I've been thinking about the topic of JF-17's role in PLA for a long time and decided that this is a probably a good time to put it in words. However, before we get to this topic, a more pressing issue seems to be the semi-unveiling of Z-10 assault helicopter. At the current time, China is mainly reliant on Z-9G and modified Mi-17s as its assault helo force. There is also an assault version of Z-11, but that seems to be not in PLA's plans due to its small size. What we can clearly see with the recent photo of Z-10 is that it is a tremendous improvement over Z-9G. From the outside, it looks like it will become the stealthiest helicopter in the world once it goes into service (since Comanche is axed already). There are some speculations that its infrared signature is as small as that of Comanche, but this has yet to be verified anywhere. The radar signature definitely looks to be smaller than other stealthy helicopters out there like the Tiger. From this picture, we can't even see the intake of Z-10, but I read that it's suppose to be at the back. We know that it has all the important features of a modern attack helicopter. A MMW radar like Longbow is under development and should be fitted on top of the rotor pretty soon. From a previous picture, Z-10 has 4 pylons. Each of which can carry 4 HJ-10 ATGMs (as seen in this picture) or 4 TY-90 AAMs. The transmission of Z-10 was supposedly co-developed with Eurocopter; and might even be more advanced than that of the Tiger. The rotor system and the engine are from Agusta and P&W Canada respectively. Indigenous replacement for both are currently in development. Z-10 has even flied off with WZ-9 engine last year. However, it appears to me that WZ-9 is still far below the performance level of PT7C series. A PT7C fitted Z-10 would have the highest T/W ratio of any helicopter in the world, but the same cannot be said about WZ-9. Therefore, PLA would have to decide whether it wants to use the cheaper+indigenous engine or the foreign+vastly superior engine. My hope is that WZ-9 is only fitted on enough helicopters to ensure that it will be a viable option if the PT7C choice is ever taken away. As we go forward, it looks like Z-10/Z-9G will form a hi-lo combination like Mi-28N/Mi-24 for the Russians. Z-10 is simply too expensive in the near term to be equipped more than that. Supposedly, a first regiment of 12 Z-10 are now deployed, so I will be waiting for more pictures to come out.
When JF-17 was started, the agreement was that China will buy 250, whereas Pakistan will buy 150. It looks like Pakistan will now place an order of 250 JF-17s due to the improvements that CAC made to the plane. It is expected to be used as the work horse of PAF in mostly A2A roles. Around the world, CAC is expected to market this fighter as a replacement to the F-7 series. Depending on the choice of avionics, weapons and engine, the price tag of JF-17 could be anywhere from $10 to $20 million. In PLAAF, China already has a hi-lo combination in J-10 and J-11. Future variants of J-11 will be used for long distance strike, ground attack, anti-ship missions and long range escort missions. Its range and payload allowed it to be chosen by PLANAF over J-10 for the first generation of PLAN aircraft carrier. J-10 remains the most deadly fighter jet in PLAAF and will be work horse of PLAAF for the next 2 decades. In the past few years, it has handed lopsided defeats to su-27/J-11A/su-30mkk in PLAAF exercises. Even against J-11B (which is equipped with a newer generation of avionics), it can still achieve parity with its much smaller RCS and greater maneuverability. With the modified J-10 coming into service soon, it will be the main air superiority platform until CAC's twin-engined "J-10" and SAC's 5th generation fighter comes online. It would seem like the core of PLAAF's fighter force would not include JF-17. JH-7A will be the main strike platform in both PLAAF and PLANAF until J-11BS comes along. JF-17 is not likely to take over the role of JH-7A or J-11BS in the future. Aside from that, J-7s and J-8s currently occupy the role of cheap aircrafts in PLA. JF-17 is obviously viewed by many as the prime candidate to take over the roles of J-7 in PLAAF. I think the number of JF-17s to be deployed in this role depends on the eventual cost of JF-17 and the number of regiments PLAAF wants to keep. if PLAAF chooses to keep the current number of fighters, JF-17 will obviously get a few hundred orders. If that does not happen (as is most likely the case), JF-17 will have to fight against J-8F for orders. It may surprise many people, but a WP-14 equipped J-8F would have many advantages against JF-17 (e.g: better T/W ratio, higher payload, better supersonic performance, more space for radar+avionics). So, where does JF-17 most likely fit in? The answer seems to be in the role of Q-5 replacement. Now, it has been believed for a long time that L-15 will assume the role of replacing Q-5 as the ground attack aircraft and replacing JJ-7 as the main LIFT for PLAAF. It turns out that Hongdu has been a huge disappointment for PLAAF. L-15 is likely to not get any orders from PLAAF in the near future. A decent order is expected for JL-9, but whether it can fully achieve the requirements of PLAAF is another issue. So, what does that mean? A twin-seated JF-17 will be required by PLAAF to take over the role of L-15. Obviously, a twin-seated JF-17 can be used to train pilots. It will be a tremendous improvement over Q-5 in flight performance, range, payload and avionics. Of course, changes will need to be made by CAC to make it more suited for CAS missions. However, the relatively low cost of an attack variant of JF-17 (it will not need all the fancy avionics of an air superiority version) would make it extremely attractive to PLAAF. This seems to be the current situation for JF-17. I will follow up if I get newer information on it.