The latest, powered-up version of the JF-17 fighter jet reportedly features technologies from China’s advanced J-20 fighter jet and made its maiden flight in December, as the warplane co-developed by China and Pakistan saw major electronic upgrades that will drastically increase its combat efficiency, Global Times reported.
With the serial number “3000,” the first JF-17 Block 3 prototype was taken into the skies for the first time in mid-December in Chengdu, Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, Aerospace Knowledge magazine reported in its Sina Weibo account on Tuesday.
According to photos circulated on the Chinese social platform, the aircraft is installed with many commercial off-the-shelf technologies from the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China, the report said.
These include a new and larger holographic wide-angle head-up display and integrated cockpit display similar to the one used by the J-20, in addition to an advanced infrared missile approach warning system used by the J-10C, J-16 and J-20 fighter jets, the magazine reported.
Wang Ya’nan, chief editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times that the JF-17’s flight performance and airframe design have been proven in its past service, but it can quickly improve if equipped with advanced electronic equipment.
“China has made a large amount of achievements in the development of the likes of the J-10 and J-20, resulting in many mature technologies and equipment… If they can be used on the JF-17, the pilot could enjoy a significant efficiency increase in flying, which will also boost its combat efficiency,” Wang said.
Analysts said the new additions to the JF-17 can give pilots more situational awareness, allowing them to focus more on combat instead of flying the aircraft.
Another advantage of using mature commercial off-the-shelf technologies is their cost-efficiency, Wang said.
The JF-17 Block 3 is the first major upgrade version to the JF-17. It is expected to enter the Pakistan Air Force, Aerospace Knowledge reported.
In March 2019, Yang Wei, chief designer of the China-Pakistan co-developed fighter jet, said development and production of the JF-17 Block 3 were underway, and the third block will see the JF-17’s information-based warfare capability and weapons upgraded.
According to Military Watch Magazine, the new fighter is set to revolutionize Pakistani aerial warfare capabilities, incorporating an advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar (possibly the Chinese made KLJ-7A), new electronic warfare systems, a new fly by wire digital flight control system, a new helmet mounted display and access to a new wider range of more sophisticated munitions.
These are reported to include new longer ranged and more sophisticated air to air munitions, the PL-15 according to some reports, and possibly more advanced variants of the PL-12, which will considerably enhance the aircraft’s performance in air to air combat.
Other possible upgrades to the JF-17 design which will be integrated onto the Block III variant include an infra red search and track system and a radar cross section reducing ‘pseudo-stealthy’ airframe.
Use of a more powerful AESA radar will revolutionize the fighter’s situational awareness while at the same time minimizing its radar signature to increase survivability.
This radar system is expected to be more powerful than anything currently in Indian service other than the Bars passive electronically scanned array radar deployed by the Su-30MKI, and combined with new longer ranged air to air munitions, such as the PL-15 which with a 150km range currently outranges any analogues in Indian service, will provide Pakistan’s fleet with an edge in combat.
China’s Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology is reportedly developing the new AESA radar system for the aircraft, which “can be fitted on the airframe very fast, ensuring a quick delivery time,” according to designer Yang.
For the airframe itself, PAC is reportedly set to manufacture 58%, with Chengdu manufacturing the remaining 42%. The possibility for upgrading older variants of the JF-17 with new radars and avionics, particularly the JF-17 Block I which retains below average situational awareness, has also been raised.
A number of foreign clients have expresses considerable interest in the fighter, which though considerably cheaper is far more sophisticated and capable than its widely marketed American analogue F-16C Fighting Falcon (though its airframe is still slower and less manoeuvrable — but capable of higher altitudes.)
Among the interested parties are Egypt, Malaysia, Iran and Azerbaijan — with other states likely to follow suit particularly if the aircraft is capable of deploying high end long range missiles such as the PL-15 — which for many states would be a game changer for their aerial warfare capabilities.