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JF-17 Thunder - Program

Both the "F-7P" and "Super 7" nomenclature are extremely ambiguous, and seem to refer as much to requirments as to actual specific pieces of hardware. The "F-7P" nomenclature seems to reference the full range of F-7 configurations for Pakistan, and antedates the development of the side inlet design. Similarly, the "Super 7" nomenclature survived this F-7 derivative configuration, and for a while decended on the essentially unrelated FC-1 "Chao Qi" / JF-17 Thunder program, which Pakistan and China embarked on in the late 1990s.

The design for the PAC JF-17 Thunder, also known as the FC-1 Xiaolong, began with the "Super 7" plan launched jointly by China and US aircraft maker Grumman to develop an upgraded version of the F-7, but Grumman left the project after sanctions were placed on China by the US in the wake of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. China and Pakistan subsequently signed a memorandum of understanding to design a new fighter together in 1995. The requirements for the fighter were that it make use of advanced technology, that it be a completely new design and that it approach the combat capabilities of third-generation fighters. It also needed to be light, cheap to produce and capable of carrying a large payload.

As a substitute for the Super-7, China developed the FC-1 (Fighter China 1) lightweight multipurpose fighter based on the design for the MiG-33, which was rejected by the Soviet Air Force. The FC-1 was developed with a total investment in excess of $500 million, including support from the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC), mainly for export to replace the 120 F-7M/P fighters in service in the Pakistani Air Force, though it was possible that the Chinese Air Force will use this aircraft as well. The deal to manufacture 150 FC-1 (Fighter China) jets was struck when General Musharraf visited China just before the Kargil war in 1998.

Chengdu Aircraft Industry Company [CAIC], based in Sichuan Province, is China's second-largest fighter production base, and the enterprise is cooperating with Pakistan's Aviation Integrated Company and Russia's Mikoyan Aero-Science Production Group [MASPG] in the development of the FC-1. Israel and several European countries are being considered as suppliers for the plane's avionics. The first flight was planned for 1997 with delivery to the Pakistani Air Force scheduled for 1999.

Initially it was anticipated that the FC-1 would be a high- performance, low-cost fighter plane to supplement the F-10 air superiority fighters developed for the Chinese Air Force. These planes will be fitted with a single Klimov Design Bureau RD-93 engines. They are a more powerful version of RD-33 engines, two of which are fitted in MIG-29. The China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC) tried to persuade the Chinese Air Force to use the FC-1 so as to increase the production run and reduce the unit cost. But the Chinese military resisted, being of the view that equiping the Air Force with two types of fighter planes with similar performance within the same time period would both consume limited financial resources and complicate logistical support for dissimilar aircraft.

It is widely reported that the FC-1 is a continuation of the "MiG-33 [R33]" program developed in the 1980s. The Russian company Mikoyan OKB Design Bureau, which designs all MIG series of aircraft, sold the design of MIG-33 to the China and Pakistan. This report is the source of considerable confusion, and indeed some rather fanciful speculation. The so-called MiG-33 design used in conjunction with the FC-1 program was apparently a the poorly attested "Product 33" lightweight single-engine project of the mid-1980s. A decade later, the MiG-33 nomenclature was briefly associated with the much larger twin-engine Mig-29M. This confused history has led to observations that the "FC-1 features air inlets on the lateral sides of the fuselage rather than the ventral inlets of the MiG-33. ... the most apparent modifications to the MiG-33 design is the repositioning of the ventral fins from the engine compartment..." These supposed modifications to the mid-90s MiG-33 design actually reflect the fact that the FC-1 is an entirely difference airplane with no design relationship to the MiG-33 [MiG-29M].

These improvement in performance affected the program's costs, and if the final production order is fewer than 300 aircraft the unit price will rise from the original $10 million to $15 million.

The FC-1 was to make it's first flight in 1996, but the project was delayed when Pakistan sought to upgrade the performance characteristics of the FC-1 to respond to India's acquisition of Su-30MKIs. After several years of stagnation, the Pakistani Prime Minister's February 1998 trip to China resulted in an agreement to continue development of the fighter. At that time Pakistan was interested in acquiring at least 150 fighters, with the Chinese contemplating acquiring over 200.

The JF-17 Thunder development project was completed in a record period of four years. China National Aviation Corp officially signed the development contract for the FC-1 airplane in 1999. The project initially suffered a setback due to imposition of sanctions in 1999, which hindered acquisition of avionics and weaponry for the aircraft. The avionics had to be delinked from airframe development in 2001. China National Aviation Corp completes the detailed preliminary design in 2001 and in 2002 the company completed the detailed design structure and the system charts.

Formal production work began September 16, 2002, on the FC-1 aircraft in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province.

The FC-1 made its formal debut at China's Fourth International Air Show scheduled November 4 to 7, 2002, in Zhuhai, the nearest mainland city to Macao. China Aviation Industry Corporation I (AVIC I ) made fresh progress in 2003, with 5 planes having passed evaluation and seven new planes completed their maiden flight. "Xiaolong / FC-1", or Fierce Dragon, produced by the corporation was applauded as one of the "Ten Major National Scientific Events in 2003".

In July 2003 it was reported that the "SUPER-7" fighter jet was ready to take its maiden flight, although a detailed timetable was not released. China's Super-7 Fighter completed its taxiing test on July 03, 2003 at a test ground of Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Corporation (CAC). As one of the eight major ground tests that must be completed before test flight, the taxiing test is aimed at trying the correctness of the design of electricity supply system, as well as signal connections between the electricity supply system and other external systems so as to provide important data to guarantee a successful first fly. Leiqiang, deputy director of the Chengdu Flight Group's trial flight department under the Chinese Air Force, said he will carry out the maiden flight task.

On 25 August 2003 the "owlet dragon" FC-1 airplane carried on the initial flight. It flews 17 minutes before it returned to the airport. The serial production of the aircraft was to begin by January 2006. The aircraft will replace the Mirage, F-16 and F-7 aircraft with the latest technology and it will meet professional requirements of the Pakistan Air Force.

Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) holds the exclusive rights of 58% of JF-17 airframe co-production work. A comprehensive infrastructure comprising state of the art machines and required skilled human resource has very quickly been developed at the Complex. The final assembly and flight testing of the aircraft was the first JF-17 co-production activity to start at PAC. The first PAC produced aircraft was handed over to Pakistan Air Force in November 2009. Since then, aircraft are being produced regularly to meet the required schedule. The co-production of sub assemblies and structural parts has also commenced and is sequentially attaining the sustained production status. Besides upgrading the production system, PAC has also upgraded its quality, technology and archive management systems to meet the production and management standards of a 3rd generation fighter aircraft.

The JF-17 was fully in service in 2012.

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