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  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.