An auspicious start! Early impressions of DCS: JF-17 Thunder

Deka Ironwork Simulations DCS: JF-17 is the newest full fidelity DCS World module and now that I’ve had a chance to check out this early access module, I thought I’d weigh in with some thoughts on the module. What follows are my impressions of where the module is right now as well as where I hope to see it in the near future. Let’s get to the JF-17!

A little history and background

A (real) Pakistan JF-17 on a training mission.

Deka Ironwork Simulations has been working on the JF-17 for a few years now with an extensive research and development period as well as at least a few trips to the real JF-17 simulator to get information and unique access to subject matter experts on the jet. Their work involves not only the JF-17 Thunder itself but also its array of weapons and munitions, the majority of which have not been seen in DCS World until it’s arrival.

The real world JF-17 that the module is based on was created is a multi-role, partially fly-by-wire aircraft with a wide array of systems coming from different origins. The resulting effort is a joint development between Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) in China.

The multi-national nature of the jet include it’s Chinese/Pakistan design, Russian RD-93 engines (an export development of the RD-33 from the MiG-29), a Chinese radar, a GSh-23-2 gun from the MiG-21, an F-16 influenced HOTAS (intended to help Pakistani F-16 pilots adapt to the new jet) and many off-the-shelf avionics systems from Chinese and other origins. The JF-17 also has divertless air intakes, a glass cockpit, datalink, targeting pod, jamming pod, and later Block II versions have support for in-flight refueling.

In February of 2010, the first PAF squadron of JF-17’s was officially made operational and production on Block I and then Block II jets have put production at over 100 examples. There’s also wide export interest in the approximately $25-30 million dollar jet and Myanmar and Nigeria are both now official users while other countries as wide ranging as Argentina, Qatar, Malaysia, Morroco, Saudi Arabi, Iran, and Sri Lanka have shown interest.

In Pakistan Air Force operations, the JF-17 is also known as the ‘Thunder’, in China it’s the ‘Fierce Dragon’ and among some of the DCS World community, the aircraft has earned the nickname ‘Jeff.’ That last one is entirely unique to the sim community and it appears to have its origins in a auto-correct typo on a post from r/Hoggit. Whatever the origin, the ‘Jeff’ nickname has been used endearingly as the module has gained quite a positive reputation from most of the community.

Looking at the exterior

The exterior of the JF-17 looks superb!

Deka Ironwork Simulation’s attention to detail really shines on their 3D modeling and texture work for the JF-17. The exterior of the aircraft is modeled beautifully, capturing the shape of the jet about as perfectly as I can tell. Zoom in to appreciate some of the fine details including service panel numbers, no hand hold iconography, and all of the various sensors, lights, and other exterior details you’d expect from a DCS World aircraft.

The gear and other associated parts on the outside that move are all well animated and the gear seems to compress in a realistic way under load.

Gears are nicely detailed although I wonder if the textures are finished on the insides.

There are a few areas that still look like they need to be finished and you can see them in the landing gear wheel wells which appear to have a flat grey texture applied and I’m not sure if that was intended or not. It’s a bit of nitpicking on my part as most of the exterior is superb.

It feels modeled to the same standard as the best that we’ve seen from other DCS World modules and that’s a good thing.

In the cockpit

The interior of the JF-17 is somewhat spartan although very usable and even user friendly.

As outstanding as the exterior is, the interior is currently slightly underwhelming. Although the real jet has a spartan appearance, the interior of the DCS: JF-17 feels a little flat and drab beyond that spartan look of the real one.

It’s clear that the team at Deka has done an impressive job when it comes to the 3D detailing of the components in the cockpit. All objects you see seem to have plenty of details where they are needed – it’s just the texturing or maybe the shading that lets it down a bit. That said, there has already been a cockpit texture upgrade and it adds more details, scuff marks, scratches and slightly more shading than before. Still, I don’t think they have quite achieved the same level of detail as we see from say the DCS: F-16C.

Beyond textures, there are some other areas that are a work in progress too. I was going to remark on how there were no animations for switches and buttons but that has just been added. I also find the HUD refresh rate is also very high and, having experienced the slightly slower refresh rate programmed by Eagle Dynamics for the F-16 and F/A-18C, it makes me wonder if this is accurate or not. The JF-17 is, after all, a slightly more modern jet but it may also be part of a layer of polish that needs to be added to the module. I saw a brief moment from a simulator clip from a real JF-17 on YouTube and that suggests to me that the refresh rate should be similar to what we see in the F-16 or F/A-18. Compared to other features, this is probably low on the priority list.

Texture quality has improved recently but still isn’t quite at the same level as some other DCS World modules.

For all of these issues, there are also a lot of things to like. As I mentioned before, 3D details themselves are quite good and there are some fun extras in the cockpit as well. For example, the safety pin from the ejector seat can be removed, there’s a flashlight built into the cockpit that you can click on to activate (rather than the usual hotkey), and you even hook up the oxygen supply cable prior to turning the wheel to turn the oxygen on. These are nice touches!

As this is still early access, there’s an understanding that there is much to do and a lot of tweaks to be made. I suspect Deka Ironwork Simulations will have these things sorted out in due time.

Almost entirely fully featured

GBU series laser guided bombs are usable with self lasing on the WMD-7 targeting pod.

Something that fans of DCS World are going to appreciate with this module is just how complete it is when it comes to systems modeling. While other early access releases tend to have arrived with only a few features working, Deka Ironwork Simulations has delivered a largely system complete module. The JF-17’s entire compliment of planned weapons is supported and ready to go. Better yet, a few minor glitches aside, these all seem to work the way they were intended to which is extremely impressive.

The aircraft has short and long range air-to-air missiles, precision and unguided bombs, an anti-radiation missile, an anti-ship missile, and a collection of fuel tanks, targeting pods, and jamming pods all available to be fitted to the aircraft. They have all been available since day one of the release as well which is a seriously impressive feat.

This JF-17 sports a pair of GB-6 glide bombs.

Some of the most interesting and unique features involve the CM-802AKG cruise missile which provides for a “man-in-the-loop” functionality. The missile can be given a series of waypoints before the missile becomes active and links with the launching aircraft to provide a TV feed allowing for precise steering as the missile approaches it’s target. It’s very cool!

The WMD-7 targeting pod provides for precising targeting of a variety of weapons including the GBU series of LGB’s as well as BRM-1 beam riding rockets – a first for any DCS World module.

But how does it fly? How does it fight?

Early morning departure in full burner. The JF-17 practically flies itself off the runway.

The JF-17 is a very interesting jet to fly in DCS World. It has a single channel fly-by-wire system which provides fly-by-write on the pitch controls but not on any other channels. There’s a kind of weird disconnect between a very controlled experience on the one axis and then a much more analog experience on the rest. As a result, it doesn’t feel quite as limited as the F-16 or F/A-18 in operation but it also requires the pilot to coordinate their turns.

The design of the JF-17 allegedly gives it incredible control at high angles of attack and that makes it one of the best jets in DCS World when it comes to pointing its nose at the target. It doesn’t quite inspire the confidence that a Hornet pilot might have when it comes to high angles of attack but it can pull just as hard or maybe even harder.

When it comes to close in fights, the JF-17 has impressive abilities at the merge and can pull onto the six of enemy aircraft faster than just about anything else in the sim. The only let-down is its weaker engine versus most of it’s competitors.

A long range CAP configuration of 2x PL-5E short range missiles, four SD-10 missiles on dual racks, and three fuel tanks.

Thrust and power to weight is an issue for the JF-17 depending on how it’s configured. A heavily loaded JF-17 suffers more than the equivalent F/A-18 or F-16 in my experience. The acceleration is just not there compared to some other jets when fully armed. How the JF-17 flies is very much a matter of how much you’re carrying and how heavy you are and that can make the JF-17 either slower and more sluggish or delightfully agile.

The JF-17’s internal fuel capacity of just 5,140 lb pounds makes it very short legged as well. It’s just fine for short distance operations but fuel tanks become a necessity as soon as you need to start traveling further or needing to engage the afterburner. Sometimes three tanks are required to really make a combat sortie work while in other cases just two are fine.

Fuel tanks do take up precious weapon pylons and so a JF-17 pilot in DCS World is faced with some serious mission planning complications as you can’t typically carry every weapon you want to. As RedKite said in his YouTube review, the JF-17 is multi-role but not multi-mission and so a careful balance between weapons, fuel, and pods are a necessity.

What is special about the JF-17?

The Pakistan Air Force calls the JF-17 ‘Thunder’ while sim pilots have endearingly started calling it ‘Jeff’

There have been several posts both before and after the launch of the JF-17 that have questioned what the big deal about this aircraft is. There is something special about the JF-17 and I think, for those of us who have caught the bug, it has to do with uniqueness. A modern jet, built along western fighter jet lines, but coming out of Pakistan and China with a unique weapons loadout, and both familiar and unique ways of doing things make this an interesting jet to dig into.

For DCS World multiplayer, the JF-17 offers the opportunity for the organizers of online multiplayer competitive matches that have a Redfor/Bluefor opposition group structure to include a unique aircraft alongside some of the Russian types that have typically carried the Redfor side of things for a while now. Back in the days of Lock On: Modern Air Combat and even in the early days of DCS World, it was the F-15C versus the Su-27 and MiG-29 and the Su-25 versus the A-10A. With the growing list of modules more recently, the aircraft list has been split with aircraft being assigned to one side or another but it’s typically been the Russian aircraft side (typically Redfor) that in recent years has suffered from a lack of flexibility versus aircraft like the F/A-18C Hornet with its wide array of capabilities.

This splinter style scheme reminds me a bit of the recent JAS-39E Gripen prototype. It’s applied to non Chinese or Pakistan faction air forces and it looks good. I hope to see more unique schemes for the jet as time goes on.

Now, with the JF-17, Redfor has an aircraft that can do many of the same things as the F/A-18C Or F-16C can do for Bluefor. SEAD, anti-ship, precision strike, CAP, and more can all be done on a single airframe.

Going beyond this “meta” of the multiplayer match, the JF-17 is both remarkably similar to several other fourth gen jet fighter modules but also offering its own unique twist and for those of us looking for something a bit different, a bit quirky, and a little bit unique, the JF-17 has that. In a PVE server filled with F/A-18’s, F-16’s and the odd AV-8B or A-10C, it’s refreshing to see some of the more unique DCS World modules flying around. Even in that kind of scenario its nice to see the JF-17 joining the ranks.

A great start

Parachute breaking makes landing the JF-17 fairly easy as does it’s responsive controls and low speed controllability.

My overall impression of the DCS: JF-17 by Deka Ironwork Simulations in this early stage of early access is overwhelmingly positive. For Deka Ironwork Simulations, this was their first DCS World full fidelity module launch and as launches go, this was an excellent one.

The JF-17 comes with nearly all of its features complete and is a fully functional module. It needs a few tweaks, it needs polish in some places, and it needs more time to mature into a complete DCS World module to rival the best out there but that doesn’t downplay an impressive achivement. I’d love to see more missions, more training scenarios, and more skins as part of the ongoing process. Additionally, I’d like to see Deka Ironwork Simulations further improve the cockpit textures and offer other visual tweaks on the interior to take the JF-17 to the next level.

For their part, the developers have also indicated that they are still going to tweak the abilities of the jet they are simulating. Indeed, the developers have talked about bringing the aircraft to up to a Block II standard which will, critically, bring in-flight refueling to the aircraft which should help with it’s range issues. Sounds good to me!

This is an auspicious start for a new developer in DCS World and I have high hopes for both the DCS: JF-17 as well as future content from Deka Ironwork Simulations. My congratulations to the team and I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Screenshots

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Russell says:

    I thought jf-17 was forgotten by you, LOL. And jf-17 has carried most task in red mp. C802akg now kick bluefors’ ass so hard, that they cant bear it any more.😆😆😆

    Like

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