China and Pakistan’s JF-17 may soon be most-used fighter jet

China and Pakistan’s JF-17 may soon be most-used fighter jet
China and Pakistan’s JF-17 may soon be most-used fighter jet
  • China and Pakistan jointly developed the JF-17 fighter jet, which first entered service in 2007.
  • As of October 2021, some 145 JF-17s were in service with Pakistan, Myanmar and Nigeria.
  • Several other countries have shown interest in the jet, and its numbers are set to grow.
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In early November, three Pakistani Air Force JF-17 fighters

aerial demonstrations at the Bahrain International Air Show.

At the same time, China was displaying the JF-17 at the annual China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zuhai, China.

These events were the latest attempts by China and Pakistan to market their jointly developed fourth-generation fighter aircraft to international customers.

The JF-17 is in service with just three countries – Pakistan, Myanmar and Nigeria – which operated a total of 145 as of October 2021, according to Aviation Week.

At the time, Aviation Week data showed the total was expected to reach 185 JF-17s by the middle of the decade – a growth that would make it China’s most-operated overseas fighter jet in the world. by the end of 2023.

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 in Pakistan as the JF-17 Thunder and as the FC-1 Xiaolong in China. .

With a service ceiling of 50,000 feet and a top speed of around 1,200 mph, the JF-17 can perform multiple missions, including aerial interception and ground attack. It can carry around 7,000 pounds of ammunition on seven hardpoints and is armed with a single 23mm twin-barreled autocannon.

The first JF-17s were entirely made in China, but Pakistan now does most of the production. Currently, 58% of aircraft are manufactured in Pakistan and 42% in China.

Despite being jointly developed, only Pakistan chose to field it, officially in 2007. The aircraft is intended to replace Pakistan’s aging fleet of Nanchang A-5, Chengdu F- 7 and Mirage III and V.

Pakistani Air Force fighter jet

Members of the Pakistani Air Force check a JF-17 at the Zhuhai Airshow in China’s Guangdong province in October 2018.


With at least 125 in service, the JF-17 is the backbone of the PAF. They were reportedly used to carry out airstrikes against militants in northwest Pakistan and, according to one report, to shoot down an Iranian-made drone in southwest Pakistan in 2017.

Current and retired Pakistani Air Force officials also said a JF-17 shot down an Indian MiG-21 during an air-to-air skirmish in February 2019. (India said its plane had been shot down by a Pakistani F-16.)

The JF-17 has been updated several times since its introduction. The most recent version, the Block III, first flew in late 2019 and features several significant upgrades, including an additional hardpoint, a redundant quad digital flight system, and active electronically scanned array radar.

Pakistan considers the Block III JF-17 a 4.5 generation aircraft and its air force plans to acquire at least 50 of them, the first of which arrived in January. The jets have previously been seen carrying one of China’s most advanced air-to-air missiles.

Affordable and attractive

JF-17 Thunder fighter jet

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 has three.

Ranging from $15 million to $25 million each, the JF-17 is considerably less expensive than virtually every other fourth-generation jet on the market. Add-ons that increase its lethality, such as pod targeting, make it attractive to countries with low defense budgets that want multirole combat aircraft.

“It’s not state-of-the-art, but it’s a reliable player,” Timothy Heath, an international researcher and defense expert at the Rand Corporation think tank, told Insider.

“It’s not an aircraft designed to compete with the F-22, so it doesn’t need the most sophisticated engines and parts,” Heath said. “It is an inexpensive multi-role economic aircraft that is suitable and probably most attractive to developing countries looking for a basic aircraft to bomb their own people, such as insurgents, or to perform base defense against countries of similar type.”

Pakistani fighter jet JF-17 Thunder

A Pakistani JF-17 at a defense display in Karachi in November 2016.


Several countries have expressed interest in the JF-17. Iraq has reportedly agreed to buy at least 12, and Egypt has said it is interested in acquiring JF-17s as part of broader defense cooperation with Pakistan. Azerbaijan has said for years it wants JF-17s, and Bolivia and Argentina are considering the jet.

Argentina has also sought to develop its local production of fighters. If it received a license to build JF-17s in the country, it could make the jet more attractive to its neighbors.

Expanding JF-17 sales could help China increase its market share for “valuable weapons” — less sophisticated but still effective weapons — among middle- and low-income countries, which have long relied on Russia for jet aircraft, armored vehicles, and heavy artillery.

But selling more JF-17s may not translate into greater reliance on Chinese military hardware. Many countries still covet high-end Western-built aircraft and are generally reluctant to rely on a single supplier, so many operate a mix of American, European, Russian and Chinese aircraft.

“It’s a pretty common strategy in the developing world,” Heath said. “Most countries want autonomy, so they tend to want to have diverse providers, even if it complicates their ability to operate all these foreign systems.”

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