Skip to comments.This Is the Ultimate MiG-21 (Pakistani JF-17 builds on classic warplane)
Posted on 03/29/2014 7:10:45 AM PDT by sukhoi-30mki
In 1989, the Chinese Chengdu Aerospace Corporation unveiled a major upgrade for its locally-made F-7 jet fighter, a licensed copy of the classic Soviet MiG-21. The new F-7 variant moved the engine air intake from the nose tip to the sides of the fuselage, making room in the nose for a more powerful radar.
Twenty-one years later, this upgradenow named JF-17 Thunderis flying combat missions with the Pakistani air force, so far its sole user. Further enhanced with a new wing, a cutting-edge intake design and a new, more powerful engine, the JF-17 is Pakistans most important front-line fighterand a remarkable extension of a basic plane design dating back to the 1950s.
In essence, the JF-17 is the ultimate MiG-21. In a sector increasingly dominated by American-made stealth fighters, European canard planes and variants of the Russian Su-27, the JF-17 is an outliera highly evolutionary plane that doesnt try to be revolutionary.
After all, revolutionary is expensive.
MiG-21. Photo via Wikipedia
The Soviet MiG corporation began work on the MiG-21 Fishbed in the early 1950s, an era during which most air forces wanted very fast jet fighters, regardless of the design compromises necessary to achieve high speeds. With a theoretical top speed of Mach 2, the MiG-21 meets that expectationand also boasts a simple, single-engine layout, good climb performance and decent maneuverability.
But the basic MiG-21 has its drawbacks. Its difficult to control and its canopy provides poor visibility. It carries enough gas for barely an hour of combat flying. And its nose intake precludes the carriage of a large radar.
Still, MiG made thousands of Fishbeds for the USSR and client states. Several countries including China acquired licenses to build their own copies. Sixty years later, hundreds of MiG-21s remain in front-line use across Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia.
Chinas F-7 is a much-improved MiG-21 with better pilot visibility, a locally-produced engine and some Western-made avionics. But the F-7 still suffers from a lack of space in the nose for a bigger and more powerful radar. Hence the 1989 proposal to move the air intake to the fuselage sides.
Pakistan had bought F-7s and, in the 1980s, hired the U.S. plane-maker Grumman to work alongside Chengdu in an effort to improve the fighters. But U.S. and European sanctions following Chinas Tiananmen Square massacre ended the American-Chinese collaboration.
Pakistan, which also struggled with Western sanctions tied to Islamabads nuclear tests, took an interest in the modified F-7. Over a decade of work, the side-intake MiG-21 variant evolved into something much more sophisticated: the JF-17. Chinese, Pakistani and Russian engineers added a better wingsimilar to the U.S. F-16s wingplus so-called divertless intakes that work equally well while the plane is flying fast or slow.
Russia provided the modern RD-93 engines for the JF-17. And most importantly, the new jets roomier nose is big enough for Chinas KLJ-7 radar, able to detect and track targets on the ground and in the air.
Production began in China in 2006 and soon moved to a facility in Pakistan owned by the Pakistani air force, making the JF-17 the only jet fighter in the world actually manufactured by an air arm, rather than by a private corporation. Islamabad inaugurated the first Thunder squadron in 2010. And that same year, the new jets flew bombing missions targeting suspected terrorists in South Waziristan, part of Pakistans restive tribal area.
Clearly pleased, Islamabad ordered 150 JF-17s to form the backbone of its air force for the next 30 years. More than 40 are already in service.
Pakistani air force JF-17. Photo via Wikipedia
Priced to move at an estimated $25 million per copy, the JF-17 is possibly the cheapest new-build fighter in the world today. By comparison, each of Americas F-35 stealth fighters costs around $200 million apiece at presentalthough the F-35 could get less expensive as development continues.
The JF-17 is not stealthy. But it does have roughly the same agility as an early-model F-16A, according to Pakistani pilots whom Piet Luijken interviewed for Combat Aircraft magazine. That means the JF-17 is probably a much better close-range dogfighter than the F-35 and many other current jets.
Plus, the Thunder can carry some shockingly dangerous weaponry. In November 2013, the Pakistanis took the JF-17 on tour in a bid to sell the plane to other air arms. Luijken caught up with the display team during their stopover in Dubai, where he spotted a CM-400AKG anti-ship missile under a JF-17s wing.
The CM-400AKG flies up to 150 miles as fast as Mach 4. China designed the munition specifically to target American aircraft carriers, but it could prove equally devastating to other warships. Pakistan is the first export customer. In addition to the CM-400, the JF-17 can carry a wide array of air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons.
It might be a descendent of the 60-year-old MiG-21, but the JF-17 is a thoroughly modern warplaneand an affordable one. The same cant always be said of the F-35 and other current fighters.
Have to dig up some of our F-4 Phantoms so this thing will have some competition.
So a missile going mach 4 hits a massed shielding spray of water cannon fire some 25- 50 yards out from the ship...any chance that the missile at least gets deflected if not exploded? Depending on how it hit the spray, say full on, at mach 4 that’s gotta like hitting a concrete wall.
Silly questions I know. Ships are great for projecting power, but they are also sitting targets and are useless if they can’t deflect ship killing missiles.
Really? It can pop 9Gs?
The MiG 21 can easily pop 9 Gs. One time.
US ships throw up a wall of lead with Phalanx.
Teh Phantom was a terrible close in fighter. It was designed to get within range and then shoot a missile at the enemy aircraft. This highly modified Mig-21 would eat a Phantom’s lunch.
“the JF-17 is possibly the cheapest new-build fighter in the world today.”
Finally something from China that’s not just another pimped-out MiG-21.
And assuming the CIWS can make a hit (big assumption), the debris is still coming in faster than the 20mm shells were going out. That is one helluva shotgun blast coming at you.
The Mig-21 original was a classic, and much better looking than the derivative.
But unlikely to disable the ship.
The F-7 etc. is eggzackly a way pimped-out MiG-21.... and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the F-16G, a pimped out F-16 that went nowhere around here.
The original MiG-21 was a cheap hot rod, but basically a great all-time and infinitely flexible design. (Must be a hell of a used-plane market for them somewhere). The next version will probably get a canard to meet the demand from fashion-conscious Third World Air Forces working on a non-oil budget. If these folks ever discover aerial refueling, we could be very uncomfortable. Right now, these babies are sort of range-challenged. (Thank God!)
Question for the USAF. Would we rather have 15 of something like this, or 1 F-35? 20 of'em, or 1 F 22? Quantity has a quality all its own.