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Chinese Fighter Aircraft Ambitions
By IANS | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 5/15/2011 12:00:00 AM

In the eighties and nineties, China commenced three fighter development programmes in the JF-17, J-10 and the J-20, an ambitious undertaking for any country, let alone for one which had produced no fighter of its own, except reverse engineered copies of ancient Soviet fighters. Developing just a single fighter is an arduous and daunting task for even the most advanced nations.
A fighter epitomises a nation’s technological capacity as no other aerospace product does. It is designed to operate at high speed, be highly manoeuvrable, have the ability to detect targets using infra-red and radar, launch a variety of air to surface and air to air missiles, defend itself against enemy electronic warfare capabilities and reciprocate the same. Moreover, the limited volume available in any fighter means that all the equipment needs to be miniaturised and tightly packed and yet accessible for easy maintenance, besides being highly reliable. A manned fighter also needs highly efficient pilot support and escape systems. Last but not least, it needs to be robust and survivable, if hit by enemy weapons. This imposes huge design and equipment constraints. As a result fighter development has been the preserve of a few developed nations.
The fact that the Chinese were even willing to consider such programmes is a testament to the ambition and reach of its aerospace industry. Today, when the world’s traditional aerospace powers are contending with shrinking budgets and the effects of an economic recession, the trend is to go in for combined development, witness the Eurofighter Typhoon. Russia, France and the US have so far resisted this trend, though with the F-35, the US too has joined the bandwagon. Given the Rafale’s cost of development and its inability to find a foreign customer, it seems highly unlikely that its successor will be wholly French.
After the JF-17 lightweight fighter, the J-10 was conceptualised as an advanced air defence interceptor. The programme commenced in 1988 on orders from then Premier Deng Xiaoping. Design work was handled by the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute. At the time Israel had just been forced under American pressure to cancel its Lavi fighter. The Lavi project cost was initially estimated at about USD 6 billion of which the US provided forty per cent. Development commenced in 1980 and the first of two prototypes got airborne in 1986. US enthusiasm for the project waned when it realised that the Lavi could compete with its own F-16 and F-18 fighters. Once American financial support was withdrawn, the Israeli government could not finance the project alone and cancelled it in 1987. However, the Israeli aircraft industry continued to develop the many avionics and weapon systems intended for use on the Lavi.
Soon thereafter, reports began to emerge of Israeli experts being present and of Lavi technology being passed on to China. There were also reports of a Lavi prototype having been handed over to the Chinese. The J-10 too sports a tail-less delta wing and canard configuration, like the Lavi. Since the Lavi contained US technology, US authorities launched an investigation. Israeli agencies appeared to confirm that some technologies had indeed changed hands. However, one fact to be borne in mind is that similar problems result in similar solutions. The variety of options at a designer’s disposal is limited. So aircraft may look similar because of similar aerodynamic configurations, like the MiG-29 and the Su-27, and yet be vastly different. Meanwhile the Russians also joined the programme, supplying the AL-31 Saturn engine, also used on the Su-27.
The J-10 is a single engine single seater with chin intakes. The Russian AL-31 engine will eventually be replaced by the Chinese WS-10 engine a spin off from the AL-31. The aircraft is aerodynamically unstable and therefore uses a quadruplex redundant fly by wire system to help control the aircraft. Though initially conceived as an air defence interceptor, shortly after work started, the ground attack role was added to make it a multi-role fighter. Equipment includes the usual array of multi-function displays (MFD), wide-angle heads up display (HUD) and multi mode radar common to most fighters today. Radar displays can be projected onto the HUD. It has been reported that a phased array radar has also been tried out.
The J-10 has 11 hardpoints and carries a weapon load of six tonnes. It carries a mix of radar guided and IR missiles – the Chinese PL-11/12 and the PL-8/9 respectively as well as anti-radiation missiles besides the usual unguided rockets and bombs. The aircraft can be refuelled in flight using a probe and drogue system like its IAF counterparts and has an unrefuelled range of around 2000 km.
Pakistan has already ordered some two squadrons worth – 36 aircraft, in addition to the almost 250 JF-17s it has already ordered. However, until the aircraft are equipped with the Chinese WS-10 engines, export of the Russian AL-31F equipped aircraft will require Russian approval, giving india a possible lever to exert pressure with. (Courtesy : Purple Beret)




भारत डिफेंस कवच की नई हिन्दी पत्रिका ‘डिफेंस मॉनिटर’ का ताजा अंक ऊपर दर्शाया गया है। इसके पहले दस पन्ने आप मुफ्त देख सकते हैं। पूरी पत्रिका पढ़ने के लिए कुछ राशि का भुगतान करना होता है। पुराने अंक आप पूरी तरह फ्री पढ़ सकते हैं। पत्रिका के अंकों पर क्लिक करें और देखें। -संपादक

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