Flying & Fighting in the JF-17 Thunder: Interview with Pakistan Air Force fighter pilot

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JF-17 pic credits: author/PAF

The JF-17 Thunder is one of the rarest and least known fighter aircraft in the world. Operated solely by the Pakistan Air Force*, it is a capable fighter in the same class as the F-16. On conditions of anonymity, we spoke to one JF-17 pilot to learn more. 

The views expressed are not the official positions of the PAF.

“Best thing: Continuous upgrades of indigenous and Chinese weapons/electronic counter-measures suites, standoff capabilities of exceptional range i.e REK/IREK,CM-400,C-802AK etc.  Worst : limited BVR load-out.”

What advice would you give to new pilots on the type? “Know your books and more importantly know the adversaries books. The modern jets are complex fighting machines so you must be at ease with all the systems in order to employ your jet with confidence.

For all new pilots: you have to be a perfect blend of nerdiness and madness.. Fighter flying is nothing without study and passion.”
How would you rate the aircraft in terms of A. sustained turn rates B. instantaneous turn C. High alpha D. Acceleration ?

What has been your most memorable mission & why was that?

“One mission took place in the days following the Indian Air Force’s attempted strikes in Pakistan border region-  at five in the night I took off in rain and low cloud with TS in the vicinity. Clouds were from 4,000 till 33,000 feet. Got out of clouds and controller reported two Su-30s ‘across the fence’. I targeted them at ranges beyond 50-60 NM but didn’t get authorisation to engage from controller, continued to grind above 32,000 flowing hot and cold 20-30NM from fence targeting the Su-30s. The IAF scrambled a total of six more Su-30s and finally I had eight Su-30s in front. Would turn hot and target each one in sequence from north to south (just spike them seeing whether they get lured in or not). After hitting texaco (air refuelling) returned to based amid rain and wet runway.. the first thing ground crew did was count the missiles.. gave a disappointed look once all were intact. the same profile continued for a couple of month but that first mission was an unbelievable experience.”

How would you rate the JF-17s sensors & weapons? “KLJ-7 radar plus Indra radar warning receiver plus Self-Protection Jamming, ASEL targeting Pod equals a very potent system. We have air-ground/sea stand-off weapons with ranges of over 50NM,  well out of SAM ranges”

Which aircraft have you flown DACT against- which was the most challenging and why?

“DACT : F-16 Block-52+ , Mirage, F:7P.

Turkish F-16s. Definitely F-16+AMRAAM combo was the most challenging.”

What is the best and worst thing about the cockpit?

“Best Thing : The Fully digital cockpit with 3 MFDs … Worst thing: Mmmm… no towel racks !”

What do the ground crew think of the aircraft?

What is the greatest myth about the aircraft?
“Everything about it is a myth to the outside world because nobody operationally uses it. Only PAF flies it so envelope expansion in terms of capability continuously takes place and scant details are available to other.”
So how good is the JF-17? Here

Is it easy to land?

“The easiest aircraft to land amongst what I’ve flown till date. Much more easy than even basic trainers.”

Interview with Mirage 2000 pilot here

What’s the best way to fight a M2000?
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Mirage 2000 with MICA- a threat to be respected.

How would you describe the Thunder in three words?

“Underrated, Reliable, Effective.”

“This is just a fun photo, done with a Thunder-shaped keychain while holding in the pattern”

In the valley… north of Pakistan near Kashmir

“F-16 .. for the initial 180deg turn, then Thunder all the way. JF-17 with PL-10 mod (currently in pipeline) will trump F-16 with AIM-9M any day of the week, but currently on brute performance F-16 has the edge.”

How good is the engine?

“With the current config engine produces sufficient power – but who doesn’t like a bit of extra thrust?

Which weapons are currently in frontline service on JF-17?

“Currently we have PL-5(IR missile) SD-10(BVR). C-802 anti ship standoff , REK/IREK air-surface standoff with multiple warhead/seekers/roles and then all the GP Bombs, CM-400 and host of other A/G weapons for precision strikes. All that with the integrated ASEL Pod for targeting.”

Interview with IAF MiG-25 pilot here

How would you rate the Thunder’s sensors?

“They are mission/role compatible with continuous upgrades being done on a regular basis. We’ve tested them in a high intensity stand off and everything worked liked a charm which goes to show the resilience of avionics in an intense environment.”

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“This is just a fun photo, done with a Thunder-shaped keychain while holding in the pattern”

 

“It is one of the most digitised cockpit I’ve flown till date. Even the F-16’s cockpit fades in comparison to the Thunder’s cockpit layout.”

Interview with MiG-27 pilot here

The IAF and PAF account of the 2019 vary, what actually happened? What are popular misunderstandings of it? 

“We shot a MiG-21 on our side and a Su-30 on their side (which we didn’t claim initially because we already had the MiG-21 pilot in custody and that was enough of a message that we had the superiority). Plus we didn’t want to rub it in their face that we had shot two jets which in turn would escalate the problem. Needless to say, we have the wreckage of MiG-21 with all four missiles intact (hence no shooting of our jets took place) plus our electronic warfare (EW) platforms have all the radio transmissions of the IAF — and it’s a treat to listen to those confused and devastated calls of IAF pilots and controller which the shooting was taking place (IAF do not operate on secure radios so all their RT chatter is easily picked by EW platforms. Plus a MiG-21 in Block zero-one i.e below 20,000 with AA-12 Adder can only dream of getting a missile off rail against targets beyond 20NM (plus the Kopyo radar doesn’t support AA-12 launches beyond 20NM and that too on head-on aspects). Plus the evidence the Indians showed was a AMRAAM piece on their side claiming it was from a F-16 they shot. My simple question: if they found a piece of AMRAAM on their side but no jet attached to it then where did the wreckage go? Duhhh. And for a MiG to launch a missile against an F-16 and get it to A-pole and in the meantime get shot by another jet speaks poorly of the MiG-21’s pilot’s priorities as a fighter pilot. Nobody in their right frame of mind would enter the kill zone being spiked from all side and still continue hot without listening to any controller or formation member. In the intense comm jam environment with non secure radio the poor MiG-21 pilot didn’t receive any threat warnings given by his controller and I’m sure he didn’t have a moving map display telling him he had crossed the border and the comms were being jammed.”

Have you fired live weapons, what was it like?

“I’ve fired General Purpose bombs of various sizes and done strafing. Haven’t had the pleasure of letting go a missile yet.”

2019 analysis: How good is the Block II Pakistan JF-17 fighter aircraft today compared to its peers and potential threats? Here

Tell me something I don’t know about the JF-17..

“What the world doesn’t know about thunder? The autonomy it brings to PAF in terms of operations, numbers and capabilities is something that air forces around the world dream of the thing about thunder is that the factory that produces thunder is located in Pakistan..so we have all the support available inland. It is a nimble aircraft with a state of the art cockpit…it has air-air / air-ground stand off /air-sea stand off capability.. and a potent EW suite. It is continuously being upgraded with longer range weapons in all roles since we do all the integration ourselves.”

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28 comments

  1. Dominic Dcoco

    The pilot seems like a novice who had recently joined airforce and is much flattered by the BVR and Limited tech capabilities without actually having any clue about the manoeuver that IAF deployed. Particularly the element of surprise which Mig-21 showed. Which was a repetition of a fighting sequence showed during Red Flag 2008 exercise and outwitted USAF’s F-15 12:1. None of the F-16 dared to cross the LOC and launched 4-5 AMRAAMs at a distance greater than 50-60kms from Su-30s, which shows how unprofessional the pilots are given the 10% success rate of BVRs launched at greater distance from the adversity. The standoff laser weapons and glide bombs were also fired from across the LOC.The Su-30 were in defensive position SO AS TO SECURE the vital military installations and were subsequently flying at low altitudes. Had Su-30 showed the resolve to attack first with a strike package of 24 of them Pak Air Force would have not even made it to the air, as seen yesterday during Balakot Strike.

    • Tango Hotel

      None of the recently joined pilots are allowed to fly thunder it took atleast 8 years of flying for a pilot to make it to thunder and falcon your argument is foul in my sight.

      • Wasim

        In PAF only 1 out of every 400 applicants get selected n are fully trained experienced pilot as mentioned for 8 years! I think some are expressing wishful thoughts. US satellites n experts clearly shows only trees 🌲 were hit in Balakot. Foreign Policy’s report along with all F-16 counts to be complete by US officials further forced IAF general to call US officials n Pentagon liars on NDTV which I found quite amusing to see. Now If no wreckage is found n all missiles are in tact on the Mig 21 claimed to have downed Pak F-16 then I rest assure PAF lost no F-16 n this is only fabricated by IAF to make the so called surgical aerial strike a success which is clearly not the case.

    • Mr. Robot.

      Ridiculous comment .. PAF strike was being supported by AWACS ..No way Abhinandan could avoid being picked up instantaneously by the SAAB Erieye ..He was picked up instantaneously after take-off and was locked on by multiple F-16’s . its ridiculous to think that IAF would be able to pull off the stunt they did in Red Flag and sneak up on PAF ..Also USAF was limited by the rules of the exercise a lot during the said exercise . Finally, why would the Pak F-16 want to cross? and who says that purpose of BVR fired by PAF was to necessarily down IAF jet?.. It may have been to keep your Su-30 out of engagement. And on that count alone, it was successful. haha.. btw .. they PAF did shoot down a Su-30 .. so yeah ..

      • Noti papa

        Just to be clear it was JF-17 not F-16 or do you disagree? I believe F-16’s were never deployed

  2. RoZone

    No Su-30 got a single scratch.
    The AMRAAM simply timed out after losing Lock and self detonated and it’s debris was found near a village right on the foothills of Pir Panjal.

  3. Maverick

    The greatest evidence of the shooting down of SU-30 was the fratricide of Indian helicopter, minutes after the initial engagement. It is a standard operating procedure that no slow moving traffic is allowed to airborne in a hostile airspace. Why was helicopter allowed to airborne in the first place? The answer is simple: it got airborne in great urgency, on a mission to secure important pieces from SU-30 MKI wreckage, lest they fall in wrong hands. The father of one of the killed pilot affirmed that in a TV interview, stating that his son airborne to look for the downed aircraft. Panic ridden and overwhelmed IAF air defenses, then shoot down its own in a show of remarkable incompetence. Another evidence was the removal of AOC western command the day after the battle. Captured pilot, fratricide and frontline aircraft downed. No wonder IAF, thoroughly humiliated relied on cock and bull stories to cover it.

    • RoZone

      The father never said anything like that.
      I was the boss of the reporter who interviewed him.

      AOC-in-C WAC retired as he turned 60 on 17th Feb and all 3 star officers must retire on last day of the month they turn 60.

    • Swaminathan

      Pure Fantasy. The helicopter took off for Search and rescue of Downed Indian Pilot of Mig 21 Not Su 30 s All Su 30 are accounted for and Su30 were jamming AMRAAM missile by Electronic War Fare

      • Mehmood

        Pure Fantasy from you , the hindustani side knew that both the mig and it’s pilot were in the pakistani side , that the su 30 had fallen on their own side ! the heli also knew that the whole area was hot, so crossing over into the pakistani side was not feasible

      • Mehmood

        no one , repeat no one from the hindustani side said , “all su 30’s are accounted for ” !! hindustani proclivity to lie exposed, they took something the pakistanis said , only because these were the words used by the US state department to confirm that all f 16’s were accounted for , as they are allowed to count all the f 16’s that pakistan has , even those purchased from jordan , as part of an end user agreement !

    • Swaminathan

      How Do You like my story when warlike situation is there everybody is in his highest level of alertness and a very simple mistake can cause havock remember the term the war was lot because a nail was lost

  4. Swaminathan

    PAF Claim That it shot down Su 30 is pure fantasy. AMRAAM Missile variation held by Indians Is Not From Taiwan Air Force Stocks.The Curious Case Of The Third Pilot and The Pictures of Missiles that the crashed Mig 21 show that at least two of them have been fired

    • Mehmood

      so what if AMRAAM misssile variation held by hindustani air force is not from taiwan air force , the pakistani side showed all 4 air to air missiles that a mig 21 has , with serial numbers there for the world to see ! the mig did not fire anything , it got shot down instead , it was amusing to see hindustan try to save face by concocting this story out of the blue ! you even had one nationally known tv host get disgraced in front of the whole of hindustan when the wreckage he was showing gleefully to the world as that of a f 16 was pointed out to be that of a mig 21 by a hindustani hindu expert ! you and your nation make up stories like no tomorrow , part of your propaganda war !

  5. Mehmood

    Notice Abhinandan never mentioned shooting down any aircraft when speaking of his activities , which he did in detail when captured !

  6. Johnny Reed

    I’m not sure why Indians are still claiming a 12:1 “outwitted” ratio for their Mig 21s against USAF F-15s when the Pakistanis shot down one and captured its pilot.

    Its also interesting the commanding officer of the IAF Western Command was “retired” the very next day of the incident, when both nuclear powers were on full war alert and it was looking like an all-out war would break out any minute. And even more incredible that the pilot who was shot down by Pakistan was given a medal for gallantry!!

    And in all of this, the IAF seems to have forgotten it shot down an F-16 after sources in the pentagon told a reporter all PAF F-16s were accounted for.

    Oh the fog of war and what it can do to nations.

  7. Blue Mirage

    Pure propaganda piece. But safe to say that no IAF fighter pilot loses sleep at night worrying about the JF-17.

  8. Harpreet

    The only reason he is not bad-mouthing Mirage 2000 is because they probably hope to secure some seconded jets from France to replace their M3/5. IAF Sukhois are of course no-good. Except when they are exercising with PLAAF, Sukhois are all ooh ahh then.

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  13. Scarecrow454

    Paf sure do respect fancy mirages, sukhois and upcoming rafales but they most certainly don’t respect shitty pilots who fly them

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