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Chinese Fighter Aircraft

J-5 Mig-17 Fresco
J-6 Mig-19 Farmer
J-7 Mig-21 Fishbed
J-8 Finback
J-9 Cancelled
J-10 "Lavi"
J-11 Su-30
J-12 Cancelled
J-13 Cancelled
J-14 Cancelled
J-15 Flying Shark
J-16 J-11-mod?
J-17 J-11-mod?
J-18 J-11-mod?
J-19 J-11-mod?
J-20 Black Eagle
J-21 Snowy Owl
J-YY "next gen"

DF-101 J-5
DF-102 J-6
DF-103 J-6
DF-105 J-6B
DF-106 Q-5

JF-17 / FC-1
JH-7 Flounder

Q - Qiangjiji (Attack)
Q-5 Fantan
Q-7 ???

With the signing of the Sino-Soviet Treaty in 1950, the Soviet Union became the primary arms supplier of the Chinese military. Soviet aid included not only the provision of complete weap-ons, but also involved the transfer of Soviet-designed arms factories, among them those for aircraft. By the end of the 1950s, the PLAAF was considered a substantial asset in the defense forces of Mainland China. At that time it was the third largest air force in the world, numerically inferior only to those of the United States and the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, during the Korean War the MiG-15s (identified in Chinese Communist nomenclature as Shenyang F-2s) and the "volunteer" pilots of the PLAAF proved no match for their United Nations' opponents.

The F-86 Sabre pilots of the United States Air Force achieved a 10:1 kill ratio over their PLAAF adversaries. The inexperience and lack of rigorous combat training of Chinese Communist airmen, as well as technical deficiencies of their aircraft (primarily the absence of an effective radar gunsight that had by that time become a basic component of American air units), cost the PLAAF serious personnel and aircraft losses.

As the 1950s drew to a close, the PLAAF - by that time equipped with MiG-17s (F-4s) - engaged the aircraft of the Nationalist Chinese air force over the Taiwan Strait in a contest for control of the airspace over the offshore islands of Kinmen and Ma-tsu. In the course of that conflict, between July and October 1958, thirty-one aircraft of the PLAAF fell before the guns of the Nationalist Chinese pilots. The Air Command of the Republic of China (ROCAC) on Taiwan reported the loss of two fighter planes during the same engagements.4 Suffering a loss-ratio of 15.5:1 to the Nationalist Chinese, the PLAAF broke off these engagements. Once again it was the superior training of their opponents' crews as well as the advanced aircraft systems of the Nationalist air force that proved so costly to the PLAAF.

Since that time the PLAAF had little occasion to be tested in combat. Although PLAAF air units from Hainan afforded air cover for the Chinese Communist assault on the Paracel Islands in January 1974, the lack of South Vietnamese air opposition precluded any opportunity for combat testing of either the men or machines of the Mainland air force.

The Chinese have their own particular order of ranking fighter aircraft. The Chinese call the Russian's 5th generation fighter a 4th generation machine. The Chinese have a pretty clear about understanding of 3rd and 4th generation fighters, but sources are a bit hazy on the distinction between the first and second generations.

  1. The F-86 is a typical first generation of jet fighters. The Russian "Five Dynasty" schema has a first generation running from 1945 to 1955, then a brief second generation from 1955 to 1960. The Chinese schema combines these two generations. The Shenyang J-5 'Fresco' is also a first generation jet fighter, as is the Shenyang J-6 'Farmer, though the Russian schema would make the later aircraft a second generation jet fighter.
  2. The F-4 "Phantom" is a typical second-generation fighter aircraft. The Shenyang J-8I/IIB&D 'Finback' is a second generation jet fighter - the Chinese Air Force still has a lot of second-generation J-8 fighter planes in service.
  3. The F-15, F-16, and F-18 are third generation American jet fighters; The J-10 is a fully-fledged third-generation machine (what Russia called a fourth generation machine)
  4. The F-22, F-35, and PAK-FA T-50 are fourth generation fighter aircraft. The J-20 is a fourth-generation machine (what Russia called a fourth generation machine)
In the 1950s, the Chinese aviation industry realized the leap from the repair to the manufacturer of fighter aircraft. In 1959, the first Chinese supersonic jet J-6, after successful trials, made china one of the few countries in the world engaged in the mass production of jet fighters. By the mid-1960s the military leadership of the People's Republic of China (PRC) had decided on an air defense strategy that involved investment in a large force of relatively cheap and technologically unsophisticated aircraft. Given the financial and technology constraints confronting the aircraft industry of Mainland China, aircraft production was concentrated on the MiG-17 (F-4 and F-5) and the MiG-19 (F-6). It is estimated that by the late '70s, the inventory of the PLAAF included about four thousand of these fighter-interceptors.

Numerically, the MiG-19s (in at least three variants) constitute the most important components of the contemporary Mainland air service. The aircraft design and technology of these craft date from the '50s; yet, the MiG-19 was still an efficient gun platform packing three NR-30 30 mm cannon, which are superior to their British and French counterparts. However, the performance of its Soviet-designed Izumrud radar left the aircraft with only limited all-weather capabilities and impaired its effectiveness.

Genuine air-to-air attack radar systems have been standard on fighters in the Soviet and United States air forces for decades, and their absence from fighters that serve as the mainstay of the Communist Chinese fighter command constituted a major combat impairment. During the late '60s, an apparent attempt was made to improve their combat readiness by making major modifications to the MiG-19 and produce a variant known as the F-9 (actually the F-6bis). The F-6bis aircraft has a new forward fuselage section that added approximately two feet to overall aircraft length, displacing the standard nose inlet of the MiG-19 to two fixed geometry plain air inlets at the wing roots. This long conical nose was apparently designed to house a radar system that would afford effective air-to-surface and air-to-air attack capabilities.

By 1980 the only aircraft on line with the PLAAF that could qualify as modern was the Chinese version of the Russian-designed MiG-21F (identified as the Shenyang F-7 and F-8). These aircraft have suffered numerous design problems, and production may have ceased with about 80 aircraft in current service. Given the probable design deficiencies, their combat effectiveness was also questionable.

Through the end of the Cold War, significant effort did not seem to have been made to acquire or develop state-of-the-art weapons technologies. This was due, in part, to the relatively primitive state of the Chinese defense industry, and, in part, to political and bureaucratic pressures. But with the end of the Cold War came Chinese access to nearly the full range of Russian military technology. And thanks to the miracle of compound interest, China's economic growth provided the resources needed by more advanced weapons.

By 2010, although China's own military industry was still decades behind that of the U.S., they were closing the gap in military power quickly with the purchase of advanced foreign weapon systems. Russian military sales had greatly contributed to China's military modernization and since the 1990s had been China's primary source of foreign weapons systems, totaling an estimated $11 billion in the period of 2001-2005. China has purchased advanced Russian weapon systems including: Su-27 (Flanker) and Su-30 (Sukhoi) fighter aircraft. Armed with a sophisticated onboard radar and electronic countermeasures suite, the SU-30MKK is capable of carrying advanced air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. The SU-30MKK poses a significant threat to current fourth generation Western aircraft.

Indeed, China was beginning to develop indigenous designs, and had apparently decided to develop a fifth generation fighter without Russian assistance. In the realm of firepower and control systems, the Chinese fighters were lagging some 15 to 20 years behind advanced foreign levels. In 1995, the electronics in the most sophisticated domestically produced fighter aircraft, the J-8II, were comparable to American 1970s-level technology. And while the advent of a Chinese counterpart to the F-22 fighter might be disconcerting, the YF-22 prototype first flew on 29 September 1990.

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Page last modified: 17-09-2019 19:02:28 ZULU