J-10 Jet Fighter

The Chengdu J-10 jet fighter was meant to be on a par with western and Russian fourth-generation fight­ers. To this end the designers incorporated a Type 634 quadruplex digital FBW control sys­tem (tested on the J-8 II ACT) and a ‘glass cockpit’ with a wide-angle HUD and four MFDs. The fighter utilised the HOTAS princi­ples. The large bubble canopy provided the pilot with a 360° field of view; the pilot sat on a TY-6 zero-zero ejection seat.

From the start the programme was affected considerably by political factors, which necessitated design changes and caused delays. Until 1989, the Chengdu Aircraft Co. had hoped to use western engines and avionics; yet the Tiananmen Square events of 1989 and the ensuing embargo made this impossible.

The designers had to seek alternative powerplants, eventually turning to Russia for help, since the Sino-Russian relations were back to normal by then. The choice fell on the Lyul’ka- Saturn AL-31F afterburning turbofan rated at 7,850 kgp (17,305 lbst) dry and 12,500 kgp (27,560 lbst) reheat-the engine powering the Su-27 family.

An immediate problem arose: the engine had a dorsally mounted accessory gearbox, which proved inconvenient for a single-engined aircraft. Lyul’ka-Saturn responded by developing the AL-31FN version featuring a ventral accessory gearbox specially for the J-10 and assisted with the engine/airframe integration.

Speaking of engines, Russia refused to sell China licence manufacturing rights for the AL-31F engine, striving to prevent exports of J-11 fighters (licence-built Su-27SKs) that would be a breach of the licensing agreement. Thus, the engines for both the J-11 and the J-10 were to be supplied by Russia, with at least 300 engines earmarked for the latter type. Not to be outdone, the Liming Motor Co. engine factory in Shenyang brought out a turbofan designated WS-10A Taihang after­burning turbofan – a derivative of the AL-31R The avionics house Phazotron became another Russian partner, offering its Zhuk-10 (Beetle) and RP-35 Zhemchug (Pearls) multi- mode X-band (8 to 12.5 GHz) radars as alter­natives to the Elta EL/M-2035 (which, inciden­tally, had been used on the Lavi). However, CAC also eyed the indigenous JL-10 (Type 1473) radar developed by the Laiyang Electronic Technology Research Institute (LETRI). The latter model was capable of track­ing ten targets while attacking priority threats; the maximum detection range was estimated as 100 km (62 miles).

An all-metal full-size mock-up was complet­ed by late 1993. Yet, wind tunnel tests revealed potential problems with low-speed perform­ance and lower-than-expected maximum AoAs at subsonic speeds. Besides, in the course of the design process the Chengdu J-10 jet fighter was transformed from a pure fighter to a multi-role combat air­craft, which caused some redesign and conse­quent delays. Finally, in the light of the new sit­uation American fighters, not Russian ones, were now viewed as the J-10’s main adver­saries. This led CAC to redesign the fighter.

In keeping with its new role the J-10 was to carry air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons on 11 hardpoints. The weapons included PL-8 short-range AAMs, PL-11 and PL-12 (SD-10) medium-range AAMs, C-701 anti-radar mis­siles, free-fall bombs and laser-guided bombs. Russian missiles, such as the R-73 short-range AAM, R-77 (RVV-AE) medium-range AAM and Kh-31 ASM, could be carried potentially if the Zhuk-10 radar was selected.

A dozen prototypes took part in the trials – both in Chengdu and at the China Flight Test Establishment (CFTE) in Yanliang. The first air­craft (‘1001 Red’) reportedly took the the air in mid-1996. J-10 ‘1002 Red’ was the first to have a full set of mission avionics. Tragically, this aircraft crashed fatally in late 1997 due to a control system failure. A long hiatus fol­lowed, and the next prototype (‘1003 Red’) did not join the tests until 23rd March 1998; it was used for verifying the FBW control system. The fourth single-seater (‘1005 Red’) served for systems compatibility trials and weapons tests. ‘1006 Red’ was jointly operated by the No. 606 Research Institute and the Liming Motor Co., being fitted with a fixed IFR probe on the starboard side.

In 2000 the J-10 completed its trials pro­gramme. In late 2001 the Chengdu factory took delivery of the first batch of 54 AL-31FN engines for production aircraft. The first pre- production machine took to the air on 28th June 2002. In August that year the type reportedly achieved initial operational capabil­ity with the PLAAF, when full-scale production began at Chengdu. In 2003 the J-10 was cleared for full squadron service.

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