Now more than a year out from release, Deka Ironwork Simulations’ JF-17 Thunder for DCS World has gained a lot of fans and seen a few tweaks since it was released. As the second in my my new series focused on revisiting DCS World modules, I wanted to make sure that I put some attention on an aircraft that I think deserves more than a second look. So, let’s talk about the DCS: JF-17 Thunder and how it’s looking in 2021.
The lesser known aircraft
Before it came to DCS World, many in the community may not have known that the JF-17 even existed. Although it’s been in the public eye since the turn of the century, most flight sim fans, when asked what modern combat aircraft they wanted to fly would have probably answered with one of the American teen series fighters or maybe the Russian Su-27 or MiG-29. With China’s expanding military capacity and impact on the world stage, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing some of their modern combat aircraft start to show up in sims and this joint China-Pakistan aircraft has started to receive quite a bit of attention both in the real world (such as during its aerobatic display at the Paris Airshow in 2017) and in the simulated one.
Developed over the course of a couple of decades through a complicated political and development process, the JF-17 has slowly begun to emerge as a 21st century MiG-21. That is, a fighter jet capable enough to keep up in the modern era and do just about anything but with a far lower cost. So far, the jet has already been sold to Myanmar and three aircraft have rolled off the production line for Nigeria in early 2021.
A couple dozen other countries reportedly are investigating it to replace their legacy aircraft including Argentina (note to DCS: South Atlantic fans). Of course, Pakistan has made a substantial investment in their own jet and has 138 aircraft with another 50 on order. There’s also quite a bit of national pride that I’ve seen on display and the JF-17 even features prominently in 2019 movie, Sher Dil, with the usual over the type Hollywood influenced air combat action scenes.
The JF-17 has reportedly seen some real world combat along Pakistan’s northern border. It may have also been involved in the tense dispute and standoff with India in 2019 with Pakistan claiming that the aircraft shot down an Indian MiG-21 Bison and Su-30MKI while India claims that they shot down an F-16 and lost only the MiG-21. It’s hard to say what transpired but it’s clear that the JF-17 will likely be involved in future scenarios given it’s growing importance in Pakistan’s Air Force.
Details inside and out
The Deka Ironworks Simulation version of the JF-17 for DCS World comes with a lot of attention to detail inside and out. It also has a few areas that could still stand to see some improvement.
As with many other module markers, the cockpit has been a complicated place to get the details just right. Eagle Dynamics and Heatblur have made it an art-form but other developers have struggled to get it looking appropriately detailed and in some cases weathered just right to look like a jet in active operation. The JF-17 does have a spartan cockpit in real life, but when it comes to getting the little visual details right, DCS: JF-17 does still remains a little disappointing.
Deka Ironwork Simulations has twice made some improvements to the overall look of the cockpit adding more weathering and texture details with the first update being by far the biggest and coming early in the jet’s release. Meanwhile, their cockpit artist was reportedly very ill for quite some time and that held up a lot of the updates. The most recent update happened just a couple of months ago and added texture details to the HOTAS – an area of the jet’s cockpit that had been essentially untextured up to this point. Given time, I think we’ll see this element improve.
On the exterior, I have no complaints about the JF-17 as the 3D model is superb and the texture work is overall quite good. The default skins cover a range of uses from a Pakistan specific skin to a fictional Chinese Air Force skin (the Chinese Air Force does not use the JF-17/FC-1) to an “aggressor” style skin that can be used generically. It’s this last skin that you’ll see a lot of in my screenshots because it’s what is typically seen in multiplayer servers.
There are a few custom skins in the User Files section of the DCS World website and several more packs have been added recently but I’d still love to see more!
Easy to use, requiring some mastery
Hop into the JF-17 cockpit for the first time in DCS World and it’s immediately apparent that the JF-17 is a fully modern combat aircraft. The three massive MFD’s are more typical of the aircraft you’ll find flying in the last 10 years and there is very little in the way of redundant analogue displays. This has the effect of keeping the cockpit very clean and readable.
The clean and simple cockpit should make the JF-17 very approachable to most pilots who are used to having all of their information presented in digital displays. When appropriately brightened, the MFD’s are very functional in DCS World in both day and night operations. That’s a nice thing to see in comparison to the challenges I had with the AV-8B recently. They are clear, sharp and offer contrast when needed.
Start-up is a little different in the JF-17 than your typical American jet but it can be done quickly with the most “difficult” part happening when you make sure that the appropriate coordinates are punched in prior to INS alignment. The nav system is relatively accessible with the flight route being presented on the HSD (horizontal situation display) in much the way that the F-16 does.
Once through some of the initial start-up, the JF-17 operates a lot like a modern 4th Generation American jet with a couple of HOTAS commanded master modes selecting nav, air and ground attack modes. The F-16 is unquestioningly an influence on the jet’s setup (which makes sense as the F-16 is one of the many jets in Pakistan’s arsenal) although the avionics are Chinese in origin.
The JF-17’s radar is capable of engaging and tracking multiple targets in TWS mode and although the radar is a little less capable than the ones carried by the F/A-18C and F-16C in DCS World, it still manages to be very capable and functional on the whole.
The JF-17’s enormous number of air to ground weapons rivals the F/A-18C. From LD-10 anti-radiation missile to the LS-6 GPS guide glide bomb to the C-802KG and C-802AKG anti-ship and precision strike missiles. It also has GBU-12 LGB’s, MK82’s and the BRM-1 laser guided rockets as options.
Clearly the JF-17 has a huge amount of capability but what it lacks is capacity. While the F-16 and F/A-18C have enough weapons pylons to credibly offer the ability to sling medium range missiles, external fuel tanks, a targeting pod and bring a large air-to-ground loadout, the JF-17 has to make tough decisions on which pods, tanks, and weapons it will employ. That is part of the challenge offered by the jet.
The aircraft has a built in 23 mm GSh-23-2 twin barrel cannon. It is angled slightly downwards making it ideal to attack ground targets but less useful when engaging air targets. There’s also only a very limited supply of ammunition with just 180 rounds.
The outer rails can only make use of the PL-5E II short range air to air missile that functions similarly to an AIM-9. The outer wing pylons can carry a single or dual rack SD-10 (similar to an AIM-120B/C) or single or pairs of MK82 or GBU-12 bombs. The inner pylons can be configured with more bombs or bigger weapons like the BRM-1 laser guided rockets, CM-802AKG and C-802AK, or fuel tanks. There’s also a pylon on the underside of the aircraft where a smaller fuel tank, WMD-7 targeting pod, or KG-600 self protection pod can be fitted.
The JF-17 does have a limited radio setup with just two radios on board for communications and linking with a datalink. SRS actually adds a third radio should you need it because in most situations, radio 2 will be tuned to channel 199 and set to receive datalink information rather than to be used as a conventional radio.
The HSD also is worth discussing because the one in the JF-17 is far more advanced than the Block 50 variant that we have in the F-16C. This version of the HSD fuses together navigation information, a moving map, RWR information, MAWS information, and everything coming to you over datalink. It can get cluttered at times but it does offer an excellent overview of everything going on.
That the JF-17 can do everything that it does but still remains somewhat user friendly is impressive. Far from being all that difficult to get into, I found the JF-17 to be something of a mix of styles ranging from the MFD-centric F/A-18 to the HOTAS focused F-16 and A-10C. It has its own quirks for sure but it’s mostly easy to use and those coming from other typically American fighters won’t find the learning curve to be all that steep.
The JF-17 when employed as a fighter is also a very competitive addition to the DCS World arsenal of high fidelity fighter jets. The JF-17 offers an unusual mix of capability with its small and light airframe making it nimble and its single channel fly-by-wire system on the elevator offering some degree of stability and ease of flight. Thanks to smart design, the JF-17 is also quite capable of making tight turns and holding even the best fighters to account and its nose pointing capabilities are in league with the F/A-18C Hornet.
It is, on the other hand, held back by its single RD-93 engine which gives it an inferior power to weight ratio versus many other fighters. You’ll definitely feel that lack of power while engaging in combat while carrying a large number of external stores which will seriously degrade the type’s performance.
In air combat the JF-17 is quite capable of trading blows with the best of them, especially when supported by an AWACS with datalink capabilities. The JF-17 in this instance benefits greatly with plenty of situational awareness piped in and making up for it’s weaker radar. Once in radar range the type’s SD-10 missiles are a near even match for the AMRAAM although limited capacity (the most it can carry is 4) is a limitation.
In air to ground the JF-17 is also impressive with its array of weapons putting it on par with aircraft like the F/A-18C Hornet. From SEAD and DEAD to anti-ship to interdiction and strike, the JF-17 has a wide array of weapons. It just can’t carry very many at once.
Deka Ironwork Simulations has upgraded the JF-17 in a few ways since it’s initial launch. Although the type launched nearly fully featured to begin with, the have added an optional aerial refueling probe to their otherwise Block I aircraft. Only Block II are fitted as such in real life but given the type’s limited fuel capacity, the ability to conduct in-flight refueling is extremely useful.
The aircraft’s ground handling and breaking system have all seen some tweaks as well making the aircraft come to a halt in a more realistic and convincing fashion.
They are also plenty of options on the special settings screen in DCS where you can pre-configure slew rates, countermeasure programs and more. They have also fully implemented the data cartridge system in the jet meaning you can use the F10 map to place and then import waypoints, target points and more.
Some fun little details can be found on this jet as well. In some circumstances, the cockpit canopy will haze over and become opaque requiring the defrost system to be employed. When setting up the data cartridge, if you ask to receive it from the ground crew and the canopy is closed, you’ll hear them tapping on the canopy window and reminding you that the canopy is closed. The aircraft is also the only one to make use of the shock cone effect in DCS World when breaking the sound barrier.
Little details sometimes elevate a module and Deka has made sure to implement everything they possibly could with this.
I have a lot of positive things to say about Deka Ironwork Simulations JF-17. In the early days we weren’t really sure what their full intentions were or if they’d be able to produce a top level module for DCS World. Their hard work and efforts have paid off and the JF-17 is easily one of the most impressive modules out there. I still feel that way a year on.
With its high tech arsenal, wide variety of munitions, and reasonably high end performance, the JF-17 is a capable jet and one that can easily be made into a highly competitive aircraft in BVR, WVR, and ground attack strikes. On servers like Hoggit’s Persian Gulf at War where I did most of my flying, the JF-17 integrates well with the western fighters making use of the same datalink and IFF systems which makes it easier for you to work with the rest of the team.
This is a high quality module that is worth your time and attention if you’re looking for something a little different. It’s not quite as hot of a fighter as an F-16, it doesn’t sling quite as many weapons as an F/A-18 but it has plenty of charm of its own and the only thing really working against it is it’s relatively unknown status. If you can overlook that, I think you’ll find a really interesting aircraft to fly.