A dual-seat variant of the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet co-developed by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and China took its maiden test flight in Chengdu on Friday, the PAF said in a press release.

The JF-17B "is currently entering the testing phase", the PAF said, terming the development of the dual-seater "a major milestone towards self-reliance".

Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman was chief guest at the test event today hosted by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China Executive Vice President Li Yuhai.

The JF-17B is slated to boost the operational and training capabilities of the PAF, the press release said. "It will further enhance the advanced combat training of PAF fighter pilots on this indigenous war fighting machine."

Production of the first JF-17B was initiated by Pakistan and China during a joint ceremony at Chengdu Aerospace Corporation last year.

The JF-17 Thunder's operational history

The JF-17 Thunder, a single-engine multi-role fighter jet, and was jointly developed by China and Pakistan. Development on the aircraft started in 1999, and the maiden flight was conducted in 2003.

The initial Block 1 JF-17s were received in 2007, with production of the upgraded Block 2 JF-17s started in 2013. The upgraded models have upgraded avionics, air-to-air refuelling capability, data link, enhanced electronic warfare capability and enhanced load carrying ability.

The JF-17 can be equipped with air-to-air and air-to-ground ordinance. The aircraft mounts both short-range infra-red air to air missiles along with longer ranged radar-guided BVR missiles, an essential capability for a frontline interceptor.

The aircraft can carry 8,000lbs of ordinance on seven external hardpoints, which is an adequate amount of ordinance for any mission profile. The JF-17 enhances the much needed capability of the air force in beyond visual range (BVR) engagements.

The JF-17 is a capable platform, and is on its way to form the backbone of the PAF. It was reported that between 250 and 300 aircraft will be inducted into the air force in order to phase out the ageing fleet of some other aircraft models that are still in operation.

For the Pakistan Air Force, the JF-17 fills the gap that had arisen due to an ageing inventory, which was further impacted by sanctions placed on the country following the nuclear tests in 1998.

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