Images suggest J-10Bs close to entering Chinese service.
Richard D Fisher Jr, Washington, DC - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
12 January 2015
An early January sighting of 14 J-10B fighters at the airfield of Factory 132 of the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) indicates this updated fighter may soon be deployed to its first operational regiment.
A People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) fighter regiment usually has about 24 aircraft.
Chinese commentators suggested the fighters may have been assembled for a transfer ceremony or another publicity exercise. Images show the J-10B fighters in the usual grey colour scheme of the PLAAF, an indication they may soon be deployed.
Following a testing programme that started in late 2008, images of the aircraft from the first J-10B production batch emerged in December 2013. Throughout 2014 Chinese aircraft spotters posted images of this first production batch, first in yellow primer and then in service grey.
Early images of the J-10B started to appear in March 2009, although it reportedly first flew on 23 December 2008. Its prominent improvements over the J-10A include a diverterless supersonic intake (DSI) for the engine, a new phased array radar in a flatter shaped nose, a new infrared search and track (IRST) system in front of the windscreen, a metalised cockpit to reduce radar reflectivity, and new electronic warfare (EW) systems in front of the canards and atop the vertical stabiliser.
With its longer-range phased array radar the J-10B is expected to be able to better employ its 100 km-range PL-12 active-guided air-to-air missiles (AAMs), future improved versions, and possible new longer range versions. Since 2008 Chinese sources have hinted that a longer range ramjet-powered PL-12 version may be under development.
A twin-seat version of the J-10B has not yet emerged, but there is speculation about a future twin-seat strike-fighter version that may compete with the Shenyang J-16. One possible indication of this is that Chengdu has done wind tunnel testing of conformal fuselage fuel tanks for the J-10.
The first J-10B production batch will be powered by Russian Saturn AL-31FN turbofans. Though an example powered by a Shenyang-Liming WS-10A turbofan emerged in July 2011, there is speculation that either insufficient performance or production may be delaying its adoption.
In April 2014 an Asian government source told IHS Jane's that in early 2014 the PLAAF had 220 J-10A and twin-seat J-10BS fighters, with this number estimated to increase to 400 by 2020. This could indicate an annual production rate of about 30 advanced J-10s.
The incipient arrival of the J-10B in PLAAF service is another step towards almost the potential for air superiority in the event of conflict with Taiwan. Along with the J-10s, the PLAAF can rely on Su-30MKK and the Su-30-derived J-11 and J-16s to bring beyond visual range (BVR) and helmet-sighted AAMs to a fight, while they are also reportedly able to carry the YJ-12 air-launched anti-ship cruise missile.
Such capabilities complicate potential US intervention in a Taiwan crisis and also suggest that the Indian Air Force would struggle to cope if the two countries were to clash on the Line of Actual Control in the Himalayas.
While China is making well-documented progress with fighter aircraft - including the J-15 carrier fighter, and J-20 and J-31 stealthy fighters - its issues with indigenous engines and support aircraft are also well known.
In a sign that it may be making progress with the former, the Chengdu Engine Group Company (CEGC) posted an update on its website on 9 January saying that it had successfully tested a new indigenous engine on an Il-76 testbed from September to December 2014. The engine is likely to be the WS-20 high-bypass engine, which was first seen on an Il-76 testbed in January 2014 and is believed to be destined for the Y-20 strategic airlifter.
Russian think tank the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) also suggested that it could be fitted to the Xian H-6 strategic bomber.
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