Pakistan’s JF-17 Block III Aircraft ‘Thunders’ At Dubai Air Show In Its Debut International Exhibition

The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) & Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) JF-17 Thunder Block III fighters are making their debut appearance at an international defense exhibition, the Dubai Air Show 2023.

The Pakistan Air Force has released a promotional video of the JF-17 landing at Dubai, mixed with several shots from inside and outside the cockpit of performing acrobatic maneuvers. A Super Mushshak trainer aircraft is also another Pakistani exhibit. 

India’s LCA Tejas will also compete for media and commercial interest as both aircraft aim to foray into the global single-engine light fighter space. Being held from November 13 to 17 at the Dubai World Central, the airshow is considered one of the world’s premier military aviation events, providing a platform for a diverse range of commercial, business, and military aircraft.

CAC will also display its J-10C, inducted by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) last year and considered one of the leading medium-weight single-engine jets. It is roughly in line with the F-16 Block 70/72 and the Swedish Saab Gripen E. Interestingly, the PAF acquired the J-10C to maintain parity with the Dassault Rafale that the IAF inducted – a twin-engine aircraft. 

Pakistan Heavily Markets the Thunder

The video by the PAF shows its C-130J Hercules landing at Dubai, followed by two Thunders and their pilots exiting their aircraft. Clips of the J-17 shooting up near vertically after take-off, performing rolls, inverted flight, and landing are shown. 

JF-17C Pakistan
File Image: JF-17C Pakistan

The post on X (formerly Twitter) by the PAF said the featuring of the JF-17 Thunder Block 3 “is a prestigious participation” that “symbolizes Pakistan’s commitment to innovation and excellence in aviation. 

“The JF-17 Thunder Block 3 fighter jet epitomizes the pinnacle of modern aerial warfare technology. Equipped with state-of-the-art avionics, enhanced weaponry, and advanced electronic warfare systems, the JF-17 Block 3 boasts superior maneuverability, extended range, and enhanced combat capabilities. Its participation in the Dubai Airshow signifies the confidence PAF places in this indigenous marvel, highlighting Pakistan’s commitment to fostering self-reliance in the defense industry,” the post said. 

JF-17 Vs. LCA Tejas (Commercially)

The JF-17 has often withdrawn from air shows to avoid directly competing with the LCA Tejas, which is largely superior to the Chinese-Pakistani in design and performance. 

At the same time, Pakistan has showcased the JF-17’s Block III variant, which is far more advanced than its earlier variants and production batches and is even reported to incorporate certain technology from the J-20 stealth fighter.

LCA’s Mk. 1A, meanwhile, is still in its developmental phase, with the Mk. 2 being a completely different aircraft itself. 

Moreover, the Chinese-Pakistani Thunder has evolved as a product meant for low-income countries that usually stay away from expensive Western-made or Western-component heavy fighters like the LCA. 

Service With PAF

The first batch of the modernized variant entered service with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) early this March, joining the No. 16 “Black Panthers” Squadron. Interestingly, the one on the static display at Dubai is from this squadron, while the ones performing flying display duties are a pair of Block II aircraft, according to reports.

The static aircraft carries a range of stores of Chinese and US/Pakistani origin, including the C-802AK anti-ship missile and ASEL targeting pod. PAC – which is responsible for final assembly and 58 percent of construction – has built 50 Block I aircraft and 62 in Block II. The former entered service in 2010, and the latter were inducted into the PAF in June 2019.

Both versions feature the Chinese KLJ-7 X-band mechanically scanned radar. The Block II introduced several improvements, including inflight refueling capability. Included in the Block II production run are 26 JF-17B two-seaters, the first four of which Chengdu in China completed.

The latest Block III, which Pakistan expects to procure at least 50, features a new quad-redundant three-axis digital flight control system and revised avionics with a helmet-mounted display/sight and a wide-angle head-up display.

“It also employs an enhanced electronic defensive suite, including mission approach warning. The most important change is the introduction of the KLJ-7A active electronically scanned array radar, which significantly increases air target detection and tracking,” the report said. 

Chengdu flew the first of two Block III prototypes on December 15, 2019, and the latest Thunder variant went into series production at PAC’s Kamra facility at the end of 2020.