Does Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder have a better prospect of sales over Indian LCA Tejas? After its failure to procure the South Korean F/A-50 fighter jets, the Argentine Air Force is considering buying the Pakistani JF-17 Thunder.
While the aircraft has already secured export orders from Nigeria and Myanmar, India’s LCA Tejas has miles to go on that front.
Meanwhile, new reports are emerging that the country is now shifting its interest to other cheaper alternatives, like the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder.
Brigadier Xavier Isaac, the Argentine Air Force chief, reportedly confirmed these speculations in an interview given to Pucara Defense. He mentioned that the country would reconsider the JF-17, especially for the new Block-III variant.
This also marks a significant development for the fighter, which is co-produced by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation of China.
It has appeared as an effective, low-cost, single-engine fighter option for developing countries in the global market – much like the T-50 and IAI Kfir. Its block-III version is in the final stages of development and features an AESA radar.
Compared to its arch-rival HAL Tejas Mk-1A made by India, the Pakistani aircraft has been successful in getting multiple global customers. Also being a low-cost and advanced multirole fighter jet, the new in-development Tejas Mk-1A variant, has, however, attracted the attention of countries like Malaysia and the UAE.
Countries choosing the JF-17 over Tejas is mainly attributed to the low rate of production by HAL, which is about half of their Pakistani counterparts.
Pakistan’s JF-17 Fighter
Speaking to EurAsian Times, Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, said there were many reasons why foreign countries were preferring JF-17s to India’s Tejas.
According to him, there are 10 main reasons why Tejas failed to impress even the Indian Air Force (IAF) in its combat performance.
(1) Tejas has a very small set of weapons integrated with it, mostly Indian and some Western. So, on one hand, you force countries to buy Indian weapons that don’t work for them – or if you get western, they’ll ask, what’s the benefit of buying Indian?
(2) With Pakistan – the JF17 essentially slots into the Chinese supply chain – which has a HUGE variety of proven and demonstrable weapons. So, people buying the JF-17 already have Chinese weapons to mate or are comfortable with buying Chinese weapons that anyway have a proven track record. In fact, countries with bad human rights records would prefer the Chinese as they don’t impose sanctions.
(3) China has a Security Council Veto and any country buying weapons from China can have significant influence over any Security Council decisions (same with US or French or Russian weapon sales). India has no such Veto.
(4) The JF-17 is just a better-slotted plane – if you’re looking to replace MiG 21-27 and Chinese J6 J7 type fighters or older American fighters like the F4 F5 & F104 or upgrade from armed trainers, then the JF-17 offers the right capability and the right price point.
(5) Tejas is just a very confused aircraft – -it doesn’t fit any known market segment.
(6) JF-17 is a modest fighter but whatever advancements it brings are solid and proven.
(7) Tejas is a nightmare – nothing about it is proven – there’s been too much mixing and matching and it inspires zero purchaser confidence.
(8) Finally, the question of re-export. JF-17 uses mostly Chinese but some Italian (avionics and radar) and Russian (engine) equipment – all of which are cleared for re-export to 3rd countries.
(9) Tejas uses American engines, Israeli radar, and a mishmash of avionics from countries that will never authorize re-export.
Shahid Raza, a defense expert from Pakistan, shared similar reasons for JF-17 dominating its Indian counterpart in international export potential. According to Raza,
(10) Tejas also suffers from the fact that currently there’s no major operator of this aircraft, not even the Indian Air Force, which only has a handful of these aircraft in service. This reduces the confidence of any potential buyer.
“In contrast, the JF-17 Thunder program has seen great success. More than 100 units are in service with the Pakistan Air Force with just as many on order. This makes logistics, spare parts, servicing, training, upgrades, and weapons integration a smooth process. This explains why Myanmar and Nigeria have chosen JF-17 Thunder over other options on the market,” Raza adds.
He says other countries such as Azerbaijan, Iraq, and Argentina are likely to place orders for advanced variants of the JF-17 Thunder, motivated by an affordable price tag, smooth availability of after-sale services and generous financing options, a number of other potential customers.
India’s Bid To Get Foreign Buyers for Tejas
To boost the global sales for its flagship Tejas fighter, India’s state-run company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) this year decided to set up logistics bases in Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. These countries use mainly Russian aircraft whose serviceability is considered poor, which HAL wants to take advantage of and pitch its own aircraft.
HAL ramped up its efforts in 2020 to sell Tejas, particularly, in South East Asia, West Asia, and North Africa, along with its other aircraft such as the Rudra attack helicopter and Dhruv light helicopter. Tejas is being marketed as four-and-a-half generation fighter aircraft, allowing it to compete with some of the best-known jets in its class, its makers claim.
There were talks of Malaysia considering to buy the Indian fighter back in 2019, however, no statement has come from the country after that. India’s relations deteriorated with Malaysia after its PM Mahathir Mohamad opposed Modi’s Kashmir policy, making the deal less feasible.
Pakistan’s JF-17, South Korea’s T-50 Golden Eagle, Russian YAK-130, and the BAE Systems’ Hawk were the main contenders to the Indian fighter aircraft vying for the Malaysian Air Force order.
India has sent a response to the US Navy’s request for information (RFI) for its Undergraduate Jet Training System (UJTS), offering its Lead-in Fighter Trainer (LIFT), a version of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). India’s offer is based on LCA Mk1A, which is on order by the Indian Air Force.
The LCA MK 1A has more capabilities than the earlier version of Tejas in terms of operational roles, enhancing the combat ability through the incorporation of active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, electronic warfare (EW) suite and-beyond-visual range (BVR) missiles.
The Indian Air Force placed an order for 83 LCA MK1As this year after the country decided to switch to locally-made aircraft, as reiterated by India’s Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat in an interview in May this year.
In July 2018, the Indian Defence Ministry claimed that two countries, Sri Lanka and Egypt, had also shown interest in the HAL-developed Tejas fighter. However, it insisted that the aircraft had to be inducted by its ‘own’ customer first, which is the Indian Air Force (IAF).
However, none of the countries took the discussions forward. In fact, the aircraft is yet to be fully inducted into the Indian Air Force itself. Some progress was made this year, with the IAF in May formally inducting into service the first LCA Tejas Mk-1 in Final Operational Clearance (FOC) standard and operationalizing its second LCA squadron No. 18 ‘Flying Bullets’.
The air force will have 40+83 Tejas Mk I/IA and around six squadrons of Tejas Mk II in the long run, India’s Air Chief Marshal R.K.S Bhadauria has said. Until the IAF itself fully operates and demonstrates the capabilities of the indigenous Tejas fighters, any foreign deals are unlikely to take place.
The IAF hopes to boost its capabilities with the fifth-generation plus AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft), currently being pursued by India. And with the time and money going into the development of the Tejas variants, experts in India are calling for the indigenous program to be discontinued.