TYPE: Attack fighter
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: China
English name: Fierce Dragon
Pakistan Air Force designation: JF-17 Thunder
PROGRAMME: Fighter China (FC) programme launched 1991 following cancellation of US participation in development of Chengdu Super-7. Some design assistance from MiG OKB, possibly based on (then-designated MiG-33) mid-1980s project for single engined variant of the MiG-29. (Sources at MiG experimental bureau quoted as saying that FC-1 was designed there to a military specification as Izd (Izdeliye: article) 33 and later offered for Chinese production following cancellation of Russian requirement.)
Full-scale mockup completed 2001 and exhibited at Zhuhai November 2002. First six prototypes (including two for static and fatigue test) under construction by then, with oft-postponed maiden flight targeted for mid-2003. Formal approval for production, at CAC's No.132 factory, reported in January 2003. Avionics competition still open in 2003, contenders include IAI Elta, SAGEM and Thales. Choice of a multimode pulse Doppler radar apparently still lies between Phazotron of Russia (Kopyo), Galileo (FIAR) of Italy (Grifo S-7), and Thales (RC 400). Selection had not been made by mid-2003, due to Western misgivings about technology transfer, although Pakistan (which renamed Super-7 as JF-17 Thunder in 2003) expected to opt for Grifo; China may look elsewhere for domestic version if clearance is much further delayed.
Chinese domestic requirement for the FC-1 is said to be for several hundred aircraft, with Pakistan wanting about 150, but a Pakistani order is conditional upon AFDLA commitment, which was still awaited in late 2003; however, PLA Navy still said to be interested. Pakistan reportedly to receive 12 from 2004 for familiarisation training. A letter of intent for joint development by China and Pakistan was reportedly signed in February 1998, followed by signature of a joint development and production agreement in June 1999.
First FC-1 rolled out 31 May 2003 and began low-speed taxying trials 27 June, followed by eight-minute maiden flight (first of two that day) on 25 August, and first 'official' flight, by then also bearing JF-17 markings, 3 September 2003, all at Chengdu's Wenjiang Airport. Pakistan news reports at that time indicated following timetable for that country's participation: finalise MoU September 2003; sign contract December 2003; low-rate initial production by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex from June 2004 to December 2005: begin full rate production January 2006.
CUSTOMERS: Envisaged for air forces of China and Pakistan initially, but costed to be competitive in wider export market; promoted to Bangladesh, Egypt and Nigeria in 2003. Seen as potential replacement for Shenyang J-6, Chengdu J-7, Nanchang Q-5, Northrop F-5 and Dassault Mirage III/5.
COSTS: Development investment of some US$150 million by mid-2001.
DESIGN FEATURES: Agile light fighter. Mid-mounted delta wing with narrow wingroot strakes at leading–edge; leading-edge manoeuvring flaps; single turbofan engine; side-mounted twin intakes, with splitter plates; large intake trunks provide space for considerable internal fuel capacity. Large main fin with dorsal fairing; two smaller, uncanted ventral fins.
FLYING CONTROLS: Conventional hydraulic servo-operated control of ailerons, rudder and all-moving tailplane initially, with single analogue fly-by-wire system for back-up; provision for FBW to become primary system later. Trailing-edge and leading-edge flaps.
STRUCTURE: Primary structure conventional aluminium and steel alloy semi-monocoque. Some components may be manufactured in Pakistan.
LANDING GEAR: Retractable tricycle type, with single wheel and oleo shock-absorber on each unit. Mainwheels retract upward into engine intake trunks; nosewheel retracts rearward.
POWER PLANT: One Klimov RD-93 (RD-33 derivative) turbofan (81.4 kN; 18,300 lb st with afterburning), possibly to be licence built by Liyang Machinery Corporation (LMC) for production aircraft. Could have alternative Western engine at customer's option, as China reportedly does not have rights to re-export RD-93. Substantial internal fuel capacity. Provision for external fuel tanks.
ACCOMMGDATION: Single Jianghan TY6 zero/zero ejection seat under one-piece canopy. Two-seat training versions also planned.
AVIONICS: Still to be selected in early 2003. Prototype to have IAI Elta EL/M-2032 fire-control radar.
ARMAMENT: Underfuselage centreline station for 23 mm GSh-23-2 twin-barrel cannon or other store; two attachments under each wing and one at each wingtip. Weapons expected to include advanced AAMs, ASMs, bombs, gun and rocket pods, or other stores. Mockup seen in November 2002 mounting the AMRAAM-class LETRI (No. 607 Institute) SD-10 (PL-12) BVR, active radar homing AAM (lock-on range 20 km; 12.4 miles).