Pakistan Begins Producing Block-II JF-17 Aircraft

The Block-II variant of the JF-17s entered production recently, with more advanced weapon systems and avionics.

Pakistan Begins Producing Block-II JF-17 Aircraft
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to reports by DefenseNews and DefenseTalk, Pakistan launched production of the Block-II JF-17 combat aircraft at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex near Islamabad. The Diplomat reported earlier this year that Pakistan expected to begin exporting the JF-17 in 2014; the beginning of production last week is set to keep it on track to meet that deadline.

The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex has already produced 50 older, less-advanced Block-I JF-17s for the Pakistan air force. The newer Block-II variants possess more advanced weapons systems and avionics. The JF-17s are low-cost multirole single engine fighters jointly developed between Pakistan and China. China refers to the JF-17 as the FC-1 Xiaolong.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex last week for “briefings on the exports of the Pakistan Air Force’s aircraft, the JF-17 Thunder,” according to a report by The Tribune. The event was intended to inaugurate the beginning of the production of the Block-II JF-17s and was attended by Chinese delegates and the Pakistan air force. Sharif said the JF-17 project would “expand the friendship between China and Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s air force intends the JF-17 to replace its aging Dassault Mirage-III/5 and Chengdu F-7P aircraft. The first batch of JF-17s replaced the Nanchang A-5 Fantan attack aircraft, according to DefenseNews.

The JF-17s could be a commercial coup for China and Pakistan. There is a major cadre of countries interested in importing the aircraft, which is appealing given its low price and performance. A 2010 report indicates a long list of potential buyers including Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Congo, Egypt, Indonesia (which has already signed an agreement with Pakistan), Iran, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkey, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

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Air Marshal Sohail Gul Khan of the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex has also reiterated the interest earlier this year: “We’ve been getting inquiries and expressions of interest for the JF-17 Thunder from many countries in the Middle East, Africa and from as far as South America.”

Regardless, Pakistan remains the only country to have formally purchased the JF-17 for use in its air force so far. The JF-17 has begun to enter Pakistan’s strategic community as an important asset. Usman Shabbir, an analyst of the Pakistan Military Consortium, described the value added by the Block-II JF-17s for Pakistan’s air defense capabilities. According to Shabbir, 50 JF-17s “are enough to form three squadrons with a typical squadron strength of 16 aircraft.” He adds, “From early 2014 the first Block-II will rollout. Block-II has no airframe changes other than the addition of [an in-flight refuelling probe] which would later also be refitted to all Block-I aircraft. Most of the improvements are in radar and avionics.”