December 5, 2022

The Dragon, The Thunder and The Eagle

It will be exaggerating to state that JF-17 Block III and J-10CE can have an upper hand against IAF’s Rafale or even the LCA Mk 2 (being developed). But they will do the job for what they are being procured. Without any Western strings Pakistan can deploy these platforms whenever and wherever they want. The open architecture will allow Pakistan to upgrade these platforms according to their need with the help of China

By Sankalan Chattopadhyay

Introduction:

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) inducted China-built J-10C fighter jets on March 11 this year through an official ceremony at the PAF base Minhaz. It is the latest and the most advanced fighter jet inducted by the PAF. Earlier on December 29, 2021 the Interior Minister of Pakistan Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad informed the Pakistani media during an interview that 25 J-10C had been acquired by the Pakistani Air Force as a measure to counter the Indian acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft. This was the first time a confirmation of the acquisition came from an official source. However, many are skeptical of the actual number to be inducted in near future. China officially designates this platform as J-10CE which was unveiled for the first time, as FC-20E, at the Dubai Air Show 2019. The PAF base Minhaz houses Number 15 Squadron dubbed “Cobras” which will be the first PAF squadron to be equipped with these.

J-10 and its history:

J-10C is the most advanced single engine fighter jet of China which conducted the first flight in December 2013. But its history dates back to early 80s when then Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Deng Xiaoping had announced development of a new generation indigenous combat aircraft. China was working on multiple projects simultaneously. While J-8 was being upgraded to J-8II, a newer platform for replacement of older J-6, J-7 and eventually J-8 was needed. Soviet Union was flying MiG-23 and induction of MiG-29 was imminent. On the other hand, the U.S. introduced the F-16 and F-18 to the world. So, it was necessary for China to counter the potential adversaries by its own. Soon three paramount aircraft design institutes of China – Chengdu, Shenyang and Xi’an placed three different proposals, which they had been developing for some time. Chengdu proposed a new design which was an improvement to their earlier development – the J-9. Interestingly J-9 will be improved further leading multiple other projects forming the base of modern Chinese aviation strength, including the fifth-generation stealth aircraft J-20! This design would be further matured and a prototype will conduct the first flight in 1996. Since then, J-10 has seen continued modifications leading to current J-10C. Pakistan becomes the first export customer of this platform.

JF-17 Block III:

Along with the J-10CE, the PAF is likely to get another new fighter jet this year- the JF-17 Block III which is also Chinese in origin. The JF-17 was selected by Pakistan to replace ageing Mirage and F-7 fleet as well as a cheaper alternative to American products which come with no strings attached. JF-17 Block III is the latest development of the series which retained the same earlier design but incorporated new upgrades. It has selected NRIET developed KLJ-7A AESA radar. It is equipped with a wide Aurora EHUD-2 Head-Up Display (HUD) and a new Helmet Mounted Display and Sight (HMD/S). A new hybrid S740 Missile Approaching Warning System (MAWS) has been added as well as ALR-400 RWR (radar warning receiver) and new electronic warfare (EW) system. It will carry KG600 Electronic Counter Measure (ECM) pod for enhanced capability. Aselson ASELPOD will provide a robust electro-optical reconnaissance, surveillance and targeting capability.

Better air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons have been integrated to Block III. It will have a new Beyond Visual Range air-to-air Missile (BVRAAM) PL-15E and PL-10E for close range engagement. For ground strike it will get new HD-1A supersonic cruise missile. Besides, like its predecessors it will continue to carry CM-400AKG, C-802AK and Ra’ad. For stand-off strike Pakistan has Range Extension Kit (REK) enhancing capability of its general-purpose bombs. Additionally, it will carry Pakistan’s own developed H series Stand-off weapons (SOW). Pakistan uses Martin Baker developed PK16LE ejection seat for the safety of the pilot during an emergency.

India has taken the concerns of the national security very seriously and pushed up effort for developing indigenous technology for self-dependence. AESA radar, advanced EW suit, cockpit, avionics, targeting and EW pods, armaments and even engine – a wide array of indigenous equipment will find their place into Indian indigenous platforms. While it can’t be denied that there are several hinders on the path of “Atmanirbharta”, India surely will overcome all such obstacles to “Touch the Sky with Glory”!

Drawbacks of Thunder:

While JF-17 Block III comes with several new features which keep it ahead of most of its aging fleet yet it has several limitations as well. Initially it was reported that JF-17 Block III would be equipped with RD-93MA, an improved variant of existing RD-93 engine or alternatively with a Chinese WS-13. RD-93MA reportedly can generate a maximum thrust of 93 kN. However, the first batch of the JF-17 Block III were equipped with the very same RD-93 engine can be found in Block I and II. RD-93 can generate a maximum thrust of 84.4 kN with afterburner. JF-17 Block III likely to have the same combat range of 1450 km and a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 13.5T. However, confirmation awaits. The much-hyped Infra-Red Searching Tracker (IRST) couldn’t be found on the first batch. Similarly, retractable fuel probe is also absent. However, it is also possible that these features will be integrated to later batches. The integrated KLJ-7A AESA is an air-cooled version which has a maximum detection of 170 km for targets with an RCS of 5m². IAF Rafale is equipped with Thales RBE-2 AESA. The actual detection range of it has not been disclosed yet but is reported to be as high as 200 km and might be even higher which puts it ahead of the adversary.

Besides, Israeli origin ELTA EL/M-2052 and India’s indigenous Uttam too will find advantages against it. The Block III definitely will have better armaments than current variants of the series. But these can hardly be compared with that of IAF Rafale or with the upgraded Su-30MKI is going to have. New PL-15E has a maximum range of 145 km which is higher than SD-10A (export variant of PL-12) but in no comparison with the meteor which is equipped to the IAF Rafale. Besides, India is working on two new improved variants of Astra BVRAAM which is reported to have range of 160 km and around 350 km respectively. So, it can be ruled out that JF-17 Block III will find any kind of advantages during air-to-air engagement against even Tejas Mk 1A.

India eyes higher degree of robustness and capability to meet two front threat situations. The fourth largest air force has taken measures to replace all the old fighter jets with new cutting-edge ones

Why they need J-10C:

J-10C will address many of the drawbacks of the JF-17 Block III. J-10C is a much bigger platform with a maximum take-off weight of 19.2T which is significantly higher than of the JF-17. J-10C has a better combat range (as well as higher service-ceiling. WS-10B engine has a far higher thrust than RD-93. Though actual output is not known but believed to be maximum 138-142 kN. J-10C can carry more weapons than JF-17 Block III and has better ‘g limits’ capability. J-10C is equipped with the mid-air refueling probe absent in JF-17. J-10C is also equipped with an AESA radar but designation is unknown. It is believed the new AESA is superior to KLJ-7A in terms of capability but no confirmation regarding this. J-10CE has new wide, narrow frame HUD as well as HMD/S which are believed to be as same as in JF-17 Block III.

J-10CE has IRST (infra-red search and track) and laser rangefinder dome in front of the cockpit. IRST will help detect and track infra-red signature of enemy flying objects up-to a certain distance. It is equipped with integrated electronic warfare (EW) suite and sensor-fusion capabilities enhancing the capability by several folds. J-10CE too will carry PL-15E and PL-10E for air-to-air operations. Other armaments and pods are not revealed yet but expected will be similar to JF-17. There are some clear differences from basic J-10C as well. The data link antenna is different. Besides, the position of sensors too is altered in case of Pakistani version. J-10CE is carrying different formation lights.

They can’t match Rafale & Tejas, But…:

It will be exaggerating to state that JF-17 Block III and J-10CE can have an upper hand against IAF’s Rafale or even the LCA Mk 2 (being developed). But they will do the job for what they are being procured. Without any Western strings Pakistan can deploy these platforms whenever and wherever they want. The open architecture will allow Pakistan to upgrade these platforms according to their need with the help of China. And moreover, comparatively cheaper cost will allow Pakistan to procure advanced fighter jets in considerable number to replenish their ageing fleet. Both these aircrafts are equipped with HUD, HMD/S, AESA radar, advanced EW suite and good enough armaments. The HMD/S and PL-10E will provide the operator High-Off Bore Sight (HOBS) capability. PL-15E has a greater range than all of the air-to-air missiles, except the Meteor, currently in services with India. However, this advantage soon will be diminished. The HD-1A being lighter will allow both these aircrafts to carry multiple of this supersonic cruise missile which will work as a force multiplier. On the other hand, India is developing lighter BrahMos NG enabling its fighter jets to carry multiple of this.

Both the aircrafts have digital fly-by-wire flight control system as well as HOTAS (Hands-on throttle and stick). These will use Pakistan’s homegrown data link system “Link 17” enhancing interoperability. The technologies are rapidly evolving and close relationship with China enables Pakistan to incorporate upgrades time to time. These platforms in near future will work as an essential component of Pakistan’s own “Manned Unmanned- Teaming” (MUM-T) project. According to the reports, in future technologies involving AI and Virtual Reality (VR) will be incorporated enhancing the capability. While comparison with Rafale is meaningless these will give Pakistan credible capabilities for various need. Moreover, with these platforms Pakistan has successfully escaped Western restrictions limiting sovereignty of the usage. JF-17 will eventually replace F-7PG and Mirage-III/5 ROSE. While J-10C will work along with the existing F-16 fleet of Pakistan. It is not clear if Pakistan eyes to replace F-16 fleet too with J-10C but unlikely as for a long time they wanted to simultaneously operate both the F-16 and J-10.

One hundred twenty three Tejas Mk 1 and Mk 1A will replace the remaining MiG-21 Bison in services. As Mirage-2000 I, MiG-29 UPG and Jaguar Darin-III will find end of their life, LCA Mk 2 will work as the interim measure till future fifth generation combat aircraft AMCA is inducted in large numbers. At the same time existing Su-30MKI will be upgraded with indigenous technology to meet the future threats and 114 MRCA along with 36 Rafale F3R will enhance the strength

PAF in Future:

Pakistan will manufacture the KLJ-7A AESA under transfer of technology (TOT). Besides, Pakistan eyes development of an indigenous HUD/S. The commonality will increase interoperability enhancing operational capabilities. While reports suggest that old JF-17 platforms also will be upgraded, Pakistan is looking for a fifth- generation fighter aircraft to remain credible in fast changing combat environment. The procurement of JF-17 Block III and J-10CE are some early steps of their long- envisaged transformation towards a strong air force.

So where does India stand against it? In simple and short- Ahead! India eyes higher degree of robustness and capability to meet two front threat situations. The fourth largest air force has taken measures to replace all the old fighter jets with new cutting-edge ones.

How IAF nullifies the threat:

One hundred twenty three Tejas Mk 1 and Mk 1A will replace the remaining MiG-21 Bison in services. As Mirage-2000 I, MiG-29 UPG and Jaguar Darin-III will find end of their life, LCA Mk 2 will work as the interim measure till future fifth generation combat aircraft AMCA is inducted in large numbers. At the same time existing Su-30MKI will be upgraded with indigenous technology to meet the future threats and 114 MRCA along with 36 Rafale F3R will enhance the strength. India has taken the concerns of the national security very seriously and pushed up effort for developing indigenous technology for self-dependence. AESA radar, advanced EW suit, cockpit, avionics, targeting and EW pods, armaments and even engine – a wide array of indigenous equipment will find their place into Indian indigenous platforms. While it can’t be denied that there are several hinders on the path of “Atmanirbharta”, India surely will overcome all such obstacles to “Touch the Sky with Glory”!

Sankalan Chattopadhyay is a defence and strategic affairs analyst. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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