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SOURCE: THE WEEK

Pakistani officials are touting the capabilities of a new variant of the JF-17 fighter jet, which Islamabad is building with Chinese assistance. On Wednesday, media outlets reported that the Pakistan Air Force had launched production of the ‘Block 3’ variant of the JF-17. The JF-17 Block 3 made its first flight in China in December 2019.

The JF-17 Block 3 is expected to be equipped with a new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and other electronic equipment, which will boost its detection capabilities.

The start of production of the JF-17 Block 3 was announced during a ceremony at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra where the Pakistan Air Force received 14 two-seat variants of the JF-17 Block 2 fighter, dubbed the JF-17B.

Geo News quoted Pakistan Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan as saying the JF-17 Block 3 was a “significant milestone” in the history of the country. Mujahid Anwar Khan claimed the JF-17 had been “battle tested” during the dogfight over Jammu and Kashmir with the Indian Air Force in February 2019. The Pakistan Air Force claimed a JF-17 had shot down an Indian Air Force MiG-21 during the incident.

“The new variant of the JF-17 will be equipped with latest radars and other gadgets, and it will match the capability of Rafale. We have conveyed an effective message to India in February [2019] that don’t mess with us,” Mujahid Anwar Khan was quoted as saying by Arab News.

Since November 2009, PAC Kamra has built over 100 JF-17 Block 1 and Block 2 aircraft for the Pakistan Air Force. Some media reports have claimed the Pakistan Air Force would buy over 50 JF-17 Block 3 aircraft.

The JF-17 has been purchased by Myanmar and Nigeria.

Rafale vs JF-17

Pakistani defence analyst Shahid Raza described the JF-17 Block 3 as Pakistan’s first ‘4.5’ generation fighter. According to experts, a fighter of the 4.5 generation category has integrated sensors, long-range air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons and features to reduce its radar cross-section.

The Rafale is considered a 4.5 generation fighter.

Despite Mujahid Anwar Khan’s boast, the JF-17 cannot really be compared to the Indian Air Force’s Rafale jet as the two aircraft belong to different categories. The JF-17 is a lightweight single-engine aircraft with a maximum take-off weight less than 15 tonnes. On the other hand, the Rafale has twin engines and a maximum take-off weight in excess of 23 tonnes.

The additional weight means the Rafale is capable of carrying significantly more fuel and weapons—around 9.5 tonnes—externally than the JF-17, which has a maximum external load of 3.8 tonnes. The Rafale is also more manoeuvrable given its design as a delta wing aircraft employing canard fore-planes.

The Indian Air Force Rafale is cleared to fire the Meteor long-range air-to-air missile, which uses ramjet propulsion. The ramjet enables the Meteor to sustain its energy, giving a target little prospect of escape.

Raza told Gulf News the JF-17 Block 3 “will be the first 4.5-generation aircraft in PAF service equipped with modern radar system, upgraded sensors, software, and engine to meet the emerging needs. It is also going to be armed with the PL-15 and PL-10 missiles that will significantly enhance the air defence capabilities of the JF-17 fighters even surpassing the F-16 Block 52 currently in service with PAF”.

The PL-15 is a very-long-range air-to-air missile being developed by China, with range in excess of 200km.

Raza also opined the twin-seat JF-17B could be utilised for roles such as attack missions and electronic warfare.