India’s Tejas and Paskistan’s JF-17, These fighters have attracted the special attention of military and aviation enthusiasts.
The hostile relationship between India and Pakistan
The relationship between India and Pakistan is one of the most complex in South Asia. The hostile relations between these two major South Asian countries have been going on for decades, and there seems to be no sign of stopping.
When Britain withdrew from India in 1947, this colonial power left behind a legacy of careless or arbitrarily divided borders. Dangerous confrontations in Kashmir, followed by retaliatory attacks by Indian and Pakistani fighters, have put the two nuclear powers on the brink of a catastrophic confrontation.
Not only facing each other in border hotspots, these two countries are also rivals in the defense industry. Their competitive instincts have led to two notable fighter development programs: India’s Tejas and Paskistan’s JF-17.
These fighters have attracted the special attention of military and aviation enthusiasts, because they are more likely to actually fight each other in a real combat.
Two ambitious fighter programs: India’s Tejas and Pakistan’s JF-17
The two countries’ indigenous single-engine fighter programs are developed to reduce dependence on foreign suppliers, cut costs, and promote the development of the domestic defense industry and technology accumulation.
Tejas and JF-17, both developed with foreign assistance to varying degrees. The JF-17 Thunder fighter, also known as the FC-1 Xiaolong, was developed by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in cooperation with the China’s Aviation Industry Corporation of China.
The JF-17 Thunder is a lightweight, single-engine, multi-role fighter. It can be used for aerial reconnaissance, ground attack and aircraft interception.
The JF-17 was primarily developed to meet the Pakistan Air Force requirement for an affordable, modern, multi-role combat aircraft as a replacement for its large squadron of Dassault Mirage III fighters, Nanchang A-5 bombers, and Chengdu F-7 interceptors.
For China, JF-17 “Thunder” multirole fighter is one of country’s most successful aerospace exports, has the potential to be a cost-effective and competitive alternative to more expensive Western fighters.
For the Indian Tejas, this is also a single-engine, light fighter that India has undergone more than 3 decades of research and development.
The Tejas was developed which sought a replacement for the hundreds of MiG-21 fighters nearing the end of their service lives in the Indian Air Force. The program is designated as Light Combat Aircraft with HAL as the main contractor.
Starting in the 1980s of the last century, but due to many difficulties, the program was much longer than expected. It was not until 2001 that the Tejas prototype successfully made its first flight.
Tejas is based on a variety of foreign-sourced components, including an Israeli Doppler radar and General Electric F404 turbofan engines. That is also why it took many decades for HAL to put them all together.
Competition is fierce
At the Bahrain International Air Show in January 2016, both the Tejas and the JF-17 were present to literally pitted against each other, as they share parking space on the flight line tarmac right next to each other. It appeared to be a move at the “political level”, placing Tejas as a future export option and directly competing with the JF-17 in the international market.
Tejas has a tail-less compound delta-wing configuration with a single dorsal fin. This provides better high-alpha performance characteristics than conventional wing designs. It integrates technologies such as relaxed static stability, fly-by-wire flight control system, multi-mode radar, integrated digital avionics system and composite material structures.
For Pakistan’s JF-17, the air frame is of semi-monocoque structure constructed primarily of aluminum alloys. The mid-mounted wings are of cropped-delta configuration. Near the wing root are the leading-edge root extension, which generate a vortex that provides extra lift to the wing at high angles of attack encountered during combat maneuvers. A conventional tri-plane empennage arrangement is incorporated.
The JF-17’s designers have proven adept at keeping up with the times following its entry into service. Block II JF-17s introduced a multitude of new capabilities and upgrades, including composites in the airframe for reduced weight, air to air refueling, a full fly-by-wire system, and a better radar.
The two fighters have similar empty weights and maximum takeoff weights
Indian aircraft were 6.5 tons and 13.5 tons, while that of Pakistan is 6.5 tons and 12.7 tons, respectively. They are the smallest and lightest modern supersonic fighter jets.
Tejas is powered by a General Electric F404-GE-IN20 turbofan engine with full authority digital engine control. This engine provides a dry thrust of 53.9 kN (12,100 lbf) and up to 90 kN (20,200 lbf) with afterburner. It can fly at a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 and maximum altitude of 15,000m (49,212.598 ft). The range of the aircraft is 1,750km (1,087.4 mi) with drop tanks.
JF-17 is equipped with a Klimov RD-93 Afterburning Turbofan, creating a dry thrust of 50.4 kN (11,300 lbf) and 85.6 kN (19,200 lbf) thrust with afterburner, making the aircraft can fly at a maximum speed of Mach 1.6. The range and service ceiling of the aircraft are 2,500 km (1,600 mi) and 16,500 m (54,100 ft), respectively.
In theory, Tejas will prevail in Close-Range Dogfights. It has better agility and maneuverability, mainly due to its unstable Body, which gives it high maneuverability. Compound Delta-Wing Configuration is more efficient in Dogfights compared to Swift Wings.
Tejas has an advantage over the JF-17 in terms of maneuverability and technology
Tejas also has a greater Max takeoff weight than the JF-17, meaning it can carry more fuel and weapons. Tejas is also faster, topping out at Mach 1.8 vs. JF-17’s Mach 1.6, while JF-17 has an advantage in altitude over Tejas.
In terms of technology, Tejas is considered to be better than the JF-17. Although both aircraft are equipped with equivalent avionics, Tejas’ avionics is better than the JF 17, as there are many components originating from Israel, Russia, France. Their hardware is always considered to be better than Chinese hardware.
On the other hand, in the case of the JF-17, all aviation electronics are of Chinese origin, so the management, maintenance and integration are easy. That is also Tejas’s weakness, due to the use of hardware from different countries and suppliers. It’s a nightmare to manage, maintain, and integrate them, and that’s part of the reason it took India decades to develop.
Tejas is also equipped with an helmet-mounted display and sight, which is useful for melee combat and navigation. The JF 17 does not have these avionics. Currently only JF 17 Block 3 is under development and is equipped with helmet-mounted display and sight.
Tejas has another downside
Tejas doesn’t have an internal Electronic Jammer to jam a radar-guided missile. Without this avionics system, it would be difficult for Tejas to save itself from the Beyond Visual Range missile.
The JF-17 has a jammer. In the case of aerial combat, the JF-17 has a chance to win against Tejas. To resolve this issue, Tejas MK1A version will have an external jammer, and the MK1 version will be upgraded to use an external jammer.
Air combat ability
For long-range combat, JF-17 uses PL-12 BVR with a range of 70-100 km but it needs constant guidance and due to smaller radar cross-section of Tejas, the JF-17 can’t lock on Tejas at that distance.
On the other hand, Tejas uses two BVRs, I-DERBY ER and ASTRA MK1 both having fire and forget capabilities and a range of 100 km. Due to higher radar cross-section of JF-17 it is likely that TEJAS will hit a JF-17 first.
JF-17 also integrated with Chinese Anti Ship Missile C-802. So it can perform Naval strike mission. Which Tejas cannot do at present.
If the BRAHMOS NG missile is successfully integrated, it is clear that the Tejas will have superior strength to its Pakistan counterparts. On the other hand, there is also an opinion that the JF-17 can avoid aerial combat with Tejas simply by flying higher than Tejas.
The price will determine the commercial success of each fighter
The unit price of the JF-17 is estimated at about 25 million dollars for the block 2 version. The trainer version is about 28 million dollars. Tejas MK-1 costs about $ 25 million. That means both planes are cheap. But the maintenance costs and production capacity of each side will be problematic.
Since most of the JF-17’s hardware originated from China, it is likely that it will be even cheaper if the production volume is large enough. The maintenance cost of the JF-17 will also be cheaper than that of Tejas.
Because the western avionics system is not only superior, the procurement and maintenance costs are also much higher than from China. Political ties will make it more difficult for Tejas to export. China’s accompanying weapons are also much cheaper.
The JF-17 has the advantage of operating hours
Currently, there are about 132 JF-17s in service of three countries, mainly Pakistan, the other two countries Myanmar and Nigerian. Meanwhile, due to taking too long to develop, Tejas has only produced 33 aircraft, and is serving only the Indian Air Force. Clearly, the JF-17 is winning commercially.
Another JF-17 victory over Tejas is experience. The JF-17 entered service in 2008 and operational from 2011. Therefore, its operating hours are much much higher than Tejas.
Victory will belong to the elite pilots
These two fighters haven’t had a chance to go head-to-head in a real fight, so it’s hard to be sure which side will be the winner. In addition to technical factors, the ability of those who use them determines the victory of each side.
In my opinion, Tejas is technically slightly better than the JF-17, as it is using Western platforms which are supposed to be better than from China. But the JF-17 also has its advantages, it is a promising platform for countries with limited defense budgets. Commercially, the JF-17 is the undisputed winner.
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