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Dirty Little Secrets
China's J10C Ground Attack Aircraft
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by James Dunnigan
October 15, 2006
China is developing a fighter-bomber version of its F-16 clone, the J10. This new aircraft, a two seater, is the J10C. It was originally believed to be a naval version, but instead, it's an aircraft optimized for ground attack.
The first squadron of J10s entered service in early 2005. The J10 was designed and built in China, in an attempt to create a modern fighter-bomber that could compete with foreign designs. The experiment was not completely successful. Work on the J10 began twenty years ago, in an attempt to develop an aircraft that could compete with the Russian MiG-29s and Su-27s, and the American F-16.
But the first prototype did not fly until 1998. There were problems, and it wasn't until 2000 that the basic design flaws were fixed. By 2002, nine prototypes had been built, and flight testing was going forward to find, and fix, hundreds of smaller problems. It was a great learning experience for Chinese engineers, but it was becoming apparent that the J10 was not going to be competitive with the Su-27s/30s China was buying from Russia.
The J10 looks something like the American F-16, and weighs about the same (19 tons). Like the F-16, and unlike the Su-27, the J10 has only one engine. Originally, the J10 used a Russian AL-31FN engine, but China has been working for a decade to manufacture their own version of this, the WS10A. China has been striving for decades to develop the ability to manufacture high-performance jet engines. The WS10A is something of an acid test for them, as it is a powerful military engine, and a complex piece of work. Russia refused to license China to produce the AL-31FN, so the Chinese stole as much of the technology as they could and designed the WS10A. This engine has been tested, but apparently still has quality control and performance problems.
It's no accident that the J10 resembles the F-16, because Israel apparently sold them technology for the Israeli Lavi jet fighter. Israel abandoned the Lavi project, because of the high cost and availability of cheaper alternatives (the F-16 and F-15 from the United States.) But the Lavi was meant to be a "super F-16," and incorporated a lot of design ideas from the F-16 (which the Israelis were very familiar with, as they used them, and had developed new components for them.)
It appears that the J10 does not perform as well as the Su-27 for air combat, so the Chinese are reconfiguring the aircraft as a fighter-bomber. The J10 can carry over four tons of bombs and missiles and has been equipped with a fire control system for delivering missiles and smart bombs. The Chinese designed targeting pod is similar to the Israeli Litening, and they were showing it off as early as 1998. American warplanes use a later version of the Litening. The J10C will have a weapons officer to concentrate on hitting things on the ground.