JF-17: Chinese skin, Russian DNA. From Izdeliye-33/project-33 to JF-17/FC-1. In the early-1980’s, the Soviets already had a High/Low mix of fighters to take on the American F-16/F-15 duo: The Fulcrum and the Flanker. But the creation of a simpler, cheaper, single-engined platform nevertheless represented an attractive proposition. The Mikoyan Design Bureau (MiG) therefore started working on such a design under the codename Izdeliye-33, taking as a starting point the MiG-29 platform. Mikoyan never went as far as building a prototype, but they drew detailed blueprints and thoroughly tested a mock-up in a wind tunnel, refining the overall design in the process.
Unfortunately for MiG, the Soviet Union lost interest in the endeavour and cut off funding for the project in 1986. Mikoyan had no other choice but to abandon the MiG-33E adventure for good in 1988.
Fast forward to 1995 and both Pakistan and China are trying to work on what would become the JF-17: A cheap, simple, single engine fighter jet. But Pakistan is on the receiving end of American economic sanctions, and China finds it hard to find partners to help it develop its new plane: The Western world turned its back on Beijing after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests were put down by the Chinese military. As a result, Islamabad and Beijing decided to join forces and try and create a common platform together.
And what did the Chinese do ? They first paid MiG a fee to lease some of their engineers so they could go to China and assist their Chinese counterparts in the design of this new plane. Then, in 1998, the Chinese went one step further and purchased the Project-33 blueprints and test data (from the mock-up wind tunnel tests) from Mikoyan.
Fast forward to 2003 and the JF-17 Thunder/FC-1 Xiaolong flew for the first time. The JF-17 might be presented as a Sino-Pakistani platform, its avionics might be all Chinese and its targeting pods might be Turkish… But scratch under the surface and you will find Soviet/Russian DNA (and fingerprints) all over! Even the WS-13 Taishan engine is an improved Chinese copy of the Soviet RD-93 Turbofan engine.
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