November 25, 2010:
After unsuccessful attempts to obtain Western electronics for its new JF-17 jet fighter, Pakistan has announced that it will use Chinese gear instead. China initially offered to fit out the JF-17s with electronics and weapons, but the Pakistanis were leery of the untried Chinese equipment. Meanwhile, India and the United States pressured France not to allow Pakistan to buy advanced radars and other electronics for the Pakistani built JF-17 jet fighter. This was because China did most of the development on the JF-17, and Chinese personnel would be involved in any effort to install French electronics in these aircraft. China has a brazen reputation for stealing foreign technology, and putting high tech French electronics into Pakistani JF-17s was seen as just giving the stuff to China. Pakistan also has a reputation for passing on military technology it had promised to hold close. These factors scared off other Western suppliers as well, leaving Pakistan with little choice but to accept Chinese gear.
While the Chinese steal a lot of technical information via Internet espionage, that's not as good as getting your hands on the actual hardware. Meanwhile, Pakistan still wants to upgrade up to a hundred of its JF-17s with non-Chinese electronics and weapons, to offer for export sales. France could not just blow off Indian protests, as India is a much larger customer for French military equipment than Pakistan.
Earlier this year, Pakistan activated its first JF-17 fighter squadron, which is stationed at an airbase outside Peshawar (the largest city in the tribal territories near the Afghan border.) The squadron, with twelve aircraft and twenty pilots, is the first of many. A year ago, Pakistan signed a deal to buy the next 42, of 300, of these jets from China. These 42 will cost $14.3 million per aircraft. The final 250 will cost $12 million each. The aircraft is assembled in both Pakistan and China, with the engines coming from Russia, and most of the other components from China (which calls the aircraft the FC-1). Several countries ordered the aircraft, or are negotiating to. Pakistan will replace its MiG-21s and Mirage IIIs with the low cost JF-17s.
When the first JF-17 fighter arrived in Pakistan three years ago, it ended over twenty years of development for what was first called the Super 7 fighter. The JF-17 was developed by China in cooperation with Pakistan, which originally only wanted to buy 150 of them. All this came about because Pakistan could not get modern fighters from anyone else, and turned to China. At the time, China had nothing comparable to the early model F-16s Pakistan already had.
The 13 ton JF-17 is meant to be a low cost alternative to the American F-16. The JF-17 is considered the equal to earlier versions of the F-16, but only 80 percent as effective as more recent F16 models. The JF-17 uses the same Russian engine, the RD-93, that is used in the MiG-29. The JF-17 design is based on a cancelled Russian project, the MiG-33.
The JF-17 can carry 3.6 tons of weapons and use radar guided and heat seeking missiles. It has max speed of nearly 2,000 kilometers an hour, an operating range of 1,300 kilometers and a max altitude of 17,700 meters (55,000 feet). China has not yet decided on whether it will use the FC-1/JF-17 itself. This is apparently because China believes its own J-10 (another local design) and J-11 (a license built Russian Su-27) are adequate for their needs. The J-10, like the JF-17, did not work out as well as was hoped. China is still relatively new to aircraft design and development. To further complicate things, China is trying to keep up with aircraft technology that continues to advance, year by year. Thus both the J-10 and JF-17s are difficult and expensive to maintain, and do not function as effectively as the designers hoped. But both aircraft work, and can probably be more useful for ground support, than air superiority. Pakistan hopes to make the JF-17 more lethal by using more experienced pilots. That often works.