Chengdu J-10 (Vigorous Dragon) / F-10 Vanguard Multirole Fighter
With funding in place several years before actual development of the aircraft began, the official call came in the form of Project 8610 - the requirement for an indigenous Chinese air superiority fighter to combat similar fourth generation systems in Russia and the West.
The J-10 program increased in 1986 under the guise of the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute. Designed by 611 Aircraft Design Institute, Chengdu, the J-10 (Jian-10 meaning Fighter-10) built by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC) is a multi-role fighter for the China's Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The J-10 is to replace the older J-7 and Q-5 attack aircraft.
The Project 8610 aircraft development was launched by No.611 Research Institute in October 1988, following approval the previous month. The Chengdu J-10 started as a development of the IAI Lavi, although little of the original Lavi design remains, and features a compound delta-wing design with canards placed higher in front of the main wing and behind the canopy. The light weight airframe is powered by the Russian built AL-31FN engine, which is a modification of the Su-27 and Su-30 AL-31F power plant. The J-10's AL-31FN engine is not equipped with thrust vectoring. According to Russian reports, China ordered 100 AL-31FN engines to support J-10 production in July 2005, having received 54 engines between 2002 and 2004 for the initial production batch. The main engine intake is located on the belly and has a rectangular shape.
The J-10 was originally designed around an indigenous Chinese powerplant designated as the WP-15, a turbojet type engine. Support for the engine project was eventually dropped so the Chinese found a solution in the Russian-made Salyut AL-31F turbofan as a comparable replacement. The Russian engine featured a thrust output of up to 27,557 with full afterburning and was essentially a specially-modified version of the AL-31F series that has powered the Sukhoi Flanker family.
While the Russian engine selection has proven successful for early J-10s, the Chinese have once-again taken to develop their own in-house engine with the WS-10A. Though a little larger and lower-rated than the Russian AL-31 series, the 24,729lb thrust (with full afterburn) is a capable propulsion system that makes marketing the J-10 to foreign air forces that much easier for the Chinese (as opposed to receiving clearance from the Russians in re-selling the J-10 with Russian technology).
The J-10 makes use of a "tail-less" delta wing configuration (with forward situated canards). The delta wings are low-mounted monoplanes with gradual sweep back that run along more than half the length of the fuselage sides. Ventral strake-type fins are added at the main wing bases to the extreme end of the fuselage. The fuselage itself is quite tubular in appearance when view in forward profile and comes with a conical nose (housing the radar array) assembly fitted just forward and below the high-mounted cockpit.
The cockpit features a two-piece curved canopy hinged at the rear. Entry to the cockpit is standardized from the portside via a ground-based step ladder. In the two-seat J-10, an instructor occupies a raised rear cockpit position seeing over and past the student's forward cockpit position. The entire cockpit area is therefore lengthened and both crew sit under a longer, two-piece canopy hinged at rear with a heightened dorsal spine for the additional avionics needed in the second cockpit. The pilot controls the J-10 through a conventional HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle and Stick) arrangement and sits in a "zero-zero" ejection seat - allowing for powered ejections at "zero" speeds and at "zero" altitudes for ultimate safety. The cockpit is dominated by three large liquid crystal multi-function displays (MFD) that help de-cluster the instrument panel while aiding in the pilot's workload.
Canards are fitted to either side, aft and below the cockpit- and add forward stability. The forward fuselage elegantly contours into the base of the single large-area vertical tail fin adorning the empennage. The lack of horizontal planes on the tail mean that the main wing assemblies straddle either side of the engine exhaust at rear. A static fuel probe is situated to the forward starboard side of the fuselage. Construction of the fuselage includes use of composite materials throughout.
One of the more distinct design elements of the J-10 is the rectangular under-fuselage intake opening feeding the single engine. The undercarriage is of a conventional tricycle arrangement made up of two single-wheeled main legs and a two-wheeled nose leg. The nose landing gear is fitted under and aft of the intake opening and retracts backwards in a housing. The main landing gear legs retract in a forward fashion along the sides of the fuselage at about amidships.
The aerodynamically unstable design is controlled by a digital fly-by-wire system. The cockpit is fitted with three multifunctional displays (MFD) and a wide-angle HUD. Also there is evidence that a Helmet Mounted Sight (HMS) will be incorporated.
Standard armament for the J-10 is a twin-barrel Type 23-3 23mm cannon (offset to port under the intake near the nose landing gear) and eleven hardpoints made up of six underwing (three to a wing) and five under-fuselage positions. The five underfuselage positions include a centerline hardpoint, a pair of forward-mounted hardpoints (near the intake opening) and a pair of aft-mounted hardpoints (about mid-fuselage) all centered around the external structure that makes up the intake assembly. Total munitions load has a reported limitation of up to 9,900lbs.
The J-10 can sport up to 3 x external jettisonable fuel tanks for increased operational ranges. One such implement is carried along the centerline fuselage (about 450 gallons) whilst the other two can be fitted on cleared underwing hardpoints (212 gallons each).
The J-10 can be armed with the Russian R-73 and R-77 or Chinese PL-8, PL-10, and PL-11 air-to-air missiles as well as a wide variety of air-to-ground weapons. Also it was reported in June 2005, that the J-10 has completed integration testing of China's new PL-12 (SD-10) active guided air-to-air missile. Although the J-10 development program started with the aim for creating a fighter, after selection of the J-11 the main focus has been on increasing its air-to-ground capability. The J-10 will also be able to carry Chinese developed anti-ship and anti-radiation missiles.
The first prototype '1001' made its first flight on 22/23 March 1998 by test pilot Lei Quiang. The flight lasted all but 20 minutes. Following the first prototype another 8 prototypes have appeared. The second prototype '1002' was lost in a fatal accident in late 1997, and also the third prototype '1003' had crashed in a fly-by-wire incident.
Six production examples soon followed the prototypes, in 2002 the first pre-production aircraft making its maiden flight. From there, after some 18 years of total development time, the J-10 culminated in an official clearance for operational service and was delivered to the PLAAF on 23 February 2003 when the first 10 J-10s joined the 13th Operational Trials Regiment of the Flight Test and Training Centre at Cangzhou-Cangxian.
The type was declared operational in December 2003. The PLAAF's 3rd Test Flight Regiment started operating the J-10A from the Chengdu factory airfield at Wenjiang in 2004. The 44th Air Division's 131st Fighter Regiment at Mengzi, Yunnan, became the first operational J-10A unit on July 13, 2004, and had received 32 J-10As by 2005. Also the division's 130th Fighter Regiment is reportedly being equipped with the J-10. A third fighter regiment was equipped with the J-10 in early 2006.
The J-10 would be declassified at the Zhukai Air Show in November 2006, but the aircraft's appearance was cancelled reportedly due to safety concerns. On December 29, 2006, however, China's state-run Xinhua News Agency officially confirmed that the Chengdu J-10 is in operational service with the PLAAF. The same day, China Central Television (CCTY) broadcasted footage of the aircraft firing air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground weapons and undertaking aerial refuelling with a Xian H-6 tanker.
The aircraft was officially introduced in 2005, unveiling nearly two decades of secrecy and denials by the Chinese government, and solidified the Chinese nation as a premier developer of air arms for the foreseeable future. Some 100 production examples were delivered to the People's Liberation Army Air Force from 2004 into 2006 and current totals of this aircraft in the Chinese inventory range from 120 to 160 examples with some 300 believed to be required. Production has been handled by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAIC), overseers of the firm that designed the J-10.
The J-10 is rated as a Mach 2.2-capable fighter platform and the airframe can sustain up to 9 positive and -3 Gs. Maximum range is limited to 2,113 miles without droptanks or in-flight refueling (accomplished via a probe) while a service ceiling of 65,600 feet is reported.
The J-10 has been developed into a handful of variants. The J-10A remains the principle single-seat multirole aircraft platform and is marketed under the designation of F-10A for export.
Further developments include a two-seat trainer, twin engine variant, and a dedicated air-to-ground version with a redesigned nose section. In November 2004 Air Forces Monthly published a recent photograph of the what is believed to be the first two-seat J-10 (believed to be designated J-10B, but J-10S has also been reported) that had begun test-flying. It is believed development of the two-seat trainer was started in 2000 and that the first flight of the two-seat J-10B took place on December 26, 2003. The forward fuselage of the aircraft was stretched to accommodate the additional cockpit. Reportedly the J-10B is combat capable and can be used as airborne command & control aircraft with the formation commander occupying the rear seat.
The J-10S is the two-seat version suitable for training J-10 pilots-to-be yet they retain the full ground strike capabilities of the base J-10A multirole fighter. The J-10B is thought to be an upgraded version of the base J-10 and feature a distinctly redesigned intake opening, revised ventral fins and a redesigned vertical tail as well as an integrated infra-red search and track sensor. A new nose assembly is also reportedly housing an all-new radar suite.
It is also reported a more advanced version is under development. The new J-10 version is reportedly called the Super-10, and has a more powerful engine, thrust-vector control, stronger airframe and passive phased-array radar.
China is believed to have a requirement of 300 aircraft of the type. On April 12, 2006 the Pakistani cabinet approved the purchase of at least 36 J-10s under the designation "FC-10" (FighterChina-10).
The Pakistani Air Force remain the only other (presumed) operators of the J-10 and designate their systems as the F-10A/B Vanguards. At least 32 to 40 J-10s are known to have been purchased with deliveries beginning in 2009. Pakistan has already made clear their intent to purchase more FC-20s in the future.
Chengdu J-10A (Vigorous Dragon)
Engine: 1 x Woshan WS-10A Taihang OR Saturn Lyulka AL-31FN afterburning turbofan, 29,101 lbs thrust with afterburning.
Length: 50.85ft (15.5m)
Width: 31.82ft (9.70m)
Height: 15.68ft (4.78m)
Wing area: 39sqm
Maximum Speed: 1,452mph (2,336kmh; 1,261kts)
Maximum Range: 1,118miles (1,800km)
Service Ceiling: 65,617ft (20,000m; 12.4miles)
Armament: 1 x 23mm Type 23-2 double-barreled cannon
Up to 9,900lbs of external ordnance
Hardpoints: 11 (six underwing, five underfuselage).
Empty Weight: 21,451lbs (9,730kg)
Maximum Take-Off Weight: 40,786lbs (18,500kg)