CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder Block III
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.
The Block III Thunder may also feature an internal infrared sensor and modernized flight control systems and a single-panel multi-functional display for the pilot.
While the Thunder is not particularly sexy compared to cutting-edge stealth fighters and even 4.5-generation jets like the Rafale and Su-35, its seems capable for its price, particularly once it integrates AESA radar and the PL-10 missile. It seems likely to show up in the new again if there any future showdowns between Pakistani and Indian aviation.
Russia could directly supply RD-93MA engine to Pakistan for JF-17 Block III
Despite repeated Indian protests, Russia has continued supply of RD-93 to Pakistan reports India Today.
In a press release on its website on Wednesday, UEC said the RD-93MA engine had been shipped from St. Petersburg to Moscow for thermal pressure chamber trials at the Central Institute of Aviation Motors (CIAM). The pressure chamber trials at CIAM are expected to subject the RD-93MA engine to simulated heat and altitude conditions the power-plant would experience in actual flight.
A new engine for the Pakistani JF-17 fighter jet, dubbed RD-93MA being developed by Russia’s United Engine Corporation (UEC)-Klimov has entered thermal chamber tests to confirm high-speed characteristics in simulated flight conditions.
Performance Testing At UEC
During the tests, the engine will simulate conditions as close as possible to actual flight. Here, the BARK-93MA, the automatic control system of the engine, designed and manufactured at UEC-Klimov, will also be put to test.
“The RD-93MA engine is distinguished by improved operational characteristics, increased thermodynamic parameters, a larger fan and an upgraded automatic power plant control system. The main engine parameters are also enhanced- the assigned resource and thrust, an emergency engine start mode is provided, and the possibility of emergency fuel drain is realized.” the statement said.
The state-owned United Engine Corporation controls development and manufacturing of all engines for military, civilian and space use in Russia and for Russian exports. The UEC's Klimov plant in St Petersburg had been developing the RD-93MA engine, which is a modification of the RD-93 engine, used on the JF-17 fighter, being built by Pakistan and China.
“The start of testing was preceded by a long preparatory phase. During 2018-2019 design documentation was handed over to manufacturing plants, production was organized in a new cooperation structure, engine models of the RD-93MA were developed and a new engine "harness" was manufactured. In addition, tests of the VK-100-1MK turbo-starter in the TsIAM heat chamber according to confirmation of high-altitude launch were conducted. Prototypes of the BARK-93MA (automatic engine control system) were made and much more,” the statement said.
The UEC press release states, "The RD-93MA engine has improved performance. In particular, increased thermodynamic parameters, an improved design of the fan and the hot part, an upgraded automatic power-plant control system... An additional emergency engine start mode was provided... and the possibility of emergency fuel drain was realised. All this is due to the specifics associated with the possible use of the power-plant on a single-engine aircraft."
The reference to use in single-engine aircraft has given rise to speculation that the new engine is destined for the JF-17 fighter. This is because Russia does not have any active single-engine fighter project at the moment.
According to reports, the RD-93MA engine can produce maximum thrust of 9,300 kgf (kilogram-force). The RD-93MA would have significantly greater thrust than the existing RD-93 engine used on Pakistan's JF-17 fighter, which can produce maximum thrust of 8,300kgf, according to UEC.
Indian Air Force Worries About Legacy MiG-29UPG
Interestingly, the RD-93 has a connection to India. The RD-93 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. India operates over 60 MiG-29UPG jets and about 40 MiG-29K fighters. The government recently cleared the purchase of 21 MiG-29 fighters for the Indian Air Force.
Despite repeated Indian protests in the past two decades, Russia has continued supply of the RD-93 to China and Pakistan.
About JF-17 Thunder Block III
The JF-17 block III, an advanced version of the JF-17 Block II, was test flown for the first time at the start of this year. Besides the engine, the key upgrade is a KLJ-7A AESA- Active electronically scanning array- radar which has already been selected from a Chinese manufacturer.
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.
In 2015, IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly reported Pakistan would continue to use Russian engines for the JF-17 even though China was developing an alternate engine. “We are completely satisfied with this Russian-made engine,” an official Pakistan Aeronautical Complex had told IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. Pakistani officials had claimed "changing to another engine would not make any sense and would be disruptive and cause a huge expense for the JF-17 programme".
The engine is expected to enter fight test mode towards the end of the year which means the JF-17 Block III would enter flight tests with the RD-93MA engine sometime in 2021-22 at the earliest.
Having a new engine offers advantages in addition to increased thrust in combat situations. In December, Chinese state media Global Times confirmed that the latest version of the JF-17, dubbed the JF-17 Block 3, had made its maiden flight.
The upgraded fighter will have new electronically scanned radar and other electronics, all of which necessitate higher power requirements than can be met by the existing power-plant.
Earlier reports said, the RD-93MA engine is manufactured for JF-17 Block III,-- will directly be sold to Pakistan. However, UEC sources told that the engine upgrade work is under a contract from a Chinese company for which over 100 such engines is to be manufactured and deliver to Chinese company.