An upgraded version of a fighter jet being jointly developed by China and Pakistan has made its maiden flight in the Chinese city of Chengdu, official media reported on Thursday. The JF-17 Thunder, earlier named as FC-1 Xiaolong, was a single-engine multi-role light fighter jet jointly produced by the two countries for several years with engines supplied by Russia. The upgraded version features the technologies of China's stealth fighter J-20.
The JF-17 planes are mostly used by Pakistan than by China as the Chinese Air Force has acquired new generation aircraft like Russia's Sukhoi as well as developed an array of homegrown new jets, including the J-20 stealth aircraft. According to a report in the state-run Global Times, the upgraded JF-17 made its maiden flight in mid-December. With the serial number '3000', the first JF-17 Block 3 prototype was taken into the skies in Chengdu, it said.
Early last month, Pakistan media had reported that the first batch of eight dual-seat JF-17 aircraft has been rolled out. The JF-17 planes, which was used by Pakistan in the attack along the Line Of Control (LOC) on February 27 following the tensions generated by the Pulwama terrorist strike, is currently contending with India's Tejas and South Korea's FA-50, as per earlier official media reports.
The upgraded JF-17 features technologies from China's top-notch J-20 stealth fighter, which the Chinese defence experts equates with US' F-35, the Global Times reported. China currently is the only country in the region to have stealth aircraft. The J-20 is China's fourth-generation medium and long-range fighter aircraft. It was commissioned into combat service in February last year.
The timing of JF-17's upgrading coincides with India's acquisition of new generation French fighter jets Rafale, adding new strategic dimension. According to Wang Ya'nan, Chief Editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, the JF-17's flight performance and airframe design have been proven in its past service, but it can quickly improve if equipped with advanced electronic devices.
"China has made a large number of achievements in the development of the likes of the J-10 and J-20, resulting in many mature technologies and equipment...If they can be used on the JF-17, the pilot could enjoy a significant efficiency increase in flying, which will also boost its combat efficiency," Wang was quoted as saying by the report. Analysts said the new additions to the JF-17 can give pilots more situational awareness, allowing them to focus more on combat instead of flying the aircraft.
In March 2019, Yang Wei, chief designer of the China-Pakistan co-developed fighter jet, said the development and production of the JF-17 Block 3 were underway, and the third block will see the JF-17's information-based warfare capability and weapons upgraded. Yang said some countries have evinced interest to buy the JF-17 Block 3 but did not disclose the details.