JF-17s At Last

Two JF-17 Thunders flew on Pakistan Day on March 23 in Islamabad. The two fighters were flown in from Chengdu on March 12 for further test and evaluation flights. Of course, President Musharraf had to stick it to everyone and say "Pakistan will be a fortress of democracy" in his speech at the Jinnah Stadium in Islamabad on Saturday. A video of the flypast is available here. An impressive display (note the turn rate!) if there ever was one, but there's still much more to be seen. Hopefully our counterparts in Pakistan will upload more videos soon. But overt jingoism (the likes of which we're so used to here) makes it easy to forget that neither the JF-17 nor the Indian LCA Tejas (for all practical purposes, the direct counterpart) will fly operationally this year, though it almost certain that the Thunders will be operationalised and commissioned sooner.

Obviously, however, there's the notion that the Thunder will have had a few years in the air when the LCA lumbers into service, hopefully by 2012-13, by which time the Sino-Pak fighter may even be at the beginnings of an Mark-II stage. Then again, the LCA versus JF-17 debate is one that can stretch indefinitely and laboriously, with no real conclusions. The Pakistanis don't know much about the Tejas, and we continue to speculate on the JF-17. We don't for example know (and nor does the average Pakistani defence enthusiast, it emerges!) what weapons, powerplant, avionics and countermeasures the final JF-17 will be integrated with.

No judgement calls here, but BR's Mihir Shah had this to say on a LCA/JF-17 comparison discussion: "We aren't trying to point put flaws in the JF. What we have *proved* is that the super-duper Pakistan-spec JF that you kids are having wet dreams about doesn't exist. And none of you have been able to prove us wrong." It's not surprising that all discussions begin nicely and then degenerate into bouts of rapid flaming!

This is how the "which is a better fighter jet" discussion ended: Shah said, "You don't see us denying justice to those affected. Unlike your lovely country, the so called fortress of Islam where Shias are ruthlessly butchered, nuke whore extraordinare, and a country which cannot give basic shelter after an earthquake to the Kashmiris it "freed". It took the pseudo-secularist nation with the world's largest chunk of below poverty line people to offer a helping hand - a hand of friendship which Pakistan brushed aside due to "military sensitivities." Ok, I've made my point. There's just no point in these discussions -- they hate our experts, we hate theirs, what's the point. I mean, seriously.

This is not, of course, to say that we're all smooth cheese here with the LCA, a project that has swallowed funds and remained almost permanently adrift. Notwithstanding the new optimism (which we all hope pays off), there's loads of work yet. The so called "spin-offs" that everyone talks about are well and good -- but we need the damn fighter, not some spin-offs, for crying out loud. There's an end to those. If HAL can dig the IJT out of bad-luck city, maybe the spin-offs will look and sound better than they are right now.

Since we're not going to see the LCA and JF going head to head anytime soon, we'll have to depend on these "sources" until both fighters are cleared for operational flight. And everyone hopes that's soon.

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