Chengdu FC-1 / JF-17 Thunder
The origins of the 'Super-7' can be traced back to 1986 when Pakistan and China wanted to modernise the J-7 with western avionics and engine. The project was named 'Saber II' by the PAF and would replace its F-6s. In January 1987, Grumman Aerospace was seleted as primary contractor and several other western firms competed to provide the engine and avionics. By 1989 the projected costs had significantly increased (some sources say 40%) and was deemed a highly financial risk by the Pakistan Air Force. On top of that, Chinese relations with the west broke down. Subsequently the contract was cancelled.
Chengdu continued the development under the new designation FC-1 (Fighter China-1) aimed at creating an affordable fighter for the export market. In 1995 Pakistan regained interest in a joint development with China. The 1993 US sanctions prevented the PAF from acquiring Western technology or weapons. In June 1999, China and Pakistan signed the joint development and production agreement to co-develop the FC-1. Chengdu was selected as primary contractor and the Russian Mikoyan Aero-Science Production Group (MASPG) was contracted to provide the Klimov RD-93 turbofan engine and design assistance too.
The FC-1 design has little in common with the J-7 and is believed to be based on Mikoyan's concept for a single-engine fighter based on the MiG-29. The FC-1 also shows features from the F-16 design, although the layout is somewhat more conventional.
The FC-1/JF-17 multirole combat fighter platform was developed jointly by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex to produce a cost-effective, multi-faceted airframe to use modern avionics and weapons packages for the Pakistani Air Force - essentially a modernized "budget fighter".
As such, the FC-1 Xiaolong ("Fierce Dragon")/JF-17 Urdu ("Thunder") was begun - the former being the Chinese designation while the latter being the Pakistani designation. The joint program began loosely in 1998 and became a formalized agreement in 1999. The initial prototype was available and made airborne by 2003. Follow-up testing and revisions ensued and a newer prototype form flew in 2006. All testing was handled in China until 2007 saw deliveries of examples for evaluation by the Pakistani Air Force. Evaluation proved favorable and the Pakistani Air Force officially accepted the aircraft into service under the designation of JF-17 "Urdu". The first operational squadron was formed in February of 2010.
At least 150 examples were on order and the total PAF inventory may grow to 250 total aircraft in service.
The FC-1/JF-17 was initially conceived in three single-seat prototypes known simply as the PT-01, PT-02 and the PT-03. The first FC-1 was rolled out on 31 May 2003. It made its first flight on 24 August 2003, although some say 2 or 3 September 2003. It was quickly followed by a second airframe (PT-2) for static tests and two more flying prototypes. The third prototype PT-3 has joined PT-1 in the flight testing program on 9 April 2004. These were followed into development by the revised single-seat prototypes encompassing the PT-04, PT-05 and the PT-06. From the PT-04 prototype, the single-seat production form was born and is now known under two distinct designations as the "JF-17 Urdu" (in Pakistan service) and the "FC-1 Xiaolong" (in Chinese service). To follow will be a two-seat mount that will double as both a pilot trainer (fitting the student in the forward cockpit with the instructor in the aft cockpit) that will make use of less internal fuel stores and a dedicated strike fighter.
The Chengdu FC-1/JF-17 makes use of a cylindrical fuselage with the cockpit set well-ahead on the airframe. The front of the fuselage was capped by a nose cone assembly housing the radar. The cockpit is covered over in a single piece canopy with a forward piece. Intakes feed a single powerplant buried within the fuselage. An intake is mounted to either side of the airframe just below and aft of the cockpit with small bulges ahead of each opening to help induce airflow. Wings are mid-set along the sides of the aircraft and feature highly-swept leading edge surfaces. The wings have underwing pylon hardpoints and wingtip missile launchers. The fuselage spine conforms to become the base of the single vertical tail fin atop the empennage. All-moving horizontal tailplanes are set to either side of the empennage. The engine exhausts at the extreme rear. Some of the integrated avionics are set in a rear package, appearing as a rounded protrusion just above the jet exhaust ring and at the base of the vertical tail fin. A pair of ventral strakes can clearly be seen at the base of the empennage. The FC-1/JF-17 makes use of a fully-retractable tricycle landing gear featuring two single-wheeled main landing gear legs as well as a single-wheeled nose landing gear leg. Construction of the airframe is of semi-monocoque format and made up of aluminum alloys as well as utilizing titanium allows and steel in certain high-stress areas. Control surfaces are under the control of a digital flight control system while the pilot has HOTAS configuration (Hands On Throttle and Stick).
The Chengdu FC-1/JF-17 makes use of a single Klimov RD-93 turbofan engine delivering 11,106lbf of standard thrust and up to 18,973lbf of thrust when utilizing afterburner. Maximum speed is listed at approximately March 1.8 or about 2,205 kilometers per hour. The FC-1/JF-17 has a ferry range of up to 2,175 miles with a combat radius of 840 miles. Service ceiling is listed at 54,790 feet.
Standard armament is a fixed, forward-firing 23mm GSh-23-2 twin-barrel cannon of Russian origin. This can be replaced with the larger-caliber 30mm GSh-30-2 series cannon at the expense of ammunition. The FC-1/JF-17 has seven hardpoints. Hardpoints include the wingtip launchers (reserved for short-ranged air-to-air missiles), four underwing stations (the two innermost plumbed for fuel stores) and a single fuselage centerline location, this also plumbed for external fuel stores. The FC-1/JF-17 can sport an underfuselage tank of 800 liters while the two underwing stations can carry either 800 liter or 1,000 liter fuel.
The FC-1/JF-17 makes use of a NRIET KLJ-7 series multi-mode fire-control radar that handles tracking and engagement of targets, even at beyond visual ranges. Range is approximately up to 75 kilometers on its X-band frequency.
In February of 2010, the Pakistan Air Force had at least fourteen JF-17 "Thunder" operational examples, these with the 36th Tactical Attack Wing out of PAF Base in Peshawar. These Thunders are under ownership of the No. 26 Squadron known as the "Black Spiders".
In late 2009, the FC-1 was known to have passed a procurement hurdle in China that seems to indicate that the Xiaolong will, at some point, arm the People's Liberation Army Air Force in the near future.
The JF-17 began small-batch deliveries to China in 2006. Pakistan received their first aircraft six months later, reaching operational status in 2010. Pakistan has already put the type to use, flying it against targets in South Waziristan. The Chinese seem to be operating fewer JF-17s than the Pakistanis, but development is already underway for an improved Block 2 variant, intending to incorporate more composites into the structure, as well as newer avionics and an IRST. Many countries, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, have expressed interest in the JF-17. While there have been tentative talks with Zimbabwe, Argentina, and Egypt to procure the aircraft, however, no purchases have materialized. More recently, Nigeria has looked into buying several JF-17s from Pakistan, but an actual order has yet to occur. According to the chief designer of the JF-17, this is due to a combination of political factors and the fact that the JF-17 just can’t compete with contemporary Gen 4 fighters. It is a great budget replacement for the MiG-21 (unit price of ~$20 million), it lacks the capabilities that countries are looking for in a fighter.
Chegdu FC-1 Xiaolong / JF-17 Thunder
Engine: 1 x Klimov RD-93 turbofan, 49.4 kN (11,103 lb st) dry or 84.4 kN (18,969 lb st) with afterburner
Length 14.97 m (49 ft 1.5 in)
Height 4.77 m (15 ft 8 in)
Wing span 9.46 m (31 ft 0.5 in)
Maximum Speed: 1,370mph (2,205kmh; 1,191kts)
Maximum Range: 1,864miles (3,000km)
Service Ceiling: 54,790ft (16,700m; 10.4miles)
Armament: 1 x 23mm GSh-23-2 twin-barreled cannon OR 1 x 30mm GSh-30-2 cannon
Hardpoints: 7 (including wingtip)
External ordnance: Up to 8,000lbs / 3,629 kg
Empty Weight: 14,134lbs (6,411kg)
Maximum Take-Off Weight: 20,062lbs (9,100kg)
Normal Take-Off Weight: 9,072 kg (20,000 lb)