In what seems to be a rare admission, Chinese experts have said that the French-built Rafale fighter jets, procured by India, are far superior to Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) frontline fighters, the JF-17 Thunder.
Even before five of the 36 Rafale fighters made a touchdown at the Indian Air Force’s Ambala airbase, military experts have been busy pitting the fighters against Pakistan’s JF-17s.
The lightweight, single-engine, multi-role JF-17 fighter was designed in the wake of the PAF seeking a replacement for their aging combat aircraft such as the A-5C, F-7P/PG, Mirage III, and Mirage V.
The aircraft is the end-product of the collaboration of the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) of China. Pakistan currently has a fleet of over 100 JF-17 fighter jets, which it has developed with the help of China.
The fighters which can be used for multiple roles, including interception, ground attack, anti-ship, and aerial reconnaissance, are believed to have given the PAF the necessary air power to confront its eastern rival, the Indian Air Force.
However, according to the Chinese news website Sohu, the French Rafales are still considered the most advanced fighters in the world as compared to the JF-17s.
“India bought 36 Rafale fighters from France at a high price, which put a lot of pressure on Pakistan. After all, the Rafale fighter is one of the most advanced fighters in the world. Pakistan does not know its actual capabilities, so it is a little uncertain,” Chinese experts, writing for Sohu said.
The 4+ generation Rafale is a twin-engine, canard-delta wing, multirole fighter aircraft equipped with a wide range of weapons.
The fighter which is already ready to be deployed from Ladakh can perform air supremacy, interdiction, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike, and nuclear deterrence missions.
JF-17 Block 3
However, last year, Yang Wei, the chief designer of the fighter jet, said the development and production of the JF-17 Block 3 were underway, with the third block seeing an enhancement in information-based warfare capability and weapons.
Moreover, there have been reports of potential deployment of long-range Chinese PL-15 missiles on the upgraded JF-17 jet.
The PL-15 missile, which is a radar-guided weapon, is said to have a greater range than both US-built AMRAAM and the Russian R-77, which is in service with the IAF. The missiles use a conventional rocket motor, unlike the Meteor that will be carried by the IAF’s Rafale fighter jets.
According to experts, the PL-15 has a greater range than the Meteor on account of its higher fuel capacity and poses a serious threat to IAF’s Rafales.
“The Rafale fighter has now been integrated with the Meteor long-range air-to-air missile. The maximum range of this missile is said to be 150 kilometers,”
The latest version of Xiaolong (JF-17) fighter BLOCK3 is compatible with the Thunderbolt 15 long-range air-to-air missile. It has a range of more than 160 kilometers and a maximum range of 200 kilometers,” according to the expert writing for Sohu.
JF-17s Plagued With Issues
Regardless of the claims made by the experts based within China, the word in India is that the Pakistani fighter jets are currently been plagued by maintenance problems.
While Pakistan has gone ahead with the production of the advanced Block 3 variant of the fighters, the problem is that they have been hit by the unavailability of engines and spare parts.
According to Srinjoy Chowdhury, writing for Times Now News, “The reason is the JF-17’s Russian-made engine, the RD-93, and the sanctions by the United States of America on Rosoboronexport, the Russian defense trade agency, since 2018. Engines need to be overhauled; they need to be replaced after a certain number of hours of flying. And only Rosoboronexport can ensure overhauling and provide new engines or spare parts.”
“The sanctions prevent Rosoboronexport from doing US dollar transactions. So, there are payment issues that the two governments and the concerned banks have not sorted out, sources said. As a result, ensuring the JF-17 is ready to fly is becoming more difficult and will be more so in the future,” he said.
For the time being, Pakistan is looking to replace the fighter’s Russian RD-93 engines with Chinese versions, however, if they will be capable enough to power the fighters or not is still not clear.