Is China's JF-17 Fighter Pakistan's Key To Pushing Back On India?

Charlie Gao

Key point: Although the JF-17 is of Chinese design, it still uses a Russian engine.

The 2019 India-Pakistan border skirmish resulted in major shake-ups within the Indian Air Force (IAF). The most accepted narrative, that of a loss of an IAF MiG-21 Bison to no losses of the Pakistan Air Force bodes poorly for the IAF. But interestingly, according to a July interview, the skirmish marked one of the first “hot” use of Pakistan’s new Chinese JF-17 “Thunder” fighters.

The JF-17 is a relatively new single-engine fighter, meant to compete against other light fighters like the F-16, Gripen, and MiG-29 for export contracts. As the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is the only large user, most solid information about the aircraft is from Chinese marketing documents. But the July interview gives one pilot’s opinion on how the JF-17 stacks up against most common adversaries, from Sukhois to F-16s.

The extent of the JF-17’s “hot” usage following the border skirmish was in patrols near the border. In some incidents, the pilot said that during these patrols, he was getting radar lock-on Su-30MKIs at ranges in excess of 100 kilometers.

However, this doesn’t mean that a JF-17 could kill with a missile at that range. The JF-17’s primary beyond-visual-range (BVR) armament is the PL-12 missile, which is still undergoing integration (as of February 2019). During the actual border air skirmish, PAF F-16s lobbed AIM-120C-5 AMRAAM missiles at similar ranges, which forced IAF aircraft to go defensive to dodge the missiles, but no kills were scored. As the PL-12 is said to have a similar range to the AMRAAM, it’s likely that its kinematic performance at range is similar, and it too wouldn’t be able to score a kill.

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