Chengdu J-10 (Jian-10 Fighter aircraft 10) / F-10
There has been much speculation on the development of China's J-10 fighter. Many suggested the aircraft's design was based on the Lavi- the unsuccessful attempt by Israel to develop an indigenous F-16 fighter. Only in December 2006 did China officially acknowledged the fielding of the J-10, when the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) released videos and photos of the aircraft via China Central Television (CCTV) and Xinhua News Agency. By then, it was apparent that the J-10 has the potential of becoming one of the most significant fighters in the next few decades.
Initial development of the J-10 began in October 1988. Originally the aircraft was to be an air superiority fighter. The 1980s saw a number of similar aircraft designs featuring a main delta-wing and canards. The delta-wing, a triangular wing platform, offers two important aerodynamic qualities to a combat aircraft. First, the swept leading edge of a delta-wing stays ahead of the shock wave generated by the nose of the aircraft during supersonic flight, making delta-wing a very efficient aerodynamic wing shape for supersonic flight. And secondly, the leading edge of delta-wing also generates a massive vortex that attaches itself to the upper surface of the wing during high angle-of-attack (AOA) maneuvers resulting in very high stall points. Additionaly, the delta-wing offers increased survivability by having increased structural and airflow stability.
By 1993 the Chinese possessed an all-metal mockup of the J-10. Wind tunnel testing revealed potential problems with low-speed performance and less than expected maximum AOA at subsonic speeds. At the time, there was an ongoing trend in fighter aircraft development that moved the development of single-purpose fighters such as high-speed interceptor or low-altitude dogfighters to polifunctional aircraft that combined subsonic and supersonic air-to-air performance with air-to-ground capabilities. Increasing demands for air-to-ground operations called for an in-depth redesign of the J-10 to accommodate terrain-following radar, more and sturdier hardpoints, and entirely new targeting, flight control and navigation systems.
The first test flight of the J-10 came in 1996 with the help of a Russian made AI-31FN turbofan engine. It would take two years, however, before the J-10 had a successful test flight. By 1999 China had six prototypes: four of them used for flight testing and two for static tests. By late 2000 there were nine J-10 prototypes accumulating over 140 flight hours. The first flight of the pre-production model took place on June 28, 2002. In early 2003 ten J-10s were deployed to Nanjing Military Region for training and operational evaluation.
Development would not stop, however, as China also began to construct two-seat versions of the J-10 for training and air-to-ground roles. This two-seat J-10B fighter-trainer aircraft successfully flew in 2003. Preliminary designs for two new versions of the J-10 featuring single and twin engines and LO geometry were also completed.
Low-rate initial production of the J-10 was authorised in 2002, with the initial run of fifty aircraft to be fitted with Russian AL-31F engines. The J-10 is expected to achieve initial operating capability in the 2005 to 2006 timeframe, initially entering service with the 44th Aviation Division based in Sichuan Province. The PLAAF initially was estimated to have a total requirement of 300 aircraft, but this may be reduced to less than 100 as a result of the introduction of the more capable Su-30MK multirole fighter.
As the Chinese continue to develop and improve the J-10 it becomes clear they are interested in expanding its air-to-ground capability, thus moving from the original concept of a tactical air defense fighter to a multirole fighter-bomber. The change in Chinese reporting of the J-10, from the "Jian-10" ("Fighter-10") to the "Qian Shi-10" ("Attack 10") is proof of this intended move.
Russian involvement in the J-10 program was not limited to the AI-31FN turbojet engine, but also included offers for advanced multifunction radars, navigation and targeting systems, ECM suite, and missile warning and defense systems. For the J-10, the Chinese will most likely adopt the Phazotron RP-35 "Zhemchug," which is an X-band radar with digital fire-control sensors and an electronically scanning phased-array antenna. The radar features a liquid-cooled travelling wave tube transmitter; an exciter; a three channel microwave reciever and programmable signal and data processors. All critical radar controls for "Zemchug" are integrated into the aircraft's throttle grip and stick controller, and radar data is displayed via the head-up and head-down displays allowing for one-man operation.
The production of the J-10 has forced China to quickly adapt to current developmental trends; in addition to utilizing other technologies (Russia, Israel) for the benefit of its final product. The results are promising. Not only does the J-10 pose a risk to the Russian fighter export market, but it considerably boosts the Chinese air force's tactical offensive capabilities, especially vis-a-vis Taiwan.
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