J-10A variant (photo : Combat Aircraft)
Recently, the U.S. think tank, International Assessment and Strategy Center, published an article about the Chinese J-10 fighter. The article claimed that the J-10 fighter is about to enter the international market after 2010, while its price tag of 40 million U.S. dollars is half of its U.S. counterpart, the F-16 fighter.
According to the article, the J-10 fighter is going to sell on the international weapons market around 2010 after extensive R&D and equipping of the Chinese Air Force is complete. It is understood that the Chinese Air Force started developing J-10 back in the 1960s, and it has been fully equipped for the last five years.
The progress that China has made in developing the engine makes the fighter very competitive on international markets; while with its good quality electronics and weapon systems, the price is just half of an American F-16. Pakistan is sure to be the first buyer, and many countries including Iran and the Philippines are also planning to introduce the fighter.
According to Pakistani sources, Pakistan has already reached an agreement with China to buy 36 J-10 fighters at a total value of 1.4 billion U.S. dollars (40 million U.S. dollars for each fighter). While the single price for an F-16, which U.S. sold to the UAE affiliated with AN/APG-80 radar, was 80 million U.S dollars. At the moment it is unclear whether spare parts, maintenance support, training and other services are included into the J-10's price. It is estimated that Pakistan might buy 70 to 150 J-10 fighters in all.
J-10B variant (photo : Airforceworld)Besides price, what makes the J-10 attractive is its competitive electronics and weapon systems. The latest version, sometimes called the J-10B (or FC-20 when slated for Pakistan) emerged in Internet photos in January 2009. It features a driverless supersonic inlet similar in principle to that of the Joint Strike Fighter. The nose is redesigned, with an infrared search-and-track system in front of the windscreen and what appears to be a canted radar bulkhead consisting of a fixed, electronically scanned array radar. If true, this would be a major advance for China's radar technology, and may make the J-10 competitive with upgraded Western and Russian fourth-generation-plus fighters. The cockpit is dominated by three multifunction displays and a heads-up display.
The J-10 has 11 hardpoints, including five on the fuselage. Its principal counter-air weapon is the Luoyang PL 12 active radar-guided air-to-air missile (AAM) with 70-km. range. With a twin-AAM pylon on the inner wing mount, plus two on forward fuselage mounts, the J-10 can carry eight PL-12s. Short-range AAMs include the PL-8, a copy of the Israeli Python-3, and an improved version of this missile, the PL-9, both helmet-sighted. The J-10 may soon feature a more capable helmet-mounted display and a new fifth-generation AAM from Luoyang.
The fighter's market success will depend on China's ability to produce reliable advanced turbofan engines. Rival fighter maker Shenyang has been developing its WS-10A Taihang turbofan since the mid-1980s, which could offer 13.2 tons of thrust. Russian sources believe it is beset by developmental difficulties.
Chengdu may have a competing Huashan advanced turbofan engine program, which some Chinese sources note is based on its late-1990s acquisition of the engineering data and sales rights to the Tumansky R-79 turbofan developed for the defunct Yakovlev Yak-141 supersonic vertical/short-takeoff-and-landing fighter. Nevertheless, Russian sources say China remains interested in more powerful versions of the Salyut AL-31FN, which could come in 13.5- and, eventually, 15-ton-thrust versions.
Chengdu remains ready to develop a carrier-based version of the J-10. During the PLAAF anniversary, a test pilot was reported noting that ground-test simulations prove the J-10 can operate from a carrier.