An Overview of the JF-17 Thunder as a Game Changer for Nigeria

The first thing to note here is that unlike the Chengdu F-7Ni Airguard, the JF-17 is built on a foundation of 21st century technology. The last time the Nigerian Air Force operated a 4th Gen fighter aircraft was in the mid to late 80s.

$36 MILLION VS $600 MILLION

The question of “Is it worth it?” has to be put into context. You can only determine the worth of this airplane if the capability and long term value is understood. The half a billion dollar Super Tucano deal comes to mind. So which of these two platform is money well spent?

SUPER TUCANO A-29 LIGHT ATTACK

Proponents of the Super Tucano touts it as cheaper, more cost-effective way of dealing with low-end threats and free up its more advanced fighters to deal with more serious adversaries. This sounds good to the ear, except they forget Nigeria practically has no advanced fighter fleet. The most capable platform is the 3rd generation F-7N fighter, itself adaptation to the Soviet era Mig-21, based on 1950 technology.

Sending a slower, more lightly armored, propeller-driven plane into battle, even in relatively permissive environments could put pilots at risk of being shot down or even killed. There should be no compromise between the safety of our airmen and performance.

Sending large numbers of slow, limited, propeller-driven aircraft into battle is at best a false economy, and at worst potentially disastrous. I don’t think there’s any other air force that has, or would consider the Super Tucano as its primary frontline combat aircraft. It’s low, it’s slow and vulnerable, and the air defense environment has become a lot more sophisticated.

The F-7Ni fighter have maximum airspeeds of Mach 2.1 and service ceilings of 65,000 feet and above 50,00 feet.

The Alpha Jet has a maximum airspeed of 621 miles per hour and a ceiling of 48,000 feet.

The Super Tucano has a maximum airspeed of 367 miles per hour and a ceiling of 35,000 feet.

JF-17 MULTI-ROLE MULTI-ROLE

In my opinion the $600 million would have been money better spent in the JF-17 fighter. It could have provided Nigeria a Squadron of a high performance aircraft capable of switching between air to air and air to ground mode at the flick of a button depending in the weapons configuration.

If you want to define the capability along 4th generation standards and say it’s not worth the price of the program, that’s a pretty flawed argument to me. The F-17 Thunder is a much more capable aircraft in terms of missions. It doesn’t matter whether its proven technology or try to make sense of China’s refusal to acquire the aircraft after pouring in millions of dollars into the project with Pakistan.

2018-11-28 12.28.50
A C-802 missile in front of a JF-17 Thunder of the Pakistan Air Force on static display at the 2010 Farnborough Airshow. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

It provides Nigeria with something that is quite frankly long overdue, that is a qualitative advantage, and perhaps often overlooked , it has, inherent in its existence, an ability for Nigeria an ability to adapt to missions we’re not even familiar with right now, throwing away the buy it when you need it mentality that had plagued the Nigerian military.

It’s going to create an ecosystem, and plug into Nigeria’s already advanced ISR capability, hence it will facilitate a whole host of other contributors to a network of warfighting information without which we would be at a huge disadvantage.

 

A lot of people either underestimate or misunderstand the actual capabilities of a 4th generation fighter like the F-17. It’s almost impossible to overstate how significant the emergence of a 4th generation high performance jet is for the NAF and the entire Nigerian military joint in general.

Then you start to incorporate how expeditionary it can be by virtue of its combat radius, its weapons payload capacity and its ability to plug into one of Africa’s best ISR platforms,we see clearly it can contribute to joint force missions and provide combatant commanders with a specialized aircraft that offers a persistent capability that may not represent 100 percent of what they need, but it’s available to them all the time.

It’s really difficult for me to say how good the airplane is because it’s so much better than anything we’ve had since the British Jaguars of the mid 80s. It might not be combat tested and proven for now, but Nigeria, being the first country in Africa, and potentially the world to test this fighter in combat comes with a lot of props, asking to Israel scoring the first air to air kill with the American F-15 Eagle.

And that’s the best place for it to be because the eyes of the combat aviation world will be on the Nigerian Air Force, as its performance will help the aviation world figure out what it can do and needs to be improved upon.

Nigerian Air Force’s flies nine Chengdu F-7Ni Airguard fighter/interceptor, an aircraft with similar flight and weapons configuration that has conducted interdiction missions against Boko Haram in the past .

CLOSING ARGUMENT 

The JF17 is a good fit for the Nigerian Air Force. It can carry a wide variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons from both China and Western countries. This will allow Nigeria to use its current stocks of weapons to try to finish off Boko Haram.

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