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SOURCE:  ANAND SG / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG

A Greek news website “Pentopostegma” in its report on Chinese developed, Pakistan manufactured JF-17 Thunder fighter jet had listed out a lot of maintenance and operational deficiencies of the aircraft that could be an aggregated report in many claims made in the report, but that shouldn’t have come as surprise to many who have closely watched the program from its initial days as Super-7, later as FC-1 Xiaolong and later as JF-17 Thunder and how it was rushed into production even when it had not achieved any key developmental milestone.

The report was highly critical of the Russian Klimov RD 93 engine, engine that India is quite familiar with since the same engine is powering its Mig-29 and Mig-29K fleet. RD 93 engine variants are licensed manufactured in India, a trade-off that Pakistanis do not enjoy since these engines are often procured indirectly through China instead of Russia. IAF had its share of teething troubles with this engine in the past and have accepted to live with its technical and supply chain issues, and it was expected that the Pakistani engineering crew could not have a cakewalk when it comes to maintaining this engine and even will face much more issues with them due to the lack of direct involvement of Russian OEM in the program.

The engine issue with JF-17 is not new, Block-I had peculiar issues with the Smokey engine that was sorted out later, but Pakistan had no idea how it was done by Russians. RD 93 engine were never used in any single-engine fighter jet in any Russian jet nor in any Chinese jet that is in service with PLAAF, that means it is more vulnerable in a single-engine configuration for flame out and mid-flight issue it was reported that first crash was attributed to the RD 93 engines flameout at a low level due to which pilot died in the crash.

Poor squadron level availability of the JF-17 aircraft might come as a surprise to many of the Greek media readers that have a major chunk of western made fighter jets like F-16 and Mirage-2000 in its air force, not so surprising for the Pakistani’s that have been operating Chinese made jets like F-6 from the late ’60s. fleet availability of anything above 50% for Chinese made jets is a piece of common knowledge, a factor that PAF might have already been aware of well in the advance and probably one of the reasons that it has decided to have around 250 of them in its fleet to make up for a gradual decline in operational availability of the jet.

Pakistan’s aircraft complex (PAC), Kamra, purchasing even raw materials from China and a major section of the aircraft components related fuselage and airframe coming from China shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone. there is a “Joint Fighter” in JF for namesake, Pakistani contribution to the program from the start has been negligible in terms of Research and development or manufacturing of components locally. For PAC, JF-17 is the first instance when a jet was locally licensed manufactured in its entire history and it was expected that aircraft were shipped in kit form from Chinese factories for later assembly in Pakistan, not because it is cheaper to assemble in Pakistan but to keep the façade of “Joint Fighter” to the local audience in mind.

Reports of the avionics and Mission Management Computer (WMMC) along with its KLJ-7 radar being technically flawed and underperforming in many of the modes, can’t be independently verified but the Chinese avionics and radar technology cant be compared to European or American technology space nor it comes close to at par with the Russian technology as seen in after China procured Russian made Sukhoi Su-35 even when country boasted about developing the 5th generation fighter jets like J-20 and J-31 programs. We have to remember that Pakistanis had planned to have Italian AESA Fire control radar along with Electronic Warfare equipment for the Block-II variants but that never happened due to the Italian hesitance of their AESA radar tech landing in China and also due to pressure from other their respective governments.

Reports that some existing JF-17 are grounded because of cracks in their Strake area on brand new airframes with less than 10 years in operations do hint that not all is well with the program. even if we consider that the claims have been hyped. JF-17 in less than 10 years of active service has lost 3 aircraft in various accidents, killing two pilots. some reports even hinting at the possible loss of 4th aircraft. PAF went out of its way to hide two crashes with no official confirmations in the media, third crash was only confirmed when the British manufacturer of ejection seats Martin-Baker, confirmed the first successful ejection from the aircraft type, confirming two pilots were lost in the previous two crashes.

Unserviceability of the JF-17B in the report might be doubtful considering it was a brand new addition to the PAF fleet but we have to remember that JF-17B was an unplanned addition or an afterthought after PAF initially had confirmed that it won’t be requiring a twin-seater conversion trainer variant because PAF pilots were at ease to adapt from the JF-17 simulator to flying JF-17 single-seater due to the self-claimed advance pilot training program. why PAF took a U-turn on this is still unknown, but many believe that was due to high accident rates and quite a few inflight emergencies when flown by newbie pilots that forced Pakistan to run to China and demand that it develop a JF-17B Trainer to be used for squadron level conversion training.

Combat capabilities of the JF-17 in the air skirmish that took place after Indian Balakot airstrikes, will worry PAF the most, considering it was often compared locally as equivariant of the American F-16. Two Mirage-2000 had pinned down 8 JF-17s in the Beyond Visual range confrontation and even admission by present PAF Chief that it was very wary of the Mica air to air missile-armed on the two Mirage-2000 and great efforts made by the PAF’s JF-17 pilots to stay away from the range of the missile even after having numerical superiority against two Mirage-2000, does show it in a bad light, especially when PAF tried to credit kill of Mig-21 to JF-17, only to take a U-turn later and then crediting it to F-16.

Conclusion

Is JF-17 as bad of a fighter that has been made out to be? reported news has been given a spin to twist and show it in a bad light. Is JF-17 is what PAF pilots wanted? Probably not, PAF Top brass could have been a happier lot if they were able to procure European avionics and radar for the aircraft and much happier if they had money to procure European engines like EJ-200 for the aircraft. Since the Chinese could mass produce it locally in Pakistan where annual production is nearing 20+ each year shows that JF-17 might not have the Quality but it does have the Quantity and low procurement cost that reminds people of the Soviet mindset that produced poorly built but rugged aircraft at a great pace that could overwhelm western fighter jets in a conflict around the world but never got desired results for their operators.

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Article by ANAND SG ,  cannot be republished Partially or Full without consent from Writer or idrw.org