Exploring Pakistan’s JF-17 Block 3: innovative features unveiled

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The Pakistan Air Force [PAF] has ushered in a significant era by officially incorporating the latest version of the JF-17, known as the “Thunder” Block III variant, into its operational fleet. This state-of-the-art fighter aircraft denotes a joint venture between the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex [PAC] and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Corporation [CAC]. 

Photo credit: Twitter

Classified by PAF officials as a “fourth-generation plus” fighter jet, the JF-17 Block 3—a single-seat variant—completed its inaugural flight in Chengdu, China, on December 15, 2019. The PAF has procured an impressive fleet of 50 JF-17 Block 3 aircraft, with the first one joining the PAF’s ranks on December 4, 2023. 

Importantly, the new version boasts a range of upgrades: its radar cross-section is diminished due to more extensive use of composites, and the avionics have significantly improved. According to China Central Television [CCTV], the state-run news channel, the aircraft is now fitted with an active electronically scanned array [AESA] radar

This radar is believed to be the X-band airborne 3D fire-control radar [FCR] developed by the Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology [NRIET], known as the KLJ-7A. By contrast, the preceding Block II variant was equipped with the KLJ-7 V2.

Key characteristics:

The higher-ranking authorities from the PAF frequently refer to this aircraft as a “plus fourth generation” fighter jet. The JF17 Block 3, featuring a single-seat variant, made its inaugural flight in Chengdu, China, on December 15, 2019. Intelligence intimates that the PAF placed an order for 50 of the JF-17 Block 3 aircraft, and the first one arrived at the Pakistan Air Force on December 4, 2023. 

Photo credit: AP

A single-seat variant of the JF17; first airborne on December 15, 2019, soaring the skies of Chengdu, China. Prototypes & Flight Experimentation: By December 2020, two prototypes had met the skies for testing – one in China and the other conducting its maneuvers over Pakistan. 

Production in Mass: Manufacturing commenced in full swing at PAC Kamra on December 30, 2020. Technological Leap: The aircraft is equipped with an array of technological developments, such as NRIET/CETC KLJ-7A AESA radar; a three-axis digital fly-by-wire flight control system; Infrared search and track [IRST] system. It also features a Helmet-mounted display and sight [HMD/S] system, developed jointly by Pakistan and China. The aircraft’s missile approach warning system [MAWS] is on par with the Chinese J-10C, J-16, and J-20. It possesses a larger, thinner holographic wide-angle HUD, an enhanced electronic warfare management system, chin-mounted hardpoint, and extensively uses composites to reduce weight. 

Powering up: Initially, its thrust was supplied by the Klimov RD-93MA afterburning turbofan. However, there’s a planned upgrade to the Guizhou WS-13 to up its thrust and improve the thrust-to-weight ratio. Radar Prowess: The KLJ-7A radar can track 15 targets simultaneously and engage 4 targets at once. Generation Category: PAF officials have lauded it as a “plus fourth generation” fighter jet. 

Photo by Stephan De Bruijn

More details

In mid-November, the PAF announced that the Block III variant displays a slew of enhanced characteristics including advanced maneuverability, extended operational range, and state-of-the-art combat capabilities. Key advancements include minimized radar cross-section, achievable via heightened use of composite materials, and cutting-edge avionics. 

When we examine the technological wonders of the JF-17 Block III, the incorporation of a highly advanced three-axis digital fly-by-wire flight control system is apparent. It also boasts an infrared search and track [IRST] system, along with a Helmet-mounted display and sight [HMD/S] system, these are products of collaborative manufacturing between Pakistan and China. 

There’s an exciting feature worth mentioning – an enlarged yet streamlined holographic wide-angle heads-up display [HUD]. This innovative tool enhances visibility and situational awareness. Moreover, the JF-17 Block III boasts an upgraded electronic warfare management system, augmenting its overall combat prowess.

Engine upgrades

The improvements in the Block III variant are not confined to electronic enhancements. It also comes with engine upgrades. Initially fitted with the Klimov RD-93MA afterburning turbofan, there are plans for an upgrade to the Guizhou WS-13, aimed at elevating thrust and optimizing the thrust-to-weight ratio. 

With an astonishing top speed of 1,910 km/h, the JF-17 Block III is flagged as one of the fastest aircraft in the sky. It can sustain speeds of Mach 1.6 to 1.8 while adhering to a cruise speed of 1,359 km/h. In a combat scenario, this aircraft can traverse a distance of 900 km on internal fuel alone. However, the inclusion of additional drop tanks enables this aircraft to significantly extend its combat range to a monumental 1,741 km. For transit purposes, the JF-17 Block III can cover an impressive 1,800 km utilizing only its internal fuel, proving its versatility in varying mission circumstances. 

Size-wise, the aircraft measures 14.326 meters in length, 9.44 meters in wingspan, and 4.57 meters in height, attributing to its aerodynamic design and overall agility. The JF-17 Block 3’s empty weight stands at 7,965 kg, excluding any payload or fuel. However, its maximum takeoff weight reaches a colossal 13,500 kg, demonstrating the maximum load it can bear at takeoff.

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