Is JF-17 Thunder Fighter Jet a Better Choice than HAL Tejas?

JF-17-Thunder

With reports of Malaysia and Pakistan discussing the export of the JF-17 Thunder Fighter Jet, comparisons between Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder and the Indian HAL Tejas have surfaced again. Although the JF-17 Thunder and HAL Tejas are comparable at many levels like easy maintenance, lightness and manoeuvrability, the fact that the JF-17 Thunder is ready for sale, has given it a head-start. So is the JF-17 Thunder really better than the HAL Tejas?

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After the Defense Services Asia exhibition 2018, a Pakistani official announced that Malaysia and Pakistan had begun discussing the export of the JF-17 Thunder Fighter Jet, for the Royal Malaysian Air Force combat fleet.

Is Malaysia Ready to Enlist the JF-17 Thunder Fighter Jet?

The official from Pakistan clarified that the discussions were ‘preliminary’ and no deals between the governments had been signed yet. In fact, Pakistan has extended support to locally manufacture, maintain, repair and take care of overhaul in partnership with Malaysia’s local industry.

As reported in The Diplomat:

“Powered by a Russian designed but Chinese license-built Klimov RD-93 (an RD-33 derivative) turbofan engine, [the JF-17 thunder] can reportedly reach a top speed of up to Mach 1.6 and has an operational range of up to 1,200 kilometres without refuelling,”

Malaysia has stated its interest in acquiring a twin-engine fighter plane for over 10 years, however, a dearth of funds has not allowed the country to go ahead with the plans. In fact, Malaysia plans to replace it’s Mig-29s with around eighteen new combat jets.

JF-17 Thunder vs Tejas

Both the nations – India and Pakistan – are aware of the potential of combat planes such as the JF-17 Thunder and the HAL Tejas in the current market. While both models may be similar, the availability of Pakistans fighter jet makes it more popular. However, both the JF-17 and Tejas hold a very wide customer base in economically weakened nations that require low cost but effective air defence.

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There was news about Sri Lanka interested in buying the JF-17 Thunder but India supposedly derailed the deal by offering upgraded versions of the Mig 27s, free of cost, in a hope to sell the Tejas to Sri Lanka in the future. However, the fact is that India is not ready to offer the Tejas to the international market, while the JF-17 Thunder Fighter Jet is ready and up for sale.

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Will India’s Make In India Program Outshine the JF-17 Thunder?

India is trying to shift from one of the world’s largest importer to being an exporter with PM Modi’s Make In India program focusing on military development. However, lack of resources and poor execution have not allowed India to go ahead with its plans.

The HAL Tejas is a matter for pride for the Indian defence industry, however, it has taken nearly 3 decades for the project to reach its current stage and that is something India needs to reflect upon. On the other hand, the JF-17 Thunder by Pakistan has gathered operational experience and made it a bigger buying potential for foreign buyers.

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