24 Desember 2015
A new electronic warfare variant of the SAC J-16 reportedly first flew on 18 December 2015. (photo : defenceforumindia, Jane's)
A possible new electronic warfare (EW) variant of the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) J-16 twin-seat strike fighter made its first flight on 18 December, according to Chinese sources, potentially adding a significant offensive capability to the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
Images of the new variant have emerged on several Chinese military web pages, including a 21 December 2015 video report on the popular Ifeng web page. The most salient modifications are two new wingtip pods similar to the Northrop Grumman AN/ALQ-218 Tactical Jamming Receiver, leading to comparisons with the E/A-18G Growler electronic attack variant of Boeing's Super Hornet.
This possible J-16 EW prototype appears to lack the usual fuselage-mounted gun and the infrared search and tracking system (IRST) also appears to be missing, but the J-16, which resembles the Russian Sukhoi Su-30, would have up to 10 wing and fuselage hardpoints for ordnance and active jamming pods.
The PLA is known to have developed three tactical electronic warfare pods. The first, similar in size to the EDO Corporation AN/ALQ-99, may come in receiver and transmitter versions and was first seen on Xian Aircraft Corporation JH-7 strike fighters in 2007. A smaller KG600 pod also equips JH-7s, while the KG300 appears to be an export variant.
An EW version of the J-16 equipped similarly to the E/A-18G would give PLAAF strike packages a far greater chance of reaching their targets and avoiding increasingly capable air defences.
A close-up of the new electronic warfare pod on the wingtips of the SAC J-16 shows a similarity to the Northrop Grumman AN/ALQ-218 Tactical Jamming Receiver. (photo : Ifeng)
Development of a J-16 EW variant could also lead to a similar carrier warfare version of the twin-seat J-15S.
Chinese commentators note that, just as the Growler enables US air forces, an active jamming version of the J-16 would allow the PLAAF to decrease its dependence on large and vulnerable electronic support aircraft based on the Shaanxi Y-8 airframe.
While in early 2014 an Asian government source estimated that 100 J-16s would be in PLA service by 2020, the emergence of an EW version could increase that number.
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