By Andrei Chang and John Wu
(NSI News Source Info) HONG KONG, China - May 8, 2009: China is aiming at a substantial share of the international market for third-generation fighter aircraft, with a particular eye on oil-rich third-world countries as part of its arms-for-oil strategy. This was evidenced by the high-profile display of its J-10A fighter at the 2008 Zhuhai Air Show last November. Pakistan is the largest importer of Chinese military hardware. Its air force flies over 180 F-7 aircraft made by China. In addition, Pakistan is a 50% partner in the FC-1/JF-17 Thunder and K-8 Karakorum advanced jet trainer projects. In April 2006, the media reported that the Pakistani government intends to procure at least 36 J-10s (designated FC-20 or FC-10, depending on the report). The Business Recorder claims that the Pakistani official document it obtained said the Cabinet "has allowed PAF to set up Joint Working Group (JWG) with CATIC for procurement of 36 FC-20 aircraft". Other media reports cited Pakistan Information Minister Sheikh Rashid (at that time) saying that the Cabinet has approved the purchase of J-10s from China, in addition to JF-17s. On 31 March 2007, Pakistan Air Force Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed said, "PAF would soon induct fourth and fifth generation high-tech fleet of fighter-bomber aircraft with the aim to modernize the country's air force which includes the induction of 2 squadrons of Chengdu J-10 aircraft." The J-10 export deal is estimated to cost a total of $1.5 billion USD, with a flyaway price of $41 million USD for each J-10 fighter with maintenance and parts inclusive. It was reported by Jane's Defence Weekly on 2006-01-09 that a more advanced version of the J-10 is planned, referred to as the Super-10, with a more powerful engine, thrust-vector control, stronger airframe and passive phased-array radar. Iran was reported to have signed a deal to purchase 24 J-10s from China in October 2007. The agreement is estimated at a cost of about $1 billion, with deliveries of the 24 jets expected between 2008 and 2010 to replace MiG-29 jets. However China later denied that such a sale had taken place. Chinese experts were observed giving exhaustive information on the J-10A to military delegations from Angola, Nigeria and Venezuela at the air show. Venezuela seemed most interested in the aircraft. The first foreign buyer of the J-10A will be Pakistan, a source from the Chinese aviation industry said. In March, Pakistan’s Air Chief Marshall Tanvir Mehmood Ahmed confirmed that a deal with China had been reached, and the aircraft would be delivered in 2014 and 2015. The version for Pakistan will be called the FC-20. However, there is an issue with the engine on this aircraft. The J-10A is currently equipped with Russian-made AL-31F aviation engines. It is unclear whether Russia will permit China to install these engines on its aircraft and then export them to Pakistan. Such a move would have not only economic but also political repercussions, considering that Pakistan’s rival, India, is a major purchaser of Russian arms. For this reason, the export version of the J-10A fighter is still under design. Both the engine and the weapon systems on board will be different from the domestic version, according to the source from the Chinese aviation industry. India has been using the Russian AL-31FP engine extensively in its fighter aircraft. If China exports large numbers of J-10P/FC-20 fighters outfitted with Russian engines to Pakistan, India will be much more concerned over this deal than with China’s earlier export of JF-17 2.5-generation fighters to Pakistan. As a third-generation combat aircraft, the J-10A will pose a real threat to the Indian Air Force. With this concern, India sent a strong delegation to the Zhuhai Air Show to expand its contacts with the Chinese, led by its air chief of staff. The Indian Air Force’s aerobatics demonstration team also put on a performance at this event. At the Singapore Air Show earlier last year, Indian Air Chief Marshall Fali Homi Major had already carefully inspected the simulation cockpit of the JF-17, which is being jointly developed by China and Pakistan. His trip to Zhuhai was to examine the J-10A/ FC-20 fighter. In contrast to India’s increased interest in engaging with China, Russia sent a much smaller delegation than usual to Zhuhai. For the first time, Russia did not exhibit any combat aircraft or radar systems at the air show. Some representatives of Russian enterprises even cancelled their planned trips to China at the last minute. One member of the Russian military delegation described China-Russian arms trade as being in a long and drawn-out “winter.” A representative of Rosoboronexport, the agency that handles exports of Russian defense equipment, declined to comment on China’s possible export of J-10A fighters equipped with Russian AL-31F engines. China did have its own indigenous engine on display at the show, the Taihang turbofan engine, with a thrust power of 13,200 kilograms – although some experts say it is only 12,800 kilograms. The Taihang’s exterior design and modular structure, as well as the processing and polishing technologies of the core machine and engine blades, seem to be an improvement over China’s previous aviation engines, but it is still far behind similar systems from Russia and Western countries. Representatives of China’s Liming Motor Corporation refused to answer questions about the engine’s performance features. It is unclear why China decided to introduce this engine to the international market when it has not elected to use it on its own J-10 fighters. A Chinese military source disclosed that China has been promoting the J-10A to Egypt, but it appears that no substantial negotiations have yet taken place. An authoritative source from the Russian military industry has said that Russia will not allow China to use its engines in exported planes if it perceives such sales as having a negative impact on Russia’s own export market. Egypt was once a major client of Russian arms, though it now buys little other than spare parts. Pakistan, on the other hand, is not a traditional client of Russian aircraft. Therefore Russia allowed its engines to be used on the JF-17 fighters China is developing with Pakistan. The same arrangement may therefore hold for the J-10A. The basic price for the J-10A is about US$29.3 million, according to the Chinese source. Considering that China aims to sell this fighter primarily to oil-producing countries – and is prepared to trade it for oil and other natural resources – it could be an attractive option for such countries. A general assessment of the export version of the J-10A fighter can conclude that its engine has less thrust than the F-16 Block 52, while its radar system is more or less on a par with the Zhuk-ME multifunction radar on the Russian MiG-28 SMT. This is because Russia’s Phazotron Design Bureau exported to China three sets of its Zemchung multirole radar systems after 2001, allowing China to come up with its own version of the Zhuk-ME radar. This radar has a detection range of 120 kilometers for 5m2 aerial targets and can attack four targets in the air simultaneously. In terms of the diversity and performance of its weapon systems, especially long-range attack weapons, the J-10A lags far behind the F-16 Block 52. The-air-to-air missiles loaded on the J-10A fighter at the Zhuhai exhibition were SD-10A AAMs with compound hardpoints. The SD-10A is a medium-range active radar-guided air-to-air missile upgraded from the SD-10, with its maximum range extended to 70 kilometers. Its length is 3.9 meters, diameter 203 millimeters, weight 198 kilograms, and maximum speed Mach 5. The PL-12 air-to-air missiles currently in service in the PLA Air Force have undergone similar upgrading. Short-range missiles include the new-generation PL-5EII and PL-9C. The PL-5EII is equipped with a multichannel infrared seeker, the latest laser proximity fuse, and a rocket motor with a non-smoke propellant. The air-to-ground weapons on the J-10A mainly include the LT-2 laser-guided bomb and the FT series of global positioning system-guided bombs. In recent years China has been imitating U.S. aviation combat weapons, a trend that is reflected in the weapon platforms on the J-10A, including its imitation U.S. joint direct attack munition serial bombs. At the most recent Zhuhai show, China put on open display its FT-5 GPS-guided bomb. The FT-1 and FT-3 500/250-kilogram-class GPS-guided bombs were on display at the previous show in 2006. China also showed off its 500-kilogram-class FT-2 with gliding fins added. The FT-2 has an effective range of 15-90 kilometers, a circular error probability of 20 meters and an air-dropping altitude of 3,000 to 12,000 meters. The FT-5 small-diameter bomb copies the latest design of the U.S. military. A designer of the system said that the FT-5’s warhead has a weight of 35 kilograms and a circular error probability of 15 meters. It was developed mainly for unmanned aerial vehicles. The effective range of the FT-5 is 2-5 kilometers when launched from a UAV and 3-35 kilometers when launched from a J-10A. China has also developed the LT-3 GPS+ terminal laser-guided air-to-ground missile for the J-10A, which is very similar in structure to the U.S. Army’s JDAM+ laser-guided bomb. These imitations provide evidence that the Chinese military has been tracking U.S. technology, viewing the United States as both a presumed enemy and a competitor in the arms export market. Of course China’s imitations are not limited to U.S. military equipment, but it is certainly learning from U.S. technology as well as military combat doctrines. China is now paying close attention to the development of anti-GPS-jamming multiple-guidance weapons. Its Sekong Company has developed a 570-kilogram-class guided bomb based on the Russian Krasnopole laser-guided projectile’s seeker technology. China plans to promote this guided bomb along with the J-10A. A designer says that this bomb has a circular error probability of 3.1 meters and an air-release altitude of 500-10,000 meters. It is not clear whether the LT-3 has ever been test-fired, as China did not show video footage of this guided bomb under test. As for anti-ship weapons, Chinese promoters of the J-10A claim that the fighter can carry 75-kilometer-range new-generation C-705 anti-ship missiles or C-802A anti-ship missiles with a range close to 250 kilometers. The C-705 was also on exhibit for the first time. The C-705 is a modified version of the C-704, with a turbojet engine and two flight fins. The weight of its warhead is 110 kilograms and it has a minimum flight altitude of 12 meters. The J-10A fighter has 11 hardpoints, two of which are of compound structure, making the total number of hardpoints 13. The PLA Navy seems to be assessing the possibility of acquiring J-10As for its combat ships. A Chinese source said that the navy liked its price and its aerial refuelling capability. This source also disclosed that the J-10A’s combat radius is 800 kilometers. In this regard, the technological standard of the materials used on the J-10A can be judged far inferior to those of the same-generation fighters of the United States and Europe. The J-10A is already fitted with an arresting hook imported from Russia for shipboard landing drills. However, the same source said no decision had as yet been made as to whether the PLA Navy will employ the J-10A as a ship-borne combat aircraft.