The aircraft for today is the Chengdu J-10 which is also known by its Chinese name of Vigorous Dragon or better from its NATO designation of Firebird. This is a lightweight and a multirole fighter jet that is able to perform in all-weather conditions.
The company behind the creation of the Chengdu J-10 is the CAC (Chengdu Aircraft Corporation) which developed the aircraft for service of the PLAAF (People’s Liberation Army Air Force). Other than China, the aircraft is also operated by Pakistan under the designation FC-20 Vanguard.
Origin and Development:-
The aircraft started several years even before it was made official and was designated as Project 8610 upon request of China to create a fighter jet with the same capabilities as the 4th generation fighters of Russia and the US. The program formally started back in 1986 and was developed near the Cold War but it saw many revisions in its design to make it a better multirole fighter without making it lose any power.
There is a belief that behind the creation of the Chengdu J-10 there is involvement from Israeli Air Force and the technology they used in their cancelled project of Israeli Lavi.
A total of 6 prototypes for the Chengdu J-10 were created back in the late-1990s and they flew back on March 22nd and 23rd 1998, all by a single pilot named Lei Quiang. One of these prototypes was destroyed during its test flight by the Chinese government denied it. From there on more revisions were carried out on the Chengdu J-10 which led to a total of 18 years of development for this aircraft.
The very first fleet of the Chengdu J-10 arrived at PLAAF back in 2004 with some time spent in the testing regiment back in 2003. The aircraft was officially announced after nearly 2 decades of secrecy and denial from the Chinese government as their official part of the air force back in 2005.
Manufacturer and the total number of Chengdu J-10s in PLAAF:-
From the year 2004 to 2006, the PLAAF was delivered with almost 100 of these Chengdu J-10 aircraft with the total number now reaching about 160. There is speculation that 300 more of these Chengdu J-10s will also be coming off of the production line to serve the PLAAF.
The entire production of the Chengdu J-10 is carried out by a single company named Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation.
Powerplant and Performance:-
The Chengdu J-10 is powered by a single-engine that can either be a Woshan WS-10A Taihang engine or the Saturn Lyulka AL-31 FN engine. Both of them are the afterburning turbofan jet engines which can create a thrust equivalent to 29101 lbs/ft. this much power allows for the aircraft to fly at a top speed of nearly 1452 mph for a combat range of 1118 miles at a service ceiling of about 65617 feet.
The Chengdu J-10 is able to sustain well up to -3Gs and its range can also be increased with external fuel tanks for a total of 2113 miles. The aircraft is also equipped to perform air refueling for itself.
Inherent unstable airframe and flight control systems:-
Due to the nature of the Chengdu J-10’s wings’ layout and the design of the fuselage, the aircraft retains mostly as an inherently unstable one. The aircraft only relies on the fast processing computers through its fly-by-wire flight systems. These systems allow for the pilot to have the added assistance to fly his aircraft of the unruly frame to fly in a stabilized manner without a worry to enter in stalls or fatal spins.
The standard armament configuration of the Chengdu J-10 is comprised of twin-barrel Type23-2 cannon of 23 mm located under the intakes located near its landing gear. Like many other multirole fighters, the Chengdu J-10 also enjoys numerous hardpoints for armament equipping; 11 of them in total. The total munition load-carrying capacity of the Chengdu J-10 is about 9900lbs.
For the air-to-air combat case, the aircraft makes use of the PL-8, PL-9, PL-11, or the PL-12 medium-ranged missiles. PL-8 is based on the Israeli made Python 3 design. The PL-9 comes with infra-red homing ability and also has a speed of well over Mach 3. As for PL-12, it is on par with the American made AIM-120 AMRAAM.
Coming to air-to-surface armaments, the aircraft is equipped with the YJ-9K or the PJ-9 missiles.
Conventional missiles for the Chengdu J-10 include the surface rocket pods of 90 mm, smart laser-guided bombs like LT-2, glide bombs such as LS-6 and the drop bombs of about 500 kg.
For increasing the operational range of the Chengdu J-10, the aircraft’s hardpoints can also be equipped for 3 fuel tanks externally with the main one having a capacity of 450 gallons whereas the other 2 with a 212-gallon capacity.
In addition to armaments, the Chengdu J-10 is also equipped with avionics pods like the following.
- FILAT (Froward looking, Infrared Laser Attack Targeting) pod
- Blue Sky navigation pod
- The BM/KG300G Jamming Pod
- The KZ900 reconnaissance pod
- Type Hongguang Infra-red searching and tracking pod
The newer variants of the Chengdu J-10 are being fitted with the AESA (Active, Electronically Scanned Array) radar. This is the very same radar that is fitted in the F-22 Raptor and the F-15 Eagles; both the American jet fighters and the only ones to have the AESA radar.
J-10 in Pakistan:-
The only other operator of the Chengdu J-10 other than China is Pakistan. Pakistan has been delivered with its own fleet of Chengdu J-10 but they have been designated by the Pakistan Air Force as FC-20 Vanguard. Nearly 36 of these Chengdu J-10 aircraft were purchased by Pakistan Air Force back in 2006 with deliveries being made in 2009. Pakistan also made it clear that they will be buying more FC-20s from China in the wake of the increasing tensions with their neighboring country India.
These FC-20s will also be working side by side the China-Pakistan JF-17 Thunder, the 5th generation jet fighter, which is already in service with PAF since 2012. The speculation is that Pakistan is probably going to procure nearly 150 of these FC-20s for their air force.
Nearly 206 of these Chengdu J-10s are in service of PLAAF and they are expected to remain in the service for a long time through modernization and improvement programs for its systems. The aircraft is regarded as a lethal adversary for the 4th generation jet fighters that would definitely be taking part in the war scenario.