A jet built by China and Pakistan may soon be the most widely operated combat aircraft in the world

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A JF-17 Thunder at the Kamra Aeronautical Complex northwest of Islamabad in March 2007.AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images
China and Pakistan jointly developed the JF-17 fighter jet, which first entered service in 2007.
As of October 2021, about 145 JF-17s were in service with Pakistan, Myanmar and Nigeria.
Several other countries have expressed interest in the jet, and its numbers are expected to increase.
In early November, three JF-17 fighter jets from the Pakistan Air Force conducted aerial demonstrations at the Bahrain International Air Show.
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At the same time, China presented the JF-17 at the annual China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zuhai, China.
The events marked the latest attempts by China and Pakistan to market their jointly developed fourth-generation fighter jets to international customers.
The JF-17 is in service with just three countries — Pakistan, Myanmar and Nigeria — with a total of 145 operating as of October 2021, according to Aviation Week.
At the time, Aviation Week data showed that the total should rise to 185 JF-17s by mid-decade - growth that would make it the most widely deployed Chinese fighter jet in overseas operations by the end of 2023.
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JF-17 Thunder
A Pakistan Air Force JF-17 takes off from a base in northern Pakistan in June 2013.REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Developed by China's Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, the JF-17 first flew in 2003. The single-seat, single-engine jet is known as the JF-17 Thunder in Pakistan and the FC-1 Xiaolong in China.
With a service ceiling of 50,000 feet and a top speed of approximately 1,200 miles per hour, the JF-17 can perform multiple missions, including air interception and ground attack. It can carry approximately 7,000 pounds of artillery on seven hardpoints and is armed with a single twin-barreled 23mm autocannon.
The first few JF-17s were made entirely in China, but Pakistan now handles most of the production. Currently 58% of aircraft are manufactured in Pakistan and 42% in China.
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Despite its joint development, only Pakistan decided to put it into service, which officially happened in 2007. The jet is set to replace Pakistan's aging fleet of Nanchang A-5, Chengdu F-7 and Mirage III and V attack and fighter jets.
Pakistan Air Force personnel inspect a JF-17 at the Zhuhai Airshow in China's Guangdong province in October 2018.REUTERS/Stringer
With at least 125 in service, the JF-17 is the backbone of the PAF. They were reportedly used to conduct airstrikes against militants in north-west Pakistan and shot down an Iranian-made drone in south-west Pakistan, according to a report in 2017.
Current and retired Pakistan Air Force officials also said a JF-17 shot down an Indian MiG-21 during an air-to-air engagement in February 2019. (India said its jet was shot down by a Pakistani F-16.)
The JF-17 has been upgraded several times since its introduction. The latest version, the Block III, first flew in late 2019 and features several significant upgrades including an additional hardpoint, a quadruple redundant digital fly-by-wire system and active electronically scanned array radar.
Pakistan considers the Block III JF-17 a 4.5-generation jet and its air force plans to acquire at least 50 of them, the first of which arrived in January. The jets have already been spotted carrying one of China's most advanced air-to-air missiles.
Affordable and appealing
A JF-17 at the Paris Air Show in June 2015.REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
Pakistan currently operates the most JF-17s. Myanmar, the first international customer, operates six and Nigeria three.
With prices ranging from $15 million to $25 million each, the JF-17 is significantly cheaper than virtually any other fourth generation jet on the market. Add-ons that increase its lethality, such as B. Target pods, make it attractive for countries with low defense budgets that want multi-role combat aircraft.
"It's not cutting edge, but it's a reliable performer," Timothy Heath, a senior international and defense researcher at the Rand Corporation think tank, told Insider.
"This isn't an aircraft designed to compete with the F-22, so it doesn't need the most sophisticated engines and parts," Heath said. "It's a cheap, multi-role, budget aircraft, suitable and probably most appealing to developing countries looking for a simple aircraft to either bomb their own population like insurgents, or conduct basic defense against similar countries."
A Pakistani JF-17 at a defense exhibition in Karachi in November 2016.RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP via Getty Images
Several countries have expressed interest in the JF-17. Iraq has reportedly agreed to purchase at least 12, and Egypt has said it is interested in acquiring JF-17s as part of its expanded defense cooperation with Pakistan. For years, Azerbaijan has said it wants the JF-17, and both Bolivia and Argentina are considering the jet.
Argentina has also tried to expand its local fighter production. Should it get a license to build JF-17s domestically, it could make the jet more attractive to its neighbors.
Expanding JF-17 sales could help China increase its market share for "valuable weapons" -- weapons that are less sophisticated but still effective -- among middle- and low-income countries that have long relied on Russia to around jets, armored vehicles, and heavy artillery.
However, selling more JF-17s may not result in greater reliance on Chinese military equipment. Many countries continue to covet high-quality Western-built aircraft and are generally wary of having to rely on a single supplier, with many operating a mix of US, European, Russian and Chinese aircraft.
"It's a pretty common strategy in developing countries," Heath said. "Most countries want autonomy, so they tend to have different suppliers, even if that makes their ability to run all those foreign systems more difficult."
Read the original article on Business Insider

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