JF-17 Thunder Block 3 is going to be equal to 4.5 generation jet. Is that why Pakistan isn’t buying new fifth generation jets?

Pakistan has little choice and little money to splurge on Western fighters. Even if she has some cash to buy Western fighters, strict terms and conditions on the purchase means Pakistan’s hands are tied. Basically this is unacceptable to Pakistan or to any nation.

The JF-17 was born from a political will to be independent on western suppliers. The F-16 was a good example of strict terms and conditions set on its use as well as the US having some controls of critical system that pose a major threat to Pakistan uses in an armed conflict. Keeping the story short, Pakistan jump into the JF-17 project. From Pakistani expert, they saw a modern jet with capabilities and given PAC having experience in aircraft maintenance, they set the strategy to be independent and assemble their own jet.

The Sino-Pakistani jet was designed from Block 1 and 2 to be a 4th generation jet along the lines of the F-16 early models. However for the Block 3, it is a more advance machine and i can consider this a 4+ generation fighter.

The JF-17 will be the cornerstone of PAF air power in the early part of the 21st century. This 4.5 generation Block III is the most lethal.

Pakistan is not looking to buy any 5th generation fighter yet. China J-31 is still in its early stages of development and testing and the J-20 long range fighter has just gone into service after several years of testing. The United States will not be selling the F-35 to Pakistan. Any sales to Pakistan now from any US jets will have a major terms and conditions that i believe Pakistan will not accept. Some of the terms is that US weapons will not be used against India. I believe this is a bit stupid but thats the terms set by the United States.

The JF-17 Block III – The Game Changer: The Pakistan Air Force (PAF)’s plans for a helmet-mounted display and sight(HMD/S) system for the JF-17 in Block III form. The JF-17 Block-III is a significant upgrade especially in terms of its radar and other onboard electronics. One of the key subsystems being planned for the JF-17 Block-III is an HMD/S, which in turn is expected to be able to cue a fifth-generation high off-boresight (HOBS) within-visual-range air-to-air missile (WVRAAM).

Pakistani officials refers the JF-17 Block-III as a “game changer,” it is obvious that there is a fair bit of excitement and momentum being driven towards the upgrade. The subsystems on the Block-III are of the same technological found on the JAS-39E/F Gripen. The Block-III will not be a “cheap”, but in comparison to many of the alternatives, it will still be among the most cost-effective, especially given the capabilities that are expected to be on offer.

The JF-17 Pursuit of HMS in the Past: Believe it or not, the pursuit of the HMD/S actually predates the Block-III, the PAF had planned to integrate it onto the JF-17 as far back as at least 2008! In fact, an official documentary about the JF-17 Thunder even displayed an image (which could not be found elsewhere) of what seems to have been a Denel Archer Helmet-Mounted Sight (HMS) system paired with a MBU-5/P oxygen mask, which was the standard-issue oxygen mask for PAF fighter pilots at the time. It is apparent that something was tested very early on, but it did not work out. One can only speculate, but it may have been due to cost-control. The Archer, which no longer exists as a product, could have been legacy technology in comparison to systems such as the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), which was being integrated onto the PAF’s F-16s via the Block-52+ acquisition and Mid-Life Update (MLU) programs.

The PAF had decided to push the integration of an HMD/S to the JF-17 Block-III, and this was officially confirmed during the Paris Air Show by Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Arshad Malik, the Chief Project Director of the JF-17 program. In terms of what this HMD/S system would look like, where it would come from, its technology, and its capabilities, this has not been disclosed; but we will speculate.

The BAE Systems Striker II HMD/S. JF-17 buyers could opt for a wide range of HMS/S from Britain to China.

The PAF is not going to simply buy a solution whereby it is forced to depend on a limited set of suppliers for compatible munitions, such as HOBS WVRAAM. During the Paris Air Show, AVM Arshad Malik noted the South African-Brazilian A-Darter as a HOBS WVRAAM option for the JF-17, not the Diehl BGT IRIS-T or MBDA MICA-IR. However, in their quest to vertically integrate customers, some vendors may try to push the PAF towards certain routes with their solutions as opposed to others, and this unfortunately will pull the PAF away from one of the JF-17’s underlying goals – control over the platform. It is for this reason that we believe that the PAF will not acquire a readymade off-the-shelf solution, at least not without a sufficient level of technology transfer and control over the end product. Although it may be a costlier route, the PAF may prefer pairing up with an external partner (likely China, potentially others) to develop a bespoke or custom solution, one tailored for the JF-17 Thunder.

Saab spent about $54 million to secure the Cobra HMD for use on the JAS-39C/D Gripen. For the PAF, this is beneficial for it to simply put down the funds to acquire a custom HMD/S. The payoff would come from the ability to integrate the munitions and optic systems of its choice, and the freedom to offer flexible configurations to prospective customers.

The JF-17 Block 3 is considered a 4.5 generation fighter. Its design of the air inlets gives its some lower RCS but overall, the JF-17 could be a great export opportunity for Pakistan. Several countries are assessing this jet’s capabilities. With cost of Western jets being expensive starting from US$70 million and above, the JF-17 looks promising for those on budget.

The JF-17 flight performance and agility is similar to the early model F-16A Block 1–15 variant. The Thunder will become the most numerous jet in the Pakistan Air Force and could be capable of delivery a wide range of missions including nuclear.

Other countries such as those in Europe will not be selling anything to Pakistan. What my assumption point will take me is this…

  • Pakistan lacks the money to make a major financial purchase of any imported jet fighters. One reason is that JF-17 is being produced in-country and meets PAF needs and now with the introduction of Block 3 this will enhance defence and offensive against India’s superior air force.
  • Pakistan current economic woes has affected the spending bill of the nation. When producing in-house jets like the JF-17 would help save hard currencies, provide employment and capabilities
  • The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has plans to buy the 5th Generation Fighter and this is focused on the J-31. PAF officials have been briefed on the J-31 and the J-10B/C models. Both are cleared for export to Pakistan. However Pakistan is focusing on building the JF-17 force and upgrading them. Since India is far from buying the F-35 or building any 5th generation fighters then the need by PAF is not urgent.

If money is available, the J-31 could become Pakistan next fighter purchase. However the buy could be in small numbers between 24–36 jets.

The J-10C would be the most ideal candidate to supplement Pakistan’s existing fighter fleet. China has offered the J-10C on favourable terms and build the PAF fleet towards 450 jets as PAF will be phasing out the Mirage, F-7M/MG and A-5.

The J-10C has its strong points and weak points. Derived from the Israeli Lavi, its greats weakness is the small internal fuel and thus range. This weakness has been addressed with the introduction of a fixed refuelling probe, similar to those seen on JF-17 Block 2 jets.

Many would have said the JF-17 is F-7 with a new body. However as long the jet is able to perform and deliver on 4.5 generation capabilities then it is equal with an AESA radar, internal EW, Internal IRST, integrated avionics suite and a range of air to air missiles which includes Western and Chinese missiles but exclude AIM-120 Amraam which is carried by Pakistani F-16.

In the “What If” situation, the probability of China selling the J-31 to Pakistan is very likely somewhere in 3–5 years from now. But if China did sell the J-20, that would create an enormous headache to India…That would probably push India towards restarting the investment of the Su-57 or participate in the British 6th generation fighter program which the UK is looking for an investing partner. Either way, i will be watching closely!

Source: PAC, PAF, CAC, Air Force Monthly, Wikipedia

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