The production of the JF-17 Block III fighter jet has reportedly begun.
Citing Chinese state media, The Diplomat reported on March 13, 2019, that the latest version of the joint-Chinese and Pakistani fighter jet JF-17 — the Block III — has entered production. The publication quoted chief designer Yang Wei as saying at a press conference earlier in March, “All related work is being carried out. The third block will see the JF-17’s informatized warfare capability and weapons upgraded.”
He did not seemingly offer any further specifics, making it unclear whether air frame assembly has begun.
The news comes around a year after former Pakistani Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, in a farewell speech, said that the Block III design had been completed after a development period of over two years.
Chief among the expected upgrades for the Block III version is the integration of the KLJ-7A active electronically scanned array radar, which will make the Block III JF-17s the first AESA-equipped aircraft in Pakistani service, The Diplomat noted. The aircraft KLJ-7A will replace the KLJ-7. Other improvements target upgrading the aircraft’s avionics.
It is not known when the first Block III prototype will make its first flight. In November 2018, Pakistani Air Commodore Rashid Habib said that the jet should be operational by 2021, aviation journalist Alan Warnes reported.
Earlier this year, Pakistan test-fired a beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile from the JF-17 and, this week, carried out a test of what appeared to be an air-launched precision-guided munition. The Pakistani military released footage of the latter test but blacked out the actual munition deployed. It has been suggested online that the munition was the Takbir, a local version of the Chinese LS-6 developed by Pakistani firm GIDS, but this has not been officially confirmed.
A Pakistani JF-17 may have been responsible for shooting down an Indian MiG-21 in an aerial skirmish late last month that followed an Indian strike on an alleged Jaish-e-Mohammed camp. The Pakistani military captured and later returned the pilot of the MiG-21, but has not officially said what aircraft was responsible for shooting the MiG-21 down — other than to deny Indian assertions that Pakistan utilized its U.S.-supplied F-16s in the fight. India provided evidence of an AIM-120 air-to-air missile fragment with a contract number from a past sale involving Pakistan.
Shares of a Chinese aircraft corporation related to the JF-17 line briefly spiked on the rumors of the aircraft being involved in the skirmish with India.
The U.S. is reportedly investigating the incident to determine whether Pakistan utilized F-16s and, if so, whether the usage of the aircraft violates end-user agreements between the two countries. The terms of those agreements have not been made public.