Have the Chinese copied the F-16’s design and made the JF-17 for Pakistan?
Danial Shazly, Ex-Editor, Asian Defense & Diplomacy
The Chinese didn’t copy the F-16. The JF-17 has an interesting story. The JF-17 has a DNA that lead from the initial design called Super-7 which was an improved, modified version of the J-7/F-7 which was the copy of the MiG-21 Fish-bed.
The evolution from the F-7M to the Super-7 was evident and Grumman’s involvement was to improve existing design to become even more better. Grumman was very good at during the design stages and inputs of avionics as well as weapons system. The design elements was evident in how it evolved and Grumman played a major role on design testing. When sanctions was slapped on China, Grumman pulled out which led to China going on its own to further develop the Super-7 for the last 10–13 years.
Major design changes was tested on F-7 Air-guard such as the aircraft below. China had to test new design approach to see the best results in overall flight improvements.
The design was further improved from the Super-7 to the FC-1/JF-17 where some minor redesign was made which includes a new rear fin and tail as well as enlarge on the wings, new air intake as well as extension of the body of the jet to the wings, a kind of wing body blending which is not evident on the Super-7…Most of the improvements from Super7 to the JF-17 was from Pakistan inputs on its knowledge from the F-16..The tail has been redesign and so was the fin. A bigger engine was incorporated using an improved engine from the MiG-29…This approach was evident on the MiG-21–97 Fishbed which was earlier incorporated with the MiG-29 engine. The Fulcrum engine was used as the main engine for the JF-17 due to similar fitment arrangement of the MiG-21–97
In summary, the JF-17 was not from the F-16 but there was an element of F-16 technology in the JF-17 such as the Fly-By-Wire, mechanical actuators in the rear and fin as well as modification of the tail from Super-7 to that of similar design to the early model F-16.
Author’s Summary. The JF-17 is a stunning development on a small budget. A development cost of US$500 million is stunning. The “Thunder” get’s its DNA from the J-7/MiG-21. From the Fishbed DNA to JF-17 is really stunning development. I think this is one of the ways for aerospace industries to develop newer fighter jets using existing DNA framework of existing jets. In today’s world, the F-35 Lightning II has progress and changed the way air combat and strike missions are delivered. It has become a complex affair and that has been evident during the rough development period. The JF-17 has gone through turbulent times since its initial Super7 era. The JF-17 has demonstrated that a well planned cost effective jet can materialise with a smaller development. This could also be the case for the Iranian F-5E but the transformation for the JF-17 is far more than that. With the introduction of the Block III, the JF-17 has again redefine the sky. No more thoughts about being the best and most agile fighter, but the thought now is focus on embedding new technology that could fight an air combat through the use of helmet cueing system, long range radar and high tech air to air missiles as well as smart ground attack munitions. We talk about precision warfare. The JF-17 Block III has entered late in the game but nevertheless its an achievement from a new aerospace player in a tight fighter market now being aggressively dominated by the likes of Rafale, Typhoon, Gripen, MiG-35 and the Su-30–35 series fighters. Could the Thunder be a successful product? It will all depend how confidence Pakistan and China can influence global markets!