Photo Suggests Possible Nuclear Mission For Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder With Ra’ad ALCM

JF-17 Raad
An image of the JF-17 Thunder during rehearsals for the 2023 Pakistan Day Parade. (Image credit: Rana Suhaib/Snappers Crew)

Pakistan might incorporate the dual-capable Ra’ad ALCM on the JF-17 to take over the nuclear strike role from the Mirage III/Vs.

Pakistan is possibly readying its JF-17 Thunder for launching nuclear capable Ra’ad ALCM (Air-Launched Cruise Missile), according to research conducted by the FAS (Federation of American Scientists). FAS reached the conclusion by comparing the images of the Ra’ad I/II from officially released material by Pakistan’s ISPR (Inter-State Public Relations) and footage of rehearsal for the Pakistan Day Parade in 2023, which showed a bottom view of the JF-17 carrying the missile.

Using photo analysis tools on the images, FAS showed that the length of the missiles mounted on trucks during the parade and the one seen on the aircraft is the same. Thus the initial inference that “Pakistan may incorporate the dual-capable Ra’ad ALCM on the JF-17” for “newer aircraft to take over the nuclear strike role from the Mirage III/Vs.” Pakistan is, in fact,attempting to retire the older French-made fighters.

Pakistan has produced over 130 operational units of the JF-17 fighter jet jointly developed with China, with the latest Block III variant claimed to also have some technologies from the J-20 stealth fighter. The single engine lightweight fighter has often been seen as a competitor to India’s LCA Tejas and also figured in international air shows.

Following a test of the newer Ra’ad II in Feb. 2020, which has a stated range of 600 km, the ISPR stated at the time that it “significantly enhances air delivered strategic standoff capability on land and at sea.” The ALCM’s advanced navigation and guidance system “ensures engagement of targets with maximum precision.” These reports suggested that the missile was well on its way to be integrated on aircraft, with the jet turning out to be the JF-17.

2023 image of the JF-17 carrying the Ra’ad

FAS analysts referred to an image by Rana Suhaib from Snapper’s Crew captured during the rehearsals of the 2023 Pakistan Day Parade, which showed a Ra’ad slung under the right wing’s inner pylon.

The shape of the missile – the front nose section, the middle fuselage, the tail-end exhaust and the tail configuration – confirmed it was the Ra’ad. This is because no missile with such design configuration existed in the PAF (Pakistan Air Force) inventory.

To determine the variant of Ra’ad (Ra’ad-I or II) the JF-17 was seen carrying in the image, FAS compared it to Ra’ad missiles displayed in the 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022, and 2024 Pakistan Day Parades (the parades in 2020 and 2023 were canceled). The Ra’ad-II is said to be the extended range variant of the Ra’ad-I. During these parades, the Ra’ad missiles were showcased alongside other nuclear-capable missiles such as the Nasr, Ghauri, Shaheen-IA and -II, as well as the Babur-1A. The Ra’ad itself was first publicly unveiled in 2017.

The Ra’ad I and IIs since the 2017 Pakistan Day Parades showing the same twin-tail configuration, except when differences were seen in the 2022 and 2024 parades. (Image credit: Federation of American Scientists)

According to FAS, images between the 2017 and 2022 showed there were “very few observable differences between the Ra’ad-I and II.” The publication added that, “during this period, both missiles featured a new engine air intake, and although the Ra’ad-II was presented as having nearly double the range capability, this was not clearly observable through external features.” Both the Ra’ad-I and II also had the same twin-tail design at the time.

The 2022 parade, however, showed an ‘X-shaped’ tail Ra’ad-II and the 2024 parade showed again the two Ra’ad versions with their new “respective tail fin arrangements” – the Ra’ad-I with a twin-tail and the Ra’ad-II with an x-tail.

The fin arrangement of the Ra’ad on the JF-17 photographed by Snapper’s Crew during the 2023 rehearsals matches the ‘twin-tail’ on the Ra’ad-I seen in 2022. FAS also added “it is unlikely that an outdated version of the Ra’ad II would be utilized in a flight test intended to demonstrate state-of-the-art capabilities.”

Neither was the missile the conventional, anti-ship variant of Ra’ad, named Taimoor, as its length is reported to be 4.38 meters. Thus, the JF-17 in the 2023 picture is carrying the Ra’ad-I.

Photo analysis

Taking an image of a truck-mounted Ra’ad-I from the 2019 Parade, FAS rendered the missile’s approximate length at 4.9 meters. Analysts used the same technique on the 2023 image of the JF-17 carrying the Ra’ad and verified the missile’s length matched with the one on the truck launcher.

“From these observations, it is likely that Pakistan has made significant progress toward equipping its JF-17s with the capability to eventually supplement–and possibly replace–the nuclear strike role of the aging Mirage III/Vs,” mentioned the publication after the analysis.

“It is evident that Pakistan has redesigned the RAAD-II ALCM, but little information has been confirmed about the purpose or capabilities associated with this new design. It is also unclear whether either of the Raad systems has been deployed, but this may only be a question of when rather than if,” further added the analysis.

About Parth Satam
Parth Satam's career spans a decade and a half between two dailies and two defense publications. He believes war, as a human activity, has causes and results that go far beyond which missile and jet flies the fastest. He therefore loves analyzing military affairs at their intersection with foreign policy, economics, technology, society and history. The body of his work spans the entire breadth from defense aerospace, tactics, military doctrine and theory, personnel issues, West Asian, Eurasian affairs, the energy sector and Space.