Could Pakistan's JF-17 Be A Cheaper Alternative To Jets Like the F-35?

Sebastien Roblin

Key point: A cheaper, but capable, alternative.

In the 2019 Paris Air Show, Pakistan its lightweight JF-17 Thunder jet fighter it began building a decade ago in conjunction with China. You can see the seven-ton fighter performing maneuvers in this video.

Just a few months earlier, Pakistan dispatched what it claimed to be twenty-five JF-17s to launch a lightning strike across the Line of Control on targets in Kashmir, in retaliation for an Indian air raid on a JeM terrorist training camp.

The PAF claimed its JF-17s had shot down two Indian fighters pursuing strike planes into Pakistani airspace. However, while the loss of one upgraded Indian MiG-21 Bison was confirmed and its pilot captured, India subsequently displayed fragments of American-made AIM-120 missiles only compatible with Pakistan’s F-16s, casting some doubt on whether the PAF’s Thunders were responsible for the kill.

Pakistan currently operate around 100 Thunders in five operational squadrons, plus a testing and training unit. The first Thunders entered squadron service in 2010 and saw action bombing insurgents in Waziristan. Islamabad also confirmed in 2018 a $184 million deal to sell three JF-17s to the Nigerian Air Force in 2018 (which currently operates J-7s and Alpha Jets), and has delivered at least six out of an order of eighteen JF-17Ms to Myanmar.

The PAF now plans to procure fifty more JF-17s of an improved Block III standard by 2024—with airframes produced jointly by Pakistan and China in a 58/42 percent split—as well as procure 26 two-seat JF-17Bs with additional fuel stored in a dorsal fin and enhanced application to training and possibly strike missions. Extant JF-17s may also be upgraded to the Block III variant, which should make its first flight later in 2019.

F-16 Meets MiG-21—in China

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