With over 100 Block JF-17s built, attention is now being switched to the production of the more capable Block 3 jets.
After starting production in 2008, PAC Kamra manufactures 58 percent of the JF-17 Thunder, while Chengdu Aircraft Corporation builds the remainder. The JF-17 Thunder started life as the Super-7 in the late-80s, but sanctions by the US and its allies delayed development of the aircraft for over a decade. That was until the decision was made by the late Air Chief Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir in 2000 to decouple the development of the avionics from production of the airframe.
With contracts for 50 Block 1 and 50 plus 12 Block 2s signed and almost delivered, attention is now being switched to a contract for 50 Block 3s. With production of the Block 3 being delayed until 2019, while the PAF searched for a new AESA radar, PAC opted to manufacture an 14 additional Block 2s this year to ensure production does not halt at the PAC’s Aircraft Manufacturing Factory.
A decision on a new AESA radar for the Block 3s is expected to be made by the end of the year. There are now two Chinese contenders: one is the Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology KLJ-7A being marketed by China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC). The second one, which was displayed at Zhuhai Air Show, China, in November by Leihua Electronic Technology Research Institute (LETRI) is a new air-cooling AESA known as the LKF601E. CATIC has thrown its weight behind this option and claim that not only is it the first air-cooled radar, but replacing the JF-17’s original KLJ-7 is simply a case of taking out the old system and inserting the new one. Both radars are being evaluated by the PAF.
Another improvement over the Block 1 and 2s is an air-to-air refuelling system. Trials and qualifications of a new Chinese in-flight refuelling system, saw the first aircraft, Block 2 No. 29 being fitted in mid-2017.
Block 3 enhancements will include new avionics, better electronic warfare systems, increased payload and more sophisticated weapons. It will be the ultimate JF-17 and with an AESA radar, will have the capability to employ longer range weapons and track multiple aircraft.