After JF-17 Fighter, Chinese J-11B Jet could be next on Pakistan’s Shopping List
Pakistan’s new fighter jet buy could narrow down to China’s J-11B aircraft as the induction of Rafale jets by India has tilted the air power balance in favor of New Delhi.
The participation of the J-11B fighter jets in the recently concluded China-Pak Shaheen-9 air exercise besides their recent upgrade with an Active Electronically Scanning Array (AESA) radar among others equipment strengthens their case for the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) as an affordable, yet contemporary jet.
At the Shaheen-9 air exercise, PAF Chief of Air Staff Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan flew an “air superiority sortie in a hi-tech Chinese fighter aircraft,” a statement issued by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) said on December 23. The aircraft the Air Chief flew in was not identified, but what we know from images and videos released during the exercise is that the Chinese brought in J-11s and J-10s for the exercise. While both are touted as multi-role aircraft, the twin-engine J-11B is deployed for air-superiority capabilities while the single-engine J-10’s primary role is ground attack.
The modernized J-11B would hold an advantage over the JF-17, currently the leading aircraft in PAF inventory, due to its increased engine power, newly minted AESA radar and a larger option of missiles and bombs.
Delay in JF-17 block III induction
PAF is heavily dependent upon the JF-17 fighter jet whose Block-III version’s production in Pakistan was announced last week. The Block III version will feature an AESA radar, an advanced targeting pod, electronic warfare besides equipping the aircraft with beyond-visual-range missiles. However, it will not be before 2023-24 that the Block III will begin to enter PAF service. By this time India would have inducted nearly all of its ordered 36 Rafale jets.
The PAF has time and against voiced its desire to maintain air parity with India and going to China for either the J-11 or J-10 could be the only way of securing that parity.
The Pak Air Chief was all praise for Chinese military aviation technology stating that it is at par with contemporary requirements to meet challenges of modern warfare. "It was heartening to see the two air forces inter-operating across a wide spectrum of airpower employment options,” he was quoted as saying in the PAF statement.
Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan’s stress on Pak –China air force inter-operability could mean common assets (aircraft, drones, air defense systems, communications systems) that one another’s air forces can fuse together as one. This is similar to the NATO operations book where allied nations are expected to have inter-operable assets.
Earlier, Pakistan bought defence equipment from China due to their comparatively low price tag- but now with inter-operability being the buzzword, the PAF could acquire more of Chinese equipment to make itself fuse with that of the Chinese air force.
An improved variant of China's J-11B (designated J-11BG) aircraft has reportedly entered batch production, the Shenyang Aircraft Co. Ltd. under the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) announced on its Sina Weibo account last week. It is not known what improvements the new J-11BG variant has received, but is widely believed to be equipped with an AESA radar to replace the previous pulse-Doppler radar.
Entering batch production is an indication of either increased domestic intake or an export order. Since China already has significant number of J-11Bs in its inventory which could be modernized to the BG standard, a new production run for a modernized version hints at an export order.
Around the time of the Shaheen -9 exercise, images began appearing in Chinese media of AESA radar equipped J-11B (G) having their nose cones painted in white (as opposed to black cones in earlier generation J-11Bs. Could these new aircraft be destined for Pakistan?
While the Rafale’s Talios targeting pod is considered the current industry standard in the world, not much is known about the targeting pods on the J-11B. China is offering locally made targeting pods for export- the WMD-7 and OC2. Both have similar capabilities - infrared targeting range of 20 kilometers and laser designator with a range of 15 kilometers.
China also began introducing locally made laser guided bomb - the LT-series. These were similar to the American Paveway and the Russian KAB-500L.
Turkish firm Aselsan has signed a contract with Pakistan to integrate its ASELPOD Electro Optical Targeting System onto JF-17 fighter jets. A contract amounting to $24.9 million for 16 ASELPOD systems had been signed in 2017.
Earlier, Pakistan tried unsuccessfully to obtain the Damocles targeting pod made by Thales before settling for the ASELPOD.
Dassault Rafale V/s J-11B
China has operated the J-11B based on Soviet Su-27 Flankers since mid-1990s. According to reports, the J-11B’s radar signature and immunity from jamming is considerably inferior to those of the most modern Rafale variants which are equipped with newer AESA radars. The time needed for the Rafale to scan its surroundings is also shorter relative to the J-11B.