JF-17 Exposed: Why Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder Fighters Are Inoperable?

Cheap Chinese Fighters

Co-produced by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, the JF-17 Block III fighters will complete the trial by 2021.

Pakistan has already built over 100 JF-17 fighters for its air force, and officials have indicated 62 JF-17 Block 3 fighters will be ordered by 2024.

Pakistan is paying a high price for a cheap Chinese JF-17. As of today, more than 60% of the existing JF-17 fleet is grounded. Pakistan is afraid to showcase JF-17 in any major air shows worldwide, but has never taken this aircraft for any joint exercise with other countries.

Except for the airframe and metallic structures, Pakistan is dependent on China, Turkey, Russia and Great Britain for its engine, avionics, radar, ejection seats, targeting Pod and spares. JF-17 is only assembled in Pakistan. Chinese Engineers maintain complete serviceability and life cycle.

According to a Pakistani newspaper, the JF-17 reportedly has an airframe life of 3,000 hours; the first overhaul is due at 1,000 flight hours. If the aircraft is flying for 150 to 200 hours per year, the JF-17 has a 15 to 20 years service life.

The first JF-17 Block-1s were delivered to the Pakistan Air Force in 2010, with the first batch now nearing ten years of age and, in turn, Block 1 aircraft requiring a major overhaul and the aircraft are inoperable.

Engine Problems

Recently, the Pakistan Air Force has faced serious difficulties with its frontline fighter; the JF-17 has maintenance problems that are getting worse every day.

The situation is so dire that Pakistan even plans to establish a full-scale servicing and overhaul facility for the Klimov RD-93 engine in Kamra, also known as Aviation City, and the center of aircraft manufacturing in Pakistan.

RD-93MA

The powerplant used in the JF-17 is the Klimov RD-93MA, a variant of the RD-33 engine from Russia. Russians found it useless, but when Chinese Engineers developed a cheap fighter for Pakistan, they selected cheap RD-93.

According to Russian Klimov, RD-93MA has an increased thrust level but decreased service interval from 700 hours to 400 hours and life cycle from 4000 Hours to 2200 hours.

This engine generates thick black smoke (due to partial burning of fuel), resulting in easy spotting of aircraft from tens of miles away. This resulted in a low thrust to weight ratio.

The RD-93MA is developed from the RD-33 engine that powers the MiG-29UPG fighters of the Indian Air Force and MiG-29K jets of the Indian Navy.

Controller and Auditor General of India has found 17 major design flaws in the RD-33MK engine, also known as RD-93 and recommended Russian Klimov to rectify those problems. According to India’s Controller and Auditor General, frequent accidents of MiG-29K and MiG-29UPG were attributed to engine failure.

China’s aircraft industry had difficulties designing and building a powerful enough and reliable indigenous jet engine for some time. The most advanced Chinese-made military turbofan currently in use is the WS-10, which continues to underperform.

Consequently, there is little reason to believe that Pakistan will procure Chinese-made engines for the JF-17 in the foreseeable future.

Interestingly, such notorious was the performance of this engine that when Myanmar decided to buy 16 JF-17 from Pakistan, it refused to take this RD-93 engine and separately procured original RD-33 Engines from Russia.

Grounded JF-17 Thunder

If you consider the above fact, the JF-17 will go to the hanger for engine maintenance every 400 hrs. Within the 3000 flight hours lifespan of JF-17, the aircraft needs to replace its original engine with a new engine at least once to operate and fly in good condition. If the spare parts are unavailable, it’s more likely that the aircraft needs an engine before the major overhaul is due and earlier than expected 2200 flight hours.

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The aircraft must undergo maintenance a minimum of eight times for only engine-related issues. The aircraft will undergo major safety check-up, maintenance, and repair works more than three times if you consider structural problems.

The JF-17 will have less than 40% operational capability and combat readiness due to its unavailability of working engines and spare parts.  

KLJ-7A AESA Heat Issues

The KLJ-7A AESA radar is based on the Russian Zhuk-AME radar. The radar was developed by Hu Mingchun, director of the No.14 Research Institute at the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group.

KLJ-7A radar produces heat, air cooling, and liquid-cooled chamber didn’t work, — more computer challenges and software challenges, and making everything work and play nice together in a confined space without overheating was impossible for Russian engineers who have never done it before.

Since the radar is based on Russian Zhuk technology, the KLJ-7A will switch off the transceiver once it is overheated.

China inherited some of AESA radar issues into KLJ-7A radar and rushed to mass-produce the radar to fulfil Pakistan’s requirement — and to fulfil the requirement of domestically produced fighter jet.

Weak Structure

Because of poor thrust to weight ratio, its metallic structure is exposed to serious stress when going beyond permissible “Gravity” limits. It is reliably learnt that more than 40% of the existing JF-17 are grounded because of cracks in their Strake area. This is the area most affected by Gravity related postures.

There are reports that the damage to stake areas of wingtips has even resulted in damage to wingtip hardpoints in a few of the aircraft. There was news of breaking of arresting gear in few aircraft while landing too.

High Fuel Consumption

Since JF-17 has a higher fuel consumption rate, it would need to be refuelled in the air for any long-distance operation. Pakistan claims this aircraft to be capable of carrying out air-to-air refuelling but surprisingly, no air-to-air refuelling has ever been carried out to date.

Sanction for Pakistan

The Pakistan-controlled Haqqani network played a key role in the Taliban taking over Afghanistan. The deadly terror group is said to have put together and trained the Badri 313 unit that managed to defeat Afghan forces and made inroads into Kabul.

According to intelligence assessments, Pakistan’s support to the Haqqani network signals how, through its military intelligence wing, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani military establishment intends to control power.

The reason is the JF-17’s Russian-made engine, the RD-93 and the United States of America sanctions on Rosoboronexport, the Russian defense trade agency, since 2018.

In an unusual operation, Pakistan Army sent a forward surveillance team backed by CH-4 drones seen here in Afghanistan. Photo supplied by National Resistance Front (NRF).

Twenty-two Republican senators have introduced legislation in the Senate to impose sanctions on the Taliban in Afghanistan and on all the foreign governments that support the hardline Islamic group that seized power in Kabul. The Afghanistan Counterterrorism, Oversight and Accountability Act was introduced by Senator Jim Risch, a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reported Bloomberg news.

Conclusion

Look beyond the Pakistani propaganda; the JF-17 is nothing but an overhyped Sino-Soviet F-7 (MiG-21) fighter jet. The PLA Air Force knows that the JF-17 program was established to sell F-7 factories to Pakistan. The PLA Air Force will never fly a JF-17 knowing that JF-17 doesn’t compete at the league of even Chinese standard.

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