JF-17 Block II, A Final Thunder & The FC-20

Pakistan and China have recently concluded a final agreement for the manufacture of a second batch of JF-17s. According to well-vetted sources from Pakdef (Eagle Hannan), these 50 jets are the final form of the JF-17s. The aircraft will be manufactured at Kamra, Pakistan, but will be flown to China for additional work. This work is said to relate to a new generation of avionics and sensor suite.

The Block II JF-17 is believed to have AESA radars similar to those observed on the J-10B. The integrated avionics, sensors and EW suite is entirely Chinese and is believed to be at the level of Europes best planes. The AESA radar is a slightly smaller version of the one being utilized for the J-10B. The radar is highly sophisticated and its installation is beyond the present capacity at PAC Kamra and will thus require the aircraft to take a trip to Nanjing, China.

The Block II will be the standard version to be used in the PAF with the older Block Is to be retired after the end of production for the first 150 aircraft. This suggests that the structural changes needed to convert the Block Is to Block II standard are significant, suggesting considerable changes to the revised edition. The following are believed to be some of the key changes:

1. AESA radar

2. Comprehensive upgrades for low RCS profile including cockpit glass, RAM paint, refined structure, completely new nose structure for AESA, significant increase in the use of composites and retractable refueling probe.

3. Awaited integration of A-Darter missiles from Brazil / South Africa with HOBS capability and Brazilian HMS.

4. The BVR missile is the SD-10B which has been found more than a match for the AMRAAM-120 C5s. An unknown Meteor class missile is in the works beyond the SD-10Bs.

A significant export order has been secured and an entire squadron is being dedicated for training and familiarization of foreign pilots (Source: Eagle Hannan, Pakdef).

Contrary to conflicting reports in the media, this writer believes that the order for the FC-20s were finalized and that this order has increased to 58 planes. Given the recent crisis post-Abbottabad, the PAF is being beefed up in a hurry and the FC-20s will play a critical role in the defence of the Western sector. Given the nature of the mountainous terrain and the inability to use the F-16s, these platforms along with the JF-17 will prove to be of significant deterrence value. China is believed to be sacrificing its own production requirements to meet PAF's needs in a hurry and unbelievable financial terms appear to have been extended.

These FC-20s are a highly lethal version of the original and incorporate AESA radars, a high degree of composite use, low observability features and an advanced integrated avionics suite. The wide HUD visible on the J-11s are also believed to have been utilized. In Eagle Hannan's recent update, he notes that the wings have been modified and include over 50% composite use. He also makes the surprising claim that the canard fore-planes have been modified. Both these factors indicate a significant structural and aerodynamic revamp that would require significant changes even in the FBW.Such a revamp was already suspected given the canted nose and the DSI bump.

The same source also indicates that the plane (FC-20) has been praised by pilots and capable of incredible maneuvers including the Cobra so famously performed by the FLANKERs. He notes that FC-20 not only performs this maneuver but also performs it better, recovering significantly faster. While this maneuver is not of great military importance, the maneuverability and Fly-By-Wire (FBW) maturity this indicates, suggest that the FC-20 is a well-evolved and lethal machine.

Eagle Hannan also indicates that the Pakistan Navy is interested in the J-11Bs with Russian engines. This appears to be counter-intuitive given the sensitive nature of Russia's copyright relations with China. However, it is possible that Pakistan may attempt to placate this sensitivity by buying Russian engines and paying royalties. It is also possible that Russia is smarting from India's recent rejection of Russian military gear and move towards Western sources. These all make for a great deal of controversy and are likely to keep arm-chair generals and military analysts busy in the foreseeable future.What is clear is that Pakistan and the PAF will get a significant boost, in fact a major leap in capabilities in the next 12-24 months.
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