The Indian made Tejas fighter jet is all set for its international airshow debut these days during the Bahrain International Airshow starting Thursday 21 January. The type is engaged in a fierce battle with the Pakistan-made JF-17 Thunder, albeit a virtual one thanks to the virtues of social media. Both sides have battling it out for weeks already.
Two Tejas jets arrived at Bahrain’s Sakhir airbase on 14 January and started orientation flights. The Tejas – powered by a GE F404-IN20 turbofan – was designed and produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) but even after decades of development and testing fails to meet Indian Air Force expectations. An improved ‘Mark 2’ version – featuring the more powerful F414 engine – will probably never see the light of day.
It’s appearance in Bahrain most likely is the result of Pakistan’s recent success in selling it’s JF-17 Thunder abroad. Nigeria is expecting three to be delivered this year and Myanmar is also a rumoured customer. No JF-17 is scheduled to appear in Bahrain, however. Powering the Thunder is the Russian designed Klimov RD-93 engine.
More recently, a Pakistani campaign to sell JF-17 Thunders to Sri Lanka – that other neighbour to India – infuriated New Delhi. After days of confusing news, Indian media proudly reported New Delhi has prevented the deal from happening and also stated the Tejas was now on offer to Sri Lanka.
It is safe to say Sri Lanka would prefer the JF-17 Thunder, a joint undertaking by Pakistan and China that has resulted in a reasonably advanced, capable and affordable alternative to expensive Western and Russian fighter aircraft. It could very likely sell to other customers as well.
Any foreign sale of Tejas jets however is as unlikely as…. well, India buying the JF-17. The program is too troubled for any foreign nation to be interested in. Displaying the aircraft in Bahrain is a matter of politics and prestige, not economics.
Pakistan can rely on four fully equipped JF-17 Thunder squadrons following the handover of the 16th Block II JF-17 to the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), sources in Pakistand said on Tuesday 29 december. The aircraft was rolled out at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) in the presence of Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman.
The Pakistan Air Force has been flying the JF-17 Thunder since 2007. The fighter jet is a joint undertaking by Pakistan and China, with PAC holding the exclusive rights of 58 percent of airframe co-production work.
The first locally produced aircraft was handed over to the PAF in November 2009. Since then, PAC has assembled 66 Thunders, with 50 of those being of the less-advanced Block-I variant. Production of the newer Block-II variant started in 2014. It offers more advanced weapons systems and avionics.
A Thunder two seater variant is still under development. Meanwhile, Malaysia was reported to be interested in aqcuiring the type, but those rumours were denied in Kuala Lumpur. More recently, Pakistan is targeting an order from Sri Lanka.
During the Partis Air Show in June, the first export order for the JF-17 Thunder was announced. The customer was never mentioned but on 6 January 2016, Nigeria revealed it is expecting three JF-17s to be delivered in 2016.
Pakistan is set to import the JF-17 Thunder’s RD-93 engine directly from Russia in the near future. Earlier, the engines were purchased from China, which in turn resourced the RD-93 from Russia. According to sources in Pakistan, China has now issued a ‘no objection certificate’ that allows Pakistan to do business directly with Russia .
The new arrangement was already discussed between Russia and Pakistan late 2014, and smooths the way for Pakistan to lower production costs of its JF-17, which is produced by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) in the city of Kamra, close to Islamabad.
The Klimov RD-93 is a variant of the RD-33 that powers the MiG-29 Fuclrum. The RD-93 is also fitted to the JC-1, the Chinese version of the JF-17 Thunder. The so-called stealthy Chinese J-31 prototype, which made its airshow debut last year, uses the same engine. Pakistan is named as an export customer for the J-31, while other countries are said to be interested in the JF-17.
In the past, Pakistan had to buy the engines from China as Moscow feared the JF-17 was competing in the international market with the MiG-29. With current Western economic sanctions against Russia over the situation in Ukraine, it is safe to say Russia seized this export opportunity to Pakistan.
The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) will start producing an upgraded version of its with China co-developed JF-17 Thunder fighter-bomber. The announcement was made at the aircraft manufacturing plant in Kamra, where the PAC formally handed over the 50th JF-17 Thunder aircraft to Pakistan Air Force.
Exactly what will be new on the JF-17 Block II Thunder is somewhat vague, but they include partly new avionics, additional weapon options and an air-to-air refueling function.
Pakistan has plans for a total of 250 JF-17s, that will take over the fighter-bomber roles of old Mirage III, Mirage V and F-7s.