China is taking its arms trade relationship with Pakistan to another level as reports began circulating on social media about the latter’s plans to induct another, more advanced Chinese fighter jet into its Air Force.

Earlier this month, some news reports suggested that the most notable air squadron—PAF 16 Squadron—of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), nicknamed “Black Panthers,” had recently received the first batch of China’s state-of-the-art JF-17 Block III aircraft.

An anonymous Pakistani defense journalist confirmed to EurAsian Times that these highly upgraded fighters had been delivered and commissioned into the PAF Black Panthers, with 12 aircraft being welcomed in a low-key ceremony.

This is yet another significant arms transaction between two regional partners collaborating on economic development and militarization in recent years, with the same goal of counterbalancing the Indian-Western alliance in the region.

Islamabad made similar headlines less than a year ago when its Air Force received another advanced Chinese fighter jet, the J-10C (NATO reporting name “Firebird”)—a 4+ generation, medium-weight, single-engine, multirole combat aircraft equipped with fly-by-wire flight controls and is recognized as a more potent fighter than the newly commissioned JF-17s.

Jointly Developed by China

Unlike the J-10Cs, the JF-17s Thunder is a joint development project by China and Pakistan designed to replace the aging fleet of the PAF, including the A-5C, F-7P/PG, Mirage III, and Mirage V stealth fighters. Its initial design surfaced in May 2003, then called FC-1, and it made its maiden flight about three months later. Two more prototypes emerged throughout its developmental years, with significant features added and upgraded until basic flight testing was accomplished in 2007. It was officially presented to Islamabad during Pakistan Day as a gift. Almost a decade later, the aircraft received an upgrade in 2015.

Block III maintains the lightweight, single-engine structure of the original JF-17s featuring dual-seat and upgraded avionics, flight controls, and weapon-carrying capabilities. The Pakistani warplane is approximately 47 feet long, 15 ft tall, 31 ft wide (wingspan), and has a maximum take-off weight of roughly 13500 kilograms. Moreover, it can reach a top speed of 700 Knots with a service ceiling of about 55500 ft.

Following reports of the JF-17s’ induction, a well-known Pakistani Twitter account posted a photo of the aircraft’s tail section, but with the tail number intentionally blurred out.

Soon after, other accounts pointed out this could have been the “22-305,” while some say it’s “22-306.” However, this information remains unconfirmed.

Nonetheless, the JF-17 is being hailed as the country’s impending Air Force backbone, poised to lead the country’s air force in the coming years.

Have Been Making Rounds Since Early 2022

Since last year, alongside the J-10Cs, news reports about the imminent commission of the JF-17 have already been making rounds since a photo of a pilot wearing an upgraded Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) went viral in November 2022. There was also this January 2022 photo that emerged showcasing the first batch of Block III fresh off the assembly line.

So if you’re one of those who were following updates about the Pakistani-China-built fighter jets, this news should not come as a surprise to you.

In addition, a national news outlet had also mentioned during the culmination of the International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) 2022 expo that an unnamed source from the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), the country’s largest defense contractor and aerospace manufacturer, said that “additional upgrade of the jet was underway,” pertaining to the Thunder.

Through the years of its development, the JF-17 had its fair share of technical issues, and these improvements proved significant. Among the notable enhancements are an integrated electronic warfare (EW) suite, a Wide Angle Smart HUD, additional hard points on the chin, and Missile Approach Warning Systems (MAWs). Moreover, the KLJ-7A airborne active electronically scanned array (AESA) fire-control radar has been outfitted aboard, built by China with similar features to the various Russian imported radars in the 1990s.

There were also speculations that the Block III variant will be equipped with the “most advanced PL-15 air-to-air missiles,” ramping up its dogfight abilities, Global Times reported back in April 2021.

Pakistan and China have boasted that with the new advanced upgrades, the JF-17 would qualify and potentially become the world’s most powerful lightweight fighter jet.