The Chengdu J-10 (meaning "Annihilate (Fighter) Ten") is a 4.5th generation multirole fighter aircraft designed and produced by the People's Republic of China's Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC) with considerable foreign technological input for the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). Known in the West as the "Vigorous Dragon", the J-10 is designed to be equally useful in both the fighter and light bomber roles and is optimized for all-weather day/night operation.
Although the existence of J-10 has long been reported both inside and outside of China, the Chinese government did not officially admit so until January 2007, when the first photographs of the J-10 were allowed to be published to the public by the Xinhua News Agency. Having been designed under such secrecy, before its official disclosure, many details of the J-10 were subject to much speculation. One rumored version of the J-10 development history is: the first flight of the J-10 took place sometime in 1996, then the program suffered a major delay due to a fatal accident which occurred in 1997, and then a redesigned prototype flew in 1998, resuming flight testing of the aircraft. (There is evidence, albeit inconclusive, that only one prototype was flying; the other was a ground static testbed. Hence, no crash occurred.)
However, the rumored crash has been openly denied by the government of China after the official governmental acknowledgment of the existence of the J-10: on 1 January 2007, both the Xinhua News Agency and the PLA Daily have claimed/reported the accomplishments of one of the test pilots of the J-10, Mr. Li Zhonghua (李中华), and, in these reports, one of the accomplishments quoted was that there was not a single crash since the project began. According to Chinese media reports, the first plane, "J-10 01", rolled out in November 1997, and the first flight of "J-10 01" was on 23 March 1998. No incident has been reported. After 18 years in development, the J-10 finally entered service in 2004.
The aircraft made its successful maiden flight on 23 March 1998, flown by test pilot Mr. Lei Qiang (雷強), lasting twenty minutes. Another test pilot Mr. Li Zhonghua (李中华) test flew the prototype for its aerodynamic performance that lasted till early December, 2003, during which aerial refueling tests were also successfully completed. In these aerodynamic tests, the aircraft was pushed beyond its parameters of the original design and it was discovered that the aircraft could easily withstand the greater requirements. The last part of the test flight was the live round air-to-air missiles test firing, which lasted from 21 December 2003 to 25 December 2003, which was completed by test pilot Mr. Xu Yongling (徐勇凌). The aircraft were first delivered to the 13th Test Regiment on 23 February 2003. The aircraft was given the status 'operational' in December of the same year. The first operational regiment was the 131th Regiment of the 44th Division. It is rumored that a regiment of the 3rd Division has also J-10s.
In April 2006, the media reported that the Pakistani government intends to procure at least 36 J-10s (designated FC-20 or FC-10, depending on the report). The Business Recorder claims that the Pakistani official document it obtained said the Cabinet "has allowed PAF to set up Joint Working Group (JWG) with CATIC for procurement of 36 FC-20 aircraft". Other media reports cited Pakistan Information Minister Sheikh Rashid (at that time) saying that the Cabinet has approved the purchase of J-10s from China, in addition to JF-17s. On 31 March 2007, Pakistan Air Force Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed said, "PAF would soon induct fourth and fifth generation high-tech fleet of fighter-bomber aircraft with the aim to modernize the country's air force which includes the induction of 2 squadrons of Chengdu J-10 aircraft. The J-10 export deal is estimated to cost a total of $1.5 billion USD, with a flyaway price of $41 million USD for each J-10 fighter with maintenance and parts inclusive.
It was reported by Jane's Defence Weekly on 2006-01-09 that a more advanced version of the J-10 is planned, referred to as the Super-10, with a more powerful engine, thrust-vector control, stronger airframe and passive phased-array radar.
There have been conflicting reports about the relationship Chengdu may have had with the Israeli IAI Lavi fighter program. In formal (official) Chinese sources, the J-10 is said to have been developed from the now canceled Chengdu J-9, which shared with both J-10 and the Lavi a canard-configuration. The J-9 program predated both of the other aircraft - a fact that arguably counters the Lavi-related speculation. In an interview, the general designer of J-10, Mr. Song Wencong (宋文骢) said, "Our nation's new fighter's external design and aerodynamics configuration are completely made by us and did not receive foreign assistance, this made me very proud. Our nation developed J-9 in the 1960s, this adopted the canard configuration. So, those statements that said J-10 is a copy of Israeli Lavi are just laughable.
A simple comparison of known IAI Lavi prototype photographs and J-10 photographs (now officially released) shows some common features between the two aircraft, but also common with fighter aircraft of other countries.. However, the delta canard layout also appeared on many other aircraft, including the Eurofighter Typhoon and the French Rafale. Additionally, the delta-canard planform combined with a ventral intake has also been used on a Soviet-designed high-technology prototype known as the MiG 1.44. The Soviets started the MiG-1.44 project as far back as 1986, before the Lavi program was canceled. While Lavi and J-10 share some features, there are notable differences. The ventral intake of the J-10, MiG-1.44 and Eurofighter are rectangular and feature variable geometry ramping for high-speed flight. The intakes on both the Lavi and F-16 are round and fixed, and neither aircraft was developed with an eye towards reduced radar cross-section.
The strongest admission of Israeli complicity in the J-10's development by Israeli authorities appeared in a statement made by an official as American authorities investigated alleged Lavi technology transfers to China. The Director General of Israel's Ministry of Defense David Lari "acknowledged in an Associated Press interview that 'some technology on aircraft' had been sold to China and that some Israeli companies may not have 'clean hands'".. The context of the article strongly substantiates military technology being transferred between Israeli and the Chinese defense institutions, but lack specific mention of the Lavi being part of it. However, the volume of Israeli arms and technology sales to China suggests a considerable range of ventures were undertaken.
In May 2008, Jane's Information Group reported several interviews with Russian sources claiming to be involved with various Chengdu military projects. A number of engineers, designers and technical specialists described their visits to Chengdu and other areas of China in the 1980s. How these sources were able to gain access to top-secret military projects during the Sino-Soviet split is unclear. A source alleged that high-level Chengdu officials described the possession of a single Lavi prototype at one of Chengdu's facilities. They also claim that in 2000, two years after the J-10's maiden flight, aerodynamic models were sent to Russian wind tunnel testing facilities to study the J-10's aerodynamics. The scope of involvement is not reported. However, the J-10 was undergoing flight testing in 2000. As such, the timeline suggests that the models played a small role in verifying the aerodynamic properties of the aircraft. The Russian sources in the article were allegedly involved in design and performance modeling, wind-tunnel testing, and advanced aerodynamic design input in various military projects.
During the 2006 Farnborough Airshow, the Russian Siberian Aeronautical Research Institute (SibNIA) confirmed its participation in the J-10 program. According to the article, this participation was limited to observation and instruction as "scientific guides." The sources also claimed that the J-10 was based on the canceled Israeli IAI Lavi. How the sources were able to reach this conclusion is unclear as it is not stated in the article.
Kommersant's reporter Kostantin Lantratov affirmed that Russian consent was required to export the J-10, given its Russian AL-31 engine.
The J-10 is powered by a single, Russian-built Lyulka-Saturn AL-31FN turbofan engine (maximum static power output of 12,500 kgf (123 kN, 27,600 lbf)) or a Chinese-built Woshan WS-10A "Taihang" turbofan (13,200 kgf (129 kN, 29,101 lbf)). However, after the government's official acknowledgment of the existence of the J-10, an interview with J-10 pilots (such as test pilot Li Cunbao (李存宝)) revealed that a domestic engine is highly unlikely to equip the J-10 in the near future. In this interview, publicized in January 2007, the pilots claimed that though the domestic Chinese engine could match the performance of the Russian design in every aspect, there was a very serious drawback - the domestic Chinese engine took much longer to reach the same level of performance as its Russian counterpart (according to Mr. Li Cunbao, as well as other pilots who flew the J-10 fitted with the WS-10, it took at least 50% longer, and in several other aspects, almost 100% longer.) Although this would only translate to a ~1 minute difference at most, it was enough to affect the pilot's ability to safely recover the aircraft by restarting the engine rather than abandoning the aircraft in a forced ejection. Another significant drawback of the domestic Chinese engine is the lack of a FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) feature. This has been addressed, however, the current FADEC-equipped WS-10 is not reliable enough to be considered for service. As a result of difficulties faced with the development of the WS-10, all initial J-10s are powered by the Russian AL-31FN turbofan; 180 AL-31FN engines ordered in two separate batches by China have been delivered by the mid-2000s. Out of the 180 engines ordered, 100 were built by the Moscow-based MMPP Salyut plant, and the remaining 80 by Ufa-based UMPO facility, with the price of the first batch being $300 million, while the price of the second batch was undisclosed. Contrary to many erroneous claims, the AL-31FN is not a thrust vectoring engine, but instead, a derivative of the AL-31F engine used by Su-27 aircraft. The most significant difference between the AL-31FN and other models is the arrangement of certain parts and mechanisms due to spacial limitations of the engine bay in the J-10. Protruding parts of the engine such as the pump are mounted opposite to that of AL-31F. The new WS-10A engine with full FADEC received certification in early 2006. The new WS-13 engine with thrust vectoring developed from the AL-31FN engine is reportedly near completion.
Adding to the confusion, the Chinese government has released the official photo of the domestic thrust vectoring engine undergoing testing around the same time, but did not provide any other information besides identifying the asymmetric nozzles of the thrust vectoring engine in the tests. Some sources outside China have claimed this domestic thrust vectoring engine might be for the Shenyang J-11. Regardless of how they will eventually be used, thrust vectoring will undoubtedly increase the J-10's agility. However, if Chinese criticism of thrust vectoring engines proves to be true, then it is highly unlikely that any thrust vectoring technology could be incorporated into J-10 anytime soon, and the lack of any follow-on orders for AL-31F M1 seems to support this view.
The airframe possesses a large vertical tail, as well as canards placed near the cockpit. The air intake is rectangular in shape, and is located beneath the fuselage. Construction likely incorporates much use of composite materials, as well as more conventional metals. Performance is generally speculated to be within the class of a (Block 40) F-16 Fighting Falcon. In simulated dogfights, the J-10 has defeated the J-11. A bubble canopy provides 360 degrees of visual coverage for the pilot. The aircraft is designed by the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute, a subordinate research institute of Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation, but in a rather unusual agreement, the single seat version of the J-10 and the twin seater version of J-10 were designed by two different general designers: the general designer for the single seater version of the J-10 was Mr. Song Wencong, while the twin seater version of the J-10 was designed by a younger person, the general designer of the JF-17 Thunder Mr. Yang Wei (杨伟). However, Mr. Yang is the chief designer of the fully digitized fly-by-wire control systems for both versions of the fighter. This is disputed by analyst Richard Fisher who credits Israeli consultants for developing the system. For both single seater and twin seater versions, the chief engineer was Mr. Xue Chishou (薛炽寿), who was also the deputy general manager of Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation, and the chief test engineer was Mr. Zhou Ziquan (周自全), who was also the deputy director of Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute. Mr. Sang Jianhua (桑建华) of Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute was responsible for the stealth feature designs. China has only three internationally-recognized test pilots who are certified to perform test flights worldwide, and all of them were recruited for the J-10 program: they were Mr. Lei Qiang (雷強), Mr. Li Cunbao (李存宝) and Mr. Li Zhonghua (李中华). Other test pilots who contributed greatly in trials of the J-10 included Mr. Xu Yongling (徐勇凌) and Mr. Zou Jianguo (邹建国).
A digital, quadruplex fly-by-wire system aids the pilot in flying the aircraft. Information is provided visually to the pilot, in the form of three Liquid Crystal Multi-Functional Displays (LCD MFDs) within the cockpit. Western-style HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) controls are incorporated in the J-10's design. A Chinese Helmet-Mounted Sight (HMS) is also standard equipment.
The radar type equipping the J-10 is not yet finalized, with a variety of possible candidates, some of which have been installed on the J-10 airframe. With the exception of the RP-35, most of the J-10 radars that have been publicized are slotted planar array radars:
In January 2007, scientists and engineers at Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation revealed to the public that the current radar of J-10 is a slotted planar array one with capabilities to simultaneously track 10 targets and engaging 4 of the 10 tracked. However, the scientists and engineers stopped short of revealing the exact designation of the radar, and only claimed that development was in progress to arm the aircraft with a passive electronically scanned array airborne radar. It is rumored the passive phased array radar is either Russian-made or jointly developed with the Russians.
In comparison to Russian Izdeliye family of optronics such as OLS-27 (36Sh) on Su-27 and OLS-30 (52Sh) on Su-30 that weigh over 200 kg, the Chinese system is much more lighter and compact, but still not enough to be fitted into the nose of the aircraft when the current available radars are installed. As a result, only the podded version can be carried by earlier production models of J-10. Many domestic Chinese sources have claimed that this is the reason why the radar selection of J-10 has not yet been finalized, due to the need for a more compact and lighter one while maintaining the same capability at the same time in order to install the domestic optronics system internally like similar systems on F-14, MiG-29 and Su-27.
A comprehensive ECM (Electronic Countermeasures) package is likely to be present, including active jammers such as the BM/KG300G self-protection jamming pod. Additionally, the KZ900 electronic reconnaissance pod can also be carried. In various defense, aerospace/aeronautical and electronic exhibitions, various Helmet-Mounted Sights developed by domestic Chinese firms have been shown, claiming to have better performance than those of Russia. At various defense and aerospace exhibitions held in Beijing and Zhuhai, the J-10 has also been featured in photos and models carrying the Blue Sky navigation pod low-altitude navigational and attack pod and the FILAT Forward-looking Infrared Laser Attack Targeting pod.
The wings provide 11 hardpoints for the attachment of up to 4,500 kg (9,900 lb) of weaponry, fuel drop tanks, and ECM equipment. Built-in armament consists of a 23 mm cannon, located within the fuselage. External weaponry may include: short-range infrared air-to-air missiles (Chinese PL-8, or the Russian R-73), medium-range radar-guided air-to-air missiles (Chinese PL-11, PL-12, or the Russian R-77), laser-guided and unguided bombs, anti-ship missiles (Chinese YJ-9K), and anti-radiation missiles (Chinese PJ-9).
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