistan could potentially (one day) offer something of tangible value to an outside partner. We are not talking about ground-breaking research, but at least a chance at becoming a viable co-production partner (that could help pull costs down), or capable licensed manufacturer of more sophisticated sub-systems, etc. It would be a huge shame if – like the K-8 Karakoram – the JF-17 program ends up at a plateau, and then just stays flat from an indigenization and development standpoint.

The PAF should also be critically averse to the notion of capping the JF-17. In other words, the fighter must not be relegated into becoming just a ‘second-tier’ fighter (relative to other fighter options for the PAF). For all intents the purposes, the geo-political and economic reality has made the JF-17 the backbone and edge-driver of the PAF fighter fleet. By “edge-driver” we refer to the idea of it being the platform where the PAF has the flexibility to keep up with qualitative changes in South Asia, such as the eventual entry of AESA radars. While the PAF must not waste funds, the PAF ought to ensure that the JF-17 Block-III (and potentially Block-IV and Block-V) are equipped with the most appropriate – in terms of the cost-to-performance ratio – subsystems available. It would be a shame to see a less capable AESA radar (e.g. via less transmit/receive modules than possible) due to prohibitive costs (which could have been avoided by walking away from a certain F-16 deal).

Finally, it is no secret that the PAF and PAC have been seeking to secure export clients for the JF-17. There is some substantive potential, but again, it is important that the PAF/PAC are careful with next steps. At some point, it may be prudent to clearly separate work between domestic and export variants of the JF-17. In terms of export, some areas could be accelerated, such as the procurement of a helmet-mounted display and sight (HMD/S) or HOBS AAM. Subsystems such as radars and electronic warfare (EW) and electronic countermeasure (ECM) suites for export-grade JF-17s could be acquired from the market; the risk for the PAF is minimal because it would not necessarily intend to use those systems for itself. The PAF cannot let its own requirements get guided by the market, but on the other hand, it cannot muddle the needs of prospective clients with its own (which is what happened with the omission of the dual-seat JF-17 in the initial years of the JF-17’s development).

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  • by jigsaww
    Posted May 2, 2016 5:19 am 0Likes

    Take JF-17 program to next level.
    In its class, it should match Gripen NG, F-16 block 60.
    Raise the bars.

    From block 4, PAF should think on incorporating 5th gen concepts, stealth, and twin engine.

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted May 2, 2016 5:30 am 0Likes

    Good follow up article to “Step away from F-16”. Regarding existing performace and quality gaps between the two platforms, surely they can and should be bridged and PAC/PAF should aim higher and beyond the latest F-16. The vision for future JF-17 blocks should not be constrained by the existing “limits” of the latest F-16. As Samar Mubarakmand said, vision ought to be dynamic. It must not stagnate at any point.

  • by saqrkh
    Posted May 2, 2016 5:33 am 0Likes

    Are you trying to summon MT? 😛

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted May 2, 2016 5:47 am 0Likes

    Please read my comment on the article. It is simply screaming for MT’s response. Something along the lines:

    “how pAk II enhance jf17 when have no domestic r@D n depend on all assmbly kit from cheen? India on ither hand build 87.5% indgnus 4.5+ gen tejas n now launch 4th indig sattelight on 91.75% indig rocket. V can now remotely count remaing hair on nawaz sharif head. Where is paK same capability????”

  • by jigsaww
    Posted May 2, 2016 6:05 am 0Likes


  • by jigsaww
    Posted May 2, 2016 6:13 am 0Likes

    Lol. He’s probably going to do it himself in a while. Well as soon as he is done garbaging the other 10,571 internet forums with catchword “pakistan”.

  • by MT
    Posted May 2, 2016 6:51 am 0Likes

    Not possible with this flawed mig33 design which inhibit its future expansion as proper 4gen fighter.

    some aspect of fighter such as aesa,EW warfare of western/Italian procured system may give that feel but poor engine performance & trailing smoke of engine ,lack of composite,semi digital avionics will continue to delay the platform.

  • by MT
    Posted May 2, 2016 6:57 am 0Likes

    Well as per cag report ,tejas is barely 60% indigenous with only 35% local system

    you are wrong again.

    it was 7th launch Of Irnss satellite with satellite being 85% indigenous component as lithium ion battery uses many Japanese components while cesium/rubidium atomic clock as part of navigational payload is completely imported

    PSLV ‘s SLV is probably having very high indigenous component as much as 95%

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted May 2, 2016 6:58 am 0Likes

    Issues of engine performance, trailing smoke and composites are being addressed and we should see significant improvement in the Block 3.

    Can I suggest you talk to admin to allow you to write an article on Tejas? I know you keep us Quwaites updated and enlightened on the latest developments in Indian defence industry but there is only so much you can write in a comment or get the same attention as you would with a dedicated article with photos.

  • by WARRIOR
    Posted May 2, 2016 6:59 am 0Likes

    Instead of f 16 paf should try to deal with China for j31 just like jf17

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted May 2, 2016 7:00 am 0Likes

    Sorry for getting my figures wrong. Entirely unintentional mistake I assure you. Please read my other comment addressed to you.

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted May 2, 2016 7:04 am 0Likes

    Hello Warrior, my Kashmiri brother, keh aal eh tussah na, Mirpuri teh Potohari zaban boli kinine o ya ni?

    Talking to some Quwaites on here they tell me J31 and FC-20 are all “on the cards” for possible PAF procurement in the “near” future, 5 to 10 years.

  • by Shershahsuri
    Posted May 2, 2016 7:07 am 0Likes

    PAC should gradually move forward to the local production of sophisticated avionics and gadgets like IRST, AESA radar, ECMs, etc. should also focus on AAMs. It might take years but eventually they get will get independent in the long run.

  • by Smoking a Tejas
    Posted May 2, 2016 7:44 am 0Likes

    Yeesh, still don’t understand the relationship between airframe design and FCS’s do you?. And composites can be added later to an airframe just so you know. Evolutionary development of the engine should take care of the lingering smoke that’s actually quite low for an RD-33 derivative. That’s also in part due to the well designed Inlet system.

    And the Project 33 reference is not worth responding to. Have you even seen the prototype model of the 33? The JF 17 is its own beast.

  • by jigsaww
    Posted May 2, 2016 7:44 am 0Likes

    It’s not the design that is flawed, it’s your head.
    Also as a hindustani, you are not qualified to discuss Rikshaw and tanga flaws, let alone fighter jets.

    What delay? The article is about JF-17, not Tejas!
    JF-17B is coming out this year.
    Block 3 is confirmed for 2018. It will see composites, AESA, IRST, APS, possibly new engine at some point, precision targeting capability, and better EW capability.

    Hold your trolling for block 3 to come out.

  • by WARRIOR
    Posted May 2, 2016 8:09 am 0Likes

    Fine n u?
    Yeah I know local languages spoken in Kashmir all r almost similar close to Punjabi n photohari

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted May 2, 2016 8:11 am 0Likes

    I’m fine thanks.

  • by shehryar mughal
    Posted May 2, 2016 9:42 am 0Likes

    Bilal Khan.. please write about the pros and cons of getting J-10 in large numbers as PAF has to retire a lot of its aircrafts soon we need to have replacements.. I agree with you getting a squadron or two J-10 is not feasible as its a completely new system and it does not make sense to get then in small numbers.. please elaborate why they cant be inducted in large numbers.

  • by Hindukush
    Posted May 2, 2016 10:19 am 0Likes

    He is not getting your joke…..must be nice to be clueless

  • by kashif sheikh
    Posted May 2, 2016 12:15 pm 0Likes

    why u give answer to the indians they r toiletless country first they make toilets then they talk what we r doing

  • by Sami Shahid
    Posted May 2, 2016 12:43 pm 0Likes

    why not the J-10’s ?

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted May 2, 2016 3:24 pm 0Likes

    With incorporation of stealth concepts and in particular twin engine can the JF-17 remain the same aircraft? Would it not involve substantial redesign to the extent it would have to be an altogether different platform? To re-phrase, does the design in it’s current form have capacity for upgrading to an effective 5th gen platform without looking like a Frankenstein’s monster bolt-on job, clunky, clumsy but still sort of passable effort or is it wiser to utilise the experience of JF-17 but incur the additional time and expense of iniating the design process from scratch?

  • by MT
    Posted May 2, 2016 3:55 pm 0Likes

    block3 still in final design phase & u expect new engine,new avionics,composite,Helmet mounted display & cueing systems along side aesa,irst to come in over24months.

    That’s many mammoth task for cheen given pak/cheen haven’t been able to integrate Ra’ad, Denel SoW series &; brazilian Mar missile in last 5yrs.

  • by SP
    Posted May 2, 2016 5:31 pm 0Likes

    PAC needs to be freed from PAF and made an independent body for further progress to be achieved.

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted May 2, 2016 7:39 pm 0Likes

    I thought one of THE main strengths and selling points of the JF-17 project is that it is PAF driven. The experience of PAF as a highly trained professional end user and their expert feedback has been critical in determining the final design outcome within the given budget and time constraints. That has been my understanding at least. Should not PAF determine what they need rather than PAC tell them what they SHOULD need?

    Please do not take this in the wrong context. I do not mean to sound impolite. I would just like you to clarify a little if you would for my better understanding and for any others interested. Thanks.

  • by MAyOr
    Posted May 3, 2016 1:01 am 0Likes

    i am no expert but may be its merely our assumption that Pakistan can not integrate the stand off weapons in F-16. May be it has already developed kits with the help of china or may be it already has an approval from USA to mount the stand off weapons in case of hostility from India ?

  • by MAyOr
    Posted May 3, 2016 1:05 am 0Likes

    Do you even know the engine that your fulcrums use ? lol – Hindu haters always pouring their hindoo thinking at every forum.

    You achootiya nation ka chootiya admi, Jf-17 has the design similar to F-20 Tiger Shark.. Go and find how mig33 looks like.

  • by MT
    Posted May 3, 2016 2:13 am 0Likes

    block3 still in final design phase & u expect new engine,new avionics,composite,Helmet mounted display & cueing systems along side an aesa,irst to come in over24month while you not aware of which aesa,irst to fit in.

    An aesa radar desires coolant & sufficient power from engine. You should add 2yrs for aesa integration at minimal.

    All of your desired spec is many mammoth task of -8 yrs for cheen given pak/cheen haven’t been able to integrate Ra’ad, Denel SoW series &; brazilian Mar missile in last 5yrs.

    Block 2 took 5yrs to introduce partial Bvr(limited by substandard radar), refuelling capabilities without any changes in airframe,radar while they don’t even have any liitening pods

  • by MT
    Posted May 3, 2016 3:29 am 0Likes

    Don’t compare 70 era non Fadec/deec rd93 with al31 Fp Saturn engine of Sukhoi platform which has 3d thrust vectoring

    The designation MiG-33 has been associated with two different … with other research and development assistance. These designs were used in development of JF-17 / FC-1 by Pakistan and China.

  • by Ashi Sidhu
    Posted May 3, 2016 3:56 am 0Likes

    he means fulcrums not flankers

  • by jigsaww
    Posted May 3, 2016 4:43 am 0Likes

    Current design of JF-17 will be anyway obsolete by 2035 at max. JF-17s will be started to be retired by 2030. There is no point in keeping 4.5th gen jets in service beyond 2030 or more. For that PAF needs to think now. And top leadership has made is clear thats what they are focusing on.

    One way is to modify JF-17 in 5th gen. Concepts are done already 3 years ago and a MoU is signed already between PAC and CATIC.
    It will be a new jet practically.
    Other way to start a new program.
    Either way, JF-17 in current design and capability will not do forever.

  • by MT
    Posted May 3, 2016 6:28 am 0Likes

    Dope doesnt know that mig29 fulcrum have Rd33 series3 engine which are reserved for latest fulcrum & denied for export to foreign fighter.

    Russia ll nt sell Rd33Mk 0r Rd 33 series 3 engine which both had Deec/Fadec as long as pak doesn’t promise to export junk fighter17.pak numerous attempts to promote cheeni junk fighter17 get wrath of russsian defence industry which ll ensure pak continue to get old smoking trailing rd93

  • by Mesquite Ice
    Posted May 4, 2016 5:32 am 0Likes

    Isnt it better. to have a fighter with smoke plume as against none. Also smoke plume would only reduce its stealth and not its ability to bomb targets of terrorists. Chinese will eventually sort these things out once they have their own engine. After all china invented the rocket and they are the original rocket scientists.

    I thought perfection is a journey and not a destination

  • by Mesquite Ice
    Posted May 4, 2016 5:34 am 0Likes

    But Why? both are different concepts and technology. Ask the chinese. Dont compare tejas with a JF 17. They are meant for different purposes

  • by MAyOr
    Posted May 4, 2016 7:22 am 0Likes

    Rd93 is a derivative of Rd33 ! i don’t know what have you been smoking ! but quit it already.

  • by MAyOr
    Posted May 4, 2016 7:23 am 0Likes

    He doesn’t even know the difference !

  • by MT
    Posted May 4, 2016 7:41 am 0Likes

    chaina chaina struggling with their copy cat engine.
    wait 5yrs before they able to copy rd93

  • by Abdul Rashid
    Posted May 4, 2016 12:05 pm 0Likes

    It does not have to be a comparison. It can just be a stand alone look at the Tejas project and cover it from concept to completion, its strengths/weaknesses and future progression.

    The scope of Quwa is more than just Pakistan. There have been India-related articles on here before presented in an objective manner. In fact looked positevly on emerging Indian private sector.

    I know there are often negative, disparaging comments on here from all sides. Sometimes in a lighter mood, sometimes not. Ultimately it is and should be about desire to learn and be aware of the latest in defence tech and regional aquisitions. It ought to be fun. Agreed?

  • by Mateen Zaman
    Posted May 4, 2016 1:31 pm 0Likes

    In future, once more sophisticated and capable platforms are available,PAF may likely be switching over to those,hence the fate of JF wont be dissimilar from the earlier experiments,general thinking in the PAF is that JF is not a promising and charismatic aircraft which was dreamed of but just a cheap stop gap arrangement,which failed to attract the flyer around the world

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