JF-17 Thunder Update – 2014

Inducted in the PAF as a medium-tech combat aircraft in 2010, the JF-17 Thunder’s production has been gathering pace ever since the launch of the Block-2 standard aircraft on 18th Dec 2013. Significant improvements have been incorporated in the ‘Block-II’ variant such as a more powerful radar (KLJ-7 V2),  improved electronics package (EW pods and enhanced sensors), enhanced databus for launch of Precision-Guided-Munitions (PGM – also known as Laser-Guided-Bombs) and long range/stand-off weapons such as the Glide-guided-bomb (LS-6), strengthened wing roots to carry an additional load of up to 3000lbs and last but not the least, the only prominent external add-on; the air-to-air refueling probe (for increased range and loiter time for Combat Air Patrols).

In the recent edition of Zhuhai Air Show 2014, China, CATIC had displayed an array of new weaponry for the JF-17. As compared to the weapons package that was put on display in the previous edition, it seems clear that the PAF, which has invested a heavy capital and human resource over the last decade, wants to get ‘a lot more’ out of the Thunder Programme. The LS-6 Glide-guided-bomb, PL-5EII SRAAM, SD-10 BVRAAM, MAR-1 ARM and C-802 Anti-Ship missile, all have been tested and configured with the JF-17. Weapon testing of CM-400AKG; a 900kg Stand-Off-Missile (SOM) with an impressive range of 180 -250 km is already underway in China.

JF-17 at Zhuhai Air Show 2014, China, CATIC

JF-17 at Zhuhai Air Show 2014, China, CATIC

Weapons package of the JF-17 on display at Zhuhai Airshow 2014. Of prominence are C-802AK Anti-Ship missile (first picture – above ), GB-600 Stand-Off-Weapon (SOW) and C-102 Anti-Radiation Missile. CM-102 is a Anti-Radar Missile with range of 100km. It has high hit accuracy and a 80kg warhead. PAF has already inducted the Brazillian origin MAR-1 ARM for its JF-17 fleet.

-17 Block-II with in-flight refueling probe.

Artistic impression of JF-17 Block-II with in-flight refueling probe. The aircraft is equipped with GBU-12 LGBs and  WMD-7 Pod on centerline station with CCS marking.

Artistic impression of the JF-17 Block-II formation employing 500kg GB-6 SOW

Artistic impression of the JF-17 Block-II formation employing 500kg GB-6 SOW. GB-6 is a 500kg bomb guided with GPS/INS system. It can be used for large-scale ground targets such as vital enemy installations.

Extending the reach:

Among the only major external improvement in the Block-II standard JF-17 is the addition of an in-flight aerial refueling probe. Integration and testing work is underway at PAC (where the air-to-air refueling probe is being integrated on the starboard side of the fuselage just behind the canopy) with joint-collaboration from a South African company.  This modification shall help the JF-17 extend its range and increase its on-station time by air-air-refueling with IL-78 tankers, already in service with PAF.

Two JF-17s are being used as test beds for in-flight-refueling probes. The flight trials with IL-78 tanker are scheduled in the first half of 2015.

More Thunder inductions:

Since its formal induction in the PAF in February 2010, JF-17 has been extensively used in air-defence and fighter-training roles. As the aircraft is maturing into a potent platform with no outside ‘political strings’ attached, the PAF is at a leisure to phase-out its aging fleet of Mirage and F-7 aircraft.

PAF shall receive the long-awaited third squadron of JF-17s end of December. This time the Thunder will join the elite faculty of Combat Commanders School (CCS) where it will replace the F-7 CCS squadron. Formerly known as the Fighter Leaders School (FLS) in the late-1950s, with the expansion and modernization of the PAF there was a need felt to have a specialized institution where experienced fighter pilots could be trained not only as instructors to supervise the training programme of fighter squadrons but also to provide combat leadership in the air. In 1976 FLS was renamed Combat Commanders School (CCS) with a mission to go beyond the stated aims and objectives at the time.  Hence, the roadmap of providing fighter pilots with comprehensive courses in combat leadership and advanced fighter tactics got underway.

With two Thunder Squadron’s already operational (No.26 ‘Black Spiders’ and No.16 ‘Black Panthers’), having a CCS JF-17 Squadron as the third unit to equip the type makes sense and fits the bill for two reasons; Firstly, while the two operational squadrons can focus on ‘polishing’ their pilot skills in the air-to-air and air-to-ground arena, the advanced concepts and tactics which will be validated from the CCS’s Thunder Sqn can then be propagated professionally among the other Thunder Squadrons. Secondly, another major role of the CCS is of conducting weapons trials and surveys.

As the Chief of Air Staff ACM Tahir R Butt was quoted in Flight International (July 2014 issue – interviewed by a British military-aviation journalist Alan Warnes):

“I felt it was too much for a squadron to expect them to be operational, train pilots, visit air shows and do testing, so i split it.”

“These aircraft will bring us newer capabilities with different weapons,” Tahir says. Once the weapons testing parameters are achieved and become operationally ‘fit’ they will be incorporated into the PAF’s combat doctrine and thus help in ensuring the Thunder takes on the same role as that of the F-16, of becoming a true multi-role combat aircraft for the PAF.

CCS Mirage-III taking off from Mushaf AB

CCS Mirage-III taking off from Mushaf AB for Exercise Saffron Bandit (2013). CCS Mirages and F-7s wear high-visibility markings and have a sword painted below the canopy.

CCS bids farewell to F-6 aircraft.

CCS bids farewell to F-6 aircraft. F-7P with modern avionics and chaff/flares dispensers was inducted in the faculty in early 1993.

JF-17 Serial # 13-149 (the second last JF-17 built from first batch of 50 aircraft)

JF-17 Serial # 13-149 (the second last JF-17 built from first batch of 50 aircraft) departs Minhas Air Base for Functional Check Flight (FCF) in July 2013. The entire Block-1 production fleet of JF-17s will be upgraded in phases and brought on par with the Block-2 standard.

JF-17 leads a formation of Mirage-VEF, F-7PG, J-10 (PLAAF) and J-7E (PLAAF) aircraft in Exercise Shaheen-III

JF-17 leads a formation of Mirage-VEF, F-7PG, J-10 (PLAAF) and J-7E (PLAAF) aircraft in Exercise Shaheen-III at PAF Base Rafiqui, May 2014.

Pair of CCS F-7s prepare to taxi for Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) with No.11 Sqn F-16s.

Pair of CCS F-7s prepare to taxi for Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT)

Pair of CCS F-7s prepare to taxi for Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) with No.11 Sqn F-16s.

Zarrar Squadron Mirages

Mirages No.27 Zarrars Squadron 1

No.27 Sqn “Zarrar” is the youngest combat squadron of PAF made operational on April 19, 2007.

The squadron is equipped with Mirage-VEF and Mirage-IIIDP/Mirage-VDD (Dual seat) ROSE-III aircraft, capable to perform day-night offensive and counter offensive operations. The aircraft are equipped with Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) sensors,  Navigation and Attack System (NAS) and Night Vision Goggles capability.

No.27 Sqn has performed in two edition of Exercise Shaheen (Shaheen-I (2011) and Shaheen-III (2014)) with Chinese Air Force and in Exercise Al-Saqoor-II (2011) with Royal Saudi Air Force.

No.27 Sqn Aircraft inventory:

No.27 Sqn aircraft inventory includes mostly Mirage-VEF aircraft procured by PAF in 1996, which later undergone ROSE-III upgrade with the help of Sagem in early 2000s.

Mirage-VEF 96-728 734 745 746 747 748 749 750 752 757  (and few more air frames)
Mirage-VDD 04-001 004
Mirage-IIIDP 70-304

Mirages No.27 Zarrars Squadron 16 Mirages No.27 Zarrars Squadron 5 Mirages No.27 Zarrars Squadron 11 Mirages No.27 Zarrars Squadron 7
Photos of No.27 Sqn Mirages undergoing routine training flights.

Mirages No.27 Zarrars Squadron  6

 

F-16 Block52 induction ceremony fly past

No.5 Sqn ‘Falcons’ Ex-RAAF Mirage IIIDF being escorted by F-16 Block-52 aircraft  during its farewell fly past on 10 March, 2011. The same day; No.5 Sqn was re-equipped with newly inducted state-of-the-art F-16 C/D Block 52+ aircraft. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Chief of the Army Staff, Pakistan Army was the Chief Guest on the occasion. Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, Chief of the Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force also attended the ceremony along with other senior civil and military officials.

No. 5 Sqn was raised on August 15, 1947 and it is PAF’s second oldest fighter squadron. Mirage; the delta winged fighter aircraft, was inducted in the unit in 1967 and remained in service for over 43 years. No. 5 Sqn kept flying Mirage-IIIEA/DA/EP/RP and Mirage-VDR variants for years. Keeping so many Mirage types  operational was a difficult task for the engineering team.

f-16_block52_pakistan_air_force_paf_induction_no_5_sqn_falcons_01 f-16_block52_pakistan_air_force_paf_induction_no_5_sqn_falcons_03

f-16_block52_pakistan_air_force_paf_induction_no_5_sqn_falcons_04 f-16_block52_pakistan_air_force_paf_induction_no_5_sqn_falcons_02

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Kamra base attack: some thoughts

On the night of August 15 and the Holy night of 27th Ramadan a bunch of militants pounded the heart of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Base Minhas situated at Kamra, this is also the place where Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) a leading aviation and defence production centre of Pakistanis located.

The intruders were not just a bunch of well trained, twisted-minded terrorists who could jump in the fire for fun. Neither was it a random attack by suicide bombers with loads of ammunition in their backpacks. It was deliberate and well-planned attack that was precisely executed and skilfully targeted. Unlike most of the earlier attacks on Pakistani forces the targets were not the soldiers.

The terrorists adopted the same mission profile they used in attack on PNS Mehran at Karachi on 22 May 2011, in which terrorists took advantage of civilian populated section of the base, using night as a cover, military uniforms for deception, lethal and automatic weapons like Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) for quick and precise attack. They were aided by modern equipment like Night Vision Goggles (NVG) for better situational awareness at night. Furthermore, this time terrorists took the advantage of strategic surprise by attacking on the Holy night of 27 Ramadan…any practicing Muslim would have been praying that night. Arabs did the same with the Israelis in the Yom Kippur War 1973. Attack on Yom Kippur, an important religious day for Jews, caught the Israeli forces by surprise and the advancing Arab forces accrued great advantage from this tactic.
The Kamra attack raises two major questions: why Minhas Air Force Base (AFB)? And why attack air surveillance systems only?

Minhas AFB is one of the most important air bases of PAF. The major part of the geographic location is shared by PAC, which comprises of four factories i.e. Aircraft Manufacturing Factory (AMF), Avionics Production Factory (APF), Mirage Rebuild Factory (MRF) and Aircraft Rebuild Factory (ARF). These factories build, repair and overhaul major weapons systems of PAF including JF-17 Thunder, Mirage-III/V, F-7P/PG, K-8, Mushshak/Super Mushshak aircraft, low-level and high-level radar systems and engine overhaul of C-130, Y-12 and Boeing-777 aircraft.

Minhas AFB is home to two operational fighter squadrons (namely No.14 squadron equipped with Chinese F-7P aircraft and No.16 squadron with Pak-China JF-17 Thunder aircraft), a Search and Rescue Squadron with Alouette-III helicopters and an air-surveillance squadron comprising of Saab-2000 Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems (AEW&C). Some C-130 transport aircraft and IL-78 Multirole tanker and transport aircraft are also stationed on the base.

Minhas AFB is located near densely populated city of Attock. Back in 1974, it was amongst the lowest populated areas of the district Attock. Today various villages are situated in the outskirts of the base…For reader’s interest; the main road of PAC (on which all four factories are located) was fully open to public till the suicide attack on the road of the base in late 2007.

All these reasons made Minhas AFB the prized target for terrorists. Now coming to the second question i.e. why attack air surveillance systems only?
As mentioned in the beginning of this article that the terrorists adopted mission profile used in attack on PNS Mehran, in which RPG were fired on P-3 Orion Maritime Surveillance Aircraft. That resulted in complete destruction of two of such systems and one Sea King Helicopter as well.

Just like P-3 Orions of Pak Navy (PN), Saab-2000 AEW&C aircraft are very expensive, long range air-surveillance systems. The Saab-2000 AEW&C has a range of up to 450km. It can provide battlefield picture, information about enemy targets (in air, land or sea), enhance situation awareness of combat fleet of PAF by sharing target information. Also, it can continuously remain in the air for a very long period of time.

Saab-2000 AEW&C is not a system to be used in on-going fight in Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). It is an India-centric system. The long-range, high-endurance and deep radar coverage capability of Saab-2000 AEW&C can challenge India’s air superiority in the region. This aircraft is a part of Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) network centric system of PAF. For India, achieving air-superiority without getting the best of such air surveillance systems is not possible. Air battles of today and future will not entirely rely on well-equipped fighter units penetrating enemy air space. The network centric system of war, which includes AEW&C systems sharing battlefield information with fighter units, ground units and battleships will form the order of battle. Now, AEW&C systems are not much of a threat for militants. The question to ponder upon is: are the terrorists attacking Pakistan’s AEW&C and surveillance systems at the behest of another country? This takes state sponsoring of terrorism at a whole new level. It is a manifestation of sub-conventional warfare. What would Pakistani decision-makers do to counter this strategic nightmare? My sense is that they will have to go to whatever limits they consider essential, in their threat perception.

To address these challenges, Pakistani armed forces have to beef up the security of its military installations. Particularly, all those bases with force multiplier systems and air-surveillance systems should be given extra security. All those military bases with residential areas in their outskirts need to be monitored on routinely basis. One must complement the Air Force for a job very well done, as there is no room for complacency. In the present on-going security situation we cannot be relaxed at any given time. Multi-layered security should be made possible in all areas of bases…One thing is for sure, the attackers don’t use the front door anymore.
God bless Pakistan. Amen

A slightly different version of this article was published in The Express Tribune, August 19, 2012. Link