Cross posted by someone on Paki deaf and dumb forum.
Latest article on PAC Kamra from March 2021. Some additional details about Block III and AZM
Pride of Pakistan - by Alan Warnes, Air International March 2021
In common with production facilities all over the world, Kamra-based Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) initially suffered from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. And not least because it faced a very specific challenge, continuing to look after the entire Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fleet at the same time as building a new aircraft type.
Ensuring that the maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) facility could carry on with its vital work fell on the shoulders of Air Marshal Syed Noman Ali, who became PAC chairman in early January 2020, just as COVID-19 was gathering pace. The former F-16 Viper pilot told AIR International recently: “Within a few weeks of arriving here I had to come up with solutions to ensure the health and safety of the 15,000 workers, while serving the many needs of the PAF. It was quite a job!”
Maintaining the schedule
Production of the new JF-17 Thunder fighter at the Aircraft Manufacturing Factory (AMF) was initially affected, but after a few weeks, the workforce was housed on the facility enabling personnel to work longer shifts. It took AM Noman and his team about three months to find a new way of working around the coronavirus limitations.
PAC Kamra is the brainchild of the PAF and an extension of the PAF. That’s why it is run by an air marshal, and 40% of the 15,000-strong workforce is military. As well as the AMF, there are three other major facilities within PAC: the Mirage Rebuild Factory (MRF), the Aircraft Rebuild Factory (ARF), and the Avionics Production Factory (APF) with a dedicated research and development department running alongside it.
We asked AM Noman about the PAC’s role in the PAF: “We have four main tasks: the production of the JF-17 Thunder to supplement the fleet and replace obsolete aircraft – whether it be Mirages or Chinese aircraft; life cycle support – all the MROs established here are overhauling aircraft and components then returning them back into service; rectifying components at D Level; and manufacturing harnesses, material components not just limited to aircraft but also for ground-based air defence sensors.”
AM Noman was keen to emphasize the vital role played by the often overlooked design and development section: “It is to assist and supplement, as well as digitalize, design or prototype systems. We determine whether they are feasible, cost effective and whether serial production is worthwhile for the PAF. After prognosis, continuation of the project is discussed, whether we should continue or keep it at prototype [stage]. We are also collaborating in artificial intelligence (AI) with the PAF and its departments, to fuse AI into various projects and to understand what extent we need to capitalize that capability to make it a better product.”
Pakistan’s fifth-gen fighter
At the moment the design and development department is working on a fifth-generation fighter, known as Azm. The project is being conceptualised and preliminary designs are ongoing. “There will come a time when we will review it for its cost effectiveness, and what capabilities can be fused into the project, it will have to be something essential for a next-gen fighter,” he said.
Once Azm is past the preliminary design stage, detailed design will follow before prototyping the initial concept and working towards the final concept. “It will be improved over the three phases with each lasting around two years. In each phase the aircraft could evolve, even its future operating capability (FOC) could see improvements,” he added.
The PAF anticipates that the fifth generation fighter will fly in 2028, but as the PAC chairman explained: “If a partner joins us with new expertise, then that date might alter. We are working in a very focused manner and engaging with international partners to see what they can offer.”
Obviously, the PAC and PAF has learnt a lot from developing and then building the Sino-Pak JF-17 Thunder with the Chinese, and AVIC (Aviation Industry in China) in particular. Fourteen years ago, the PAF hadn’t even started to build fighters. “It’s been a valuable experience, particularly for attracting people here that have diverse [knowledge] within various specialties – design, structures, avionics, integration. We have built over 100 JF-17s that are operationally employed today,” he said.
On December 30, 2020, the chairman handed over 14 dual-seat JF-17B Thunders built at the AMF, although he was at pains to acknowledge the contribution of all the factories.
PAC Kamra is responsible for building 58% of the single-seat JF-17s, while AVIC contributes the remaining 42%, but with the extra cockpit in the JF-17B and smaller fuel tank was PAC Kamra now contributing less to the build? “No, we are making them as per the original plan, but at times like the first three months of COVID-19 we had to rely on our Chinese partners to do more. We prefer to meet our deadlines than meeting our percentage output,” he stated.
Training and evaluation
Unlike the single-seat JF-17s, the dualseater has fuel in both wings and in the vertical tail, all of which are made at PAC Kamra under the 58% agreement. “They are not in fuel bladders but carried as integral fuel tanks like on the F-16. Each wing houses 550Ib and the vertical tail, 210lb, which together with the internal fuel load totals of 4,910Ib. Including the three external fuel tanks, the aircraft can carry a 10,000Ib fuel load.”
All 26 JF-17Bs have now been built and handed over to the PAF. The plan is to use them to fulfil training needs with the operational conversion unit (18 Sqn ‘Sharp Shooters’) but also to undertake evaluation and standardisation requirements with operational squadrons. The 12 aircraft handed over in late December 2019 have been delivered to the operational units, while the bulk of the latter will undoubtedly go to the ‘Sharp Shooters’.
“Now, all efforts are being turned towards production of the newer, more capable Block III JF-17s. While final assembly of the dual-seaters was ongoing at the AMF, the SPG [Small Part Manufacturing] had started work on the components of the Block III.” Given that his previous role was JF-17 Chief Project Director (CPD), AM Noman is fully conversant with Block III. “Among the several improvements over the Block I/ II JF-17s is the new KLJ-7A AESA airborne electronically scanned array radar.”
After evaluating three different radars, the CETC (China Electronics Technology Corporation) KLJ-7A was selected in late 2019 and allows for a new generation of weapons and air-to-air missiles. The chairman continued: “A second Block III prototype has been flying in China since August last year, joining the first example delivered in December 2019, that was already undergoing test and evaluation there. By the time we deliver the first serial production Block III from PAC in early 2022 most of the work will be complete. While our flight test pilots and engineers [of the co-located Flight Test Group] are doing most of their work here, they travel to China when the need arises.
“The first Block III is expected to fly from PAC Kamra later this year with the new radar, which we are co-producing at the Avionics Production Factory. This facility has over the past 20 years or so, worked on the Grifo radars [for both the Chengdu F-7P/PG and Dassault Mirage IIIs] as well as the original KLJ-7 in the JF-17 Block I/IIs, so is more than capable of working on the new radar.”
The KLJ-7A will eventually be retrofitted into the JF-17B, so making it a very capable tactical trainer, which several foreign forces are apparently studying. AM Noman explained that although there is a requirement for 50 Block IIIs, only around 30 have initially been contracted, the rest may come later. With a KLJ-7A production line being created at APF, there is every likelihood the earlier Block I/II JF-17s could be upgraded too.
Other than the AESA radar, the main difference between the Block II and Block III JF-17s, according to the chairman, is a helmet mounted display the PAF is working on with companies in China and Pakistan, three axis fly-by-wire, an enhanced EW management system and a chin-mounted hard point. The PAF has acquired the Aselsan targeting pod, known simply as the Aselpod, with eight ordered so far to support integration, plus a follow-on purchase of 50 made up of three batches.
During the JF-17B roll-out on December 30, 2020, three JF-17 Block IIs destined for the Nigerian Air Force were seen in the line-up. According to AM Noman, these will be delivered in the March 2021 timeframe, while training the pilots is a joint PAC/PAF effort: “We are training around 50 pilots and technicians as and when required by the NAF.” When I asked if the Nigerians were set to order more JF-17s, the chairman said, “We hope so. You should ask them!”
The Aircraft Repair Factory, previously known as the F6 Rebuild Factory, used to overhaul the Shenyang FT-5, FT-6 and Chengdu F-7P in addition to the existing F-7PGs and K-8s – that make up the PAF’s Chinese fleet. Now with the first three types retired, the facility obviously has extra capacity that is enabling it to turn its attention to the JF-17.
By mid-2019, work on the first two aircraft had been completed, and the chairman confirmed that two more have been finished since then. All the fleet will go through ARF eventually, as PAC aims to keep pace with the PAF’s operational requirements.
The other aircraft in full production at the AMF, headed up by Air Vice Marshal Shams-Ul-Haq, is the MFI-17 Super Mushshak. Since a glass cockpit was introduced – incorporating Dynon, Garmin and more recently Genesys – the Super Mushshak has benefitted from a significant boost in sales. The chairman stated: “The choice of the digital avionics system is down to the customer – we tell the customer [about] their capabilities and cost, as we do for anything else that they might want in the aircraft. Customers have recently shown particular interest in the Genesys system which we integrated in 2019.”
The first order could come from an in-country customer, although he wouldn’t confirm whether that would be the air force or army. On the export front, Nigeria (ten), Qatar (eight), Azerbaijan (ten) and Turkey (52) have all ordered them, with deliveries completed to the first three customers between 2017-2019. The Turkish Air force ordered two prototypes and 50 serial production aircraft in May 2017, and while it was initially agreed they would be built at Ankara-based Turkish Aerospace, the work is now being carried out at AMF.
“Unfortunately COVID has affected the progress of production but hopefully won’t delay the deliveries over the next three years,” he said. The first two Turkish Super Mushshaks, to be equipped with the Garmin avionics system, have flown and are now painted in their colour scheme with the first batch of aircraft slated for delivery within 2021.
When asked if the Royal Saudi Air Force was set to upgrade its fleet of 20 Super Mushshaks flying with the King Faisal Air Academy, the Air Marshal would only say that discussions were still ongoing.
With regards to simulation systems, he said the PAF was using the Super Mushshak system to train cadets at the Asghar Khan Academy: “However, the aircraft is very easy to fly so customers are not really interested [in simulators], but it’s an area we would definitely like to [explore].”
As a natural extension of its activities, PAC is now diversifying into overhauling civil airliners. It has formed a partnership with Lithuania’s ASG to overhaul widebody Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s. “We are the first EASA qualified facility in Pakistan for these aircraft and are primarily focused on foreign airlines, because PIA [Pakistan International Airlines] has its own facilities. Our first facility is at Islamabad International Airport and the second one will be at Karachi IAP,” he said.
Undoubtedly, Air Marshal Syed Noman Ali, who has now been the PAC boss for over a year, faces many challenges but the biggest right now “is to the meet the deadlines of our customers during this restricted COVID-19 era.”
and some details about the KLJ-7A air cooled AESA radar selected for the JF-17 Block 3. The air cooled AESA radar is a poor option, compared to liquid cooled AESA radars and this will definitely have much poorer performance at peak power and higher altitudes than comparable liquid cooled AESA radars.
Pakis had the option of choosing between one air cooled option (KLJ-7A) and another LETRI(NE) air cooled option and opted for the former as well as a liquid cooled option of KLJ-7A but apparently upgradability of Block 2 JF-17s was the big factor that led them to choose the air cooled option. Good for us.
According to a recent report by aviation journalist Alan Warnes, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) selected the KLJ-7A active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar for the JF-17 Block-III. The Block-III is the newest variant of the PAF’s mainstay fighters, of which it operates over 120 aircraft in multiple variants.
Developed by the Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology (NRIET), the KLJ-7A was revealed in 2016 as a potential option for the JF-17. NRIET was competing against the Leihua Electronic Technology Research Institute (LETRI), which was offering its LKF601E air-cooled AESA radar.
Though the KLJ-7A was available in multiple versions, one with a fixed-array, another with a mechanically steered panel, and a form with side-mounted panels. However, Warnes’ noted that the PAF opted for an air-cooled version of the KLJ-7A, potentially indicating the existence of a fourth variant.
In 2016, NRIET reportedly said that the KLJ-7A offers a maximum range of 170 km against a target with a radar cross-section (RCS) of 5m2. NRIET added that the KLJ-7A uses over 1,000 transmit/receive modules (TRM), and is capable of tracking 15 targets and simultaneously engaging four. It also has over 11 modes for operation, including synthetic aperture radar (SAR).
It is unclear how the air-cooled configuration would impact the KLJ-7A’s performance, but the competing LKF601E (also air-cooled) offered near-identical results. So, like the KLJ-7A, the LKF601E offers a range of 170 km for ‘fighter-sized’ targets, with the ability to track 15 of them simultaneously, and engage four at once. However, LETRI did not disclose how many TRMs it is using in the LKF601E.
Thus, an air-cooled variant of the KLJ-7A should at least be as capable of the LKF601E. However, compared to the liquid-cooled version of the KLJ-7A, the air-cooled variant could be lighter in weight, and smaller in size. The benefit of this choice could be that it would be easier to retrofit to earlier JF-17 models.