US report says Pakistani JF-17 filmed with nukes under wings

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India is adding French Rafale fighters that can carry nuclear missiles. To keep up, Pakistan is upgrading its JF-17 ‘Thunder’ jets for similar missions.

The JF-17, from a China-Pakistan collaboration, has long been thought to have a nuclear role. Now, a recent photo confirms that Pakistan’s JF-17s are equipped with tactical nuclear missiles.

According to an analysis by the Federation of American Scientists [FAS] in 2023, these photographs show that the RA’AD I, Pakistan’s only nuclear-capable Air-Launched Cruise Missile [ALCM], is now used with the JF-17 jet. Before this, the Mirage III/V aircraft handled air deterrence. The RA’AD ALCM, which was first tested in 2007, can carry out both “conventional and nuclear” missions.

US report says Pakistani JF-17 filmed with nukes under wings
Photo credit: EurAsian Times

JF-17 replaced the Mirage III

Pakistan is planning to retire its old Mirage III and V aircraft. The JF-17 will become the main aircraft for its air-nuclear defense. The first images of a JF-17 set up for a nuclear role were seen during the 2023 Pakistan Day Parade rehearsals. To confirm the nuclear capability of the RAAD missile in the images, FAS bought the original photos for a closer look.

When comparing images of the Air-Launched Cruise Missile [ALCM] with older pictures of RAAD I and II, analysts noticed design differences. This shows that Pakistan is working on upgrading its JF-17s to eventually replace the older Mirages in their nuclear strike roles. According to a FAS analysis, “These observations suggest that Pakistan is making significant progress in preparing its JF-17s to take over the nuclear strike duties from the aging Mirage III/Vs.” 

Unexpected turn: Pakistani JF-17s replace Iraq's aging F-16 fleet
Photo credit: PAF

The FAS analysis further notes, “Pakistan has redesigned the RAAD-II ALCM, but not much is known about its purpose or capabilities. It’s also unclear if either of the RAAD systems has been deployed, but this might just be a matter of time.”

The Thunder

The JF-17 Thunder also called the FC-1 Xiaolong in China, is a lightweight, single-engine combat aircraft. It was developed by Pakistan and China together. The JF-17 is about 49 feet long, has a wingspan of 31 feet, and is 15.6 feet tall. It can take off with a maximum weight of around 28,000 pounds.

JF-17 fighter jet is important for Pakistan and can change the regional power (video)
Photo credit: AP

The JF-17 is powered by a Klimov RD-93 turbofan engine. This engine gives the plane a thrust of 11,100 pounds without afterburner and 19,000 pounds with afterburner. With this engine, the JF-17 can reach a top speed of Mach 1.6 and can fly as high as 55,500 feet. The JF-17 comes with advanced technology that boosts its fighting power. It has a modern control system, a cockpit with multiple display screens, and easy-to-use controls. The plane also has top-notch electronics and systems to defend against threats.

The JF-17’s electronics include a radar system like the KLJ-7 X-band radar, which can handle both air and ground missions. It also features a head-up display, an inertial navigation system, and a GPS.

JF-17’s avionics and arms

Unexpected turn: Pakistani JF-17s replace Iraq's aging F-16 fleet
Photo by Stephan De Bruijn

The JF-17 has several systems to boost its performance. These include a radar warning receiver [RWR], a missile approach warning system [MAWS], and a countermeasure dispensing system [CMDS] for deploying chaff and flares. It also has an onboard oxygen generation system [OBOGS] to support the pilot.

The JF-17 can carry a range of weapons. It can use air-to-air missiles like the PL-5, PL-9, and SD-10. For air-to-ground missions, it can launch unguided bombs, laser-guided bombs, and anti-ship missiles. The aircraft also has a 23mm GSh-23-2 twin-barrel cannon for close combat.

The range of the JF-17 depends on its mission and load. Typically, with a combat load, it has a ferry range of about 2,037 kilometers [1,266 miles] and a combat radius of around 1,352 kilometers [840 miles]. This range can be increased with external fuel tanks.

JF-17 approaches 4++: Pilot helmets have full awareness HMD display
Photo credit: Twitter

India and Pakistan nukes

In a high-stakes nuclear arms race, the competition between India and Pakistan is heating up. Pakistan is advancing after India successfully tested multiple re-entry vehicles for its Agni missiles. In response, Pakistan is developing the Ababeel missile.

China has already added multiple re-entry vehicles to some of its ballistic missiles, and India is working to extend its missile range to cover all of China. Meanwhile, Pakistan focuses its nuclear strategy on India, investing heavily in tactical nuclear weapons. India’s nuclear arsenal already covers Pakistan, and it is now pushing to reach all of China.

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Photo credit: Pakistan Air Force

India might be shifting its nuclear policy. Traditionally, India’s nuclear warheads were stored separately from their launchers during peacetime. However, recent moves, like storing missiles in canisters and using nuclear submarines, suggest a move towards keeping warheads and launchers together even in peacetime.

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