The latest version of Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder aircraft could be equipped with what is seen as the most advanced air-to-air missile in the Chinese arsenal, according to reports.
Till now, only the Chinese J-20 ‘Mighty Dragon’ has been carrying this missile.
On April 27, an image surfaced on the internet showing a JF-17 Thunder Block-III prototype (No. 3001) armed with two wingtip-mounted PL-10E short-range AAMs. The image, published by airliners.net, was reportedly taken in March 2021.
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This is part of a major modernization program for the Sino-Pakistani fighter JF-17 Thunder, also called FC-1 Xiaolong in China.
This is a single-engine fourth-generation multi-role combat aircraft designed to replace the aging A-5C, F-7P/PG, Mirage III, and Mirage V combat aircraft in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
The new variant of the fighter, called the Block-III, comes with many upgrades over its predecessors including an AESA radar and an impressive air-to-air missile arsenal.
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With this, the Pakistan Air Force would have another credible fighter jet complementing the American F-16 Falcons. However, the service would have to manage without real-time datalinks as the American jets use Link-16 datalink, while Pakistan operates the Link-17.
The PL-10E is reportedly among the most advanced AAMs in its league and was specifically developed for China’s fifth-generation J-20 fighter jet. The missile is in the same bracket as the AIM-9X Sidewinder and the AIM-132 ASRAAM.
JF-17 Block 3#JF17 pic.twitter.com/ABaqHO3DEm
— International Defence Analysis (@Defence_IDA) April 27, 2021
It has 90° High-Off Bore Sight (HOBS) capability. When cued with a Helmet Mounted Display and Sight (HMDS) system, it significantly eases the operator’s effort to zero in on an airborne target by allowing him to gain a lock-and-fire the missile without turning the whole airframe towards the target.
The imaging-infrared (IIR) seeker is another major highlight, as it is highly resistant to infrared flares and focuses on aircraft signature precisely according to the developers. This will also be the first missile of such type to be integrated with a Pakistan Air Force platform.
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“Thanks to its infrared-homing, extreme aerodynamic design and other advanced technologies, no aircraft, even stealth ones, can escape from the PL-10,” eastday.com reported. It is understandable as it homes in on the aircraft’s infrared signature, not radar signature.
With the PL-10E, the JF-17 Block III will get a tremendous boost in its dogfighting abilities and will have an edge over its rivals — especially the Indian Air Force fighters.
Strikingly, on a day when the JF-17 image surfaced on social media, the Indian Air Force successfully integrated the Python-5 AAM with its homegrown fighter LCA Tejas.