Online sleuths have noticed a new component on China’s workhorse J-10 fighter – what looks to be a significant addition to the airplane’s spine. This is likely a large compartment to house electronic warfare equipment or a better radar system. This shows China’s People’s Liberation Air Force (PLAAF) is looking to evolve its current aircraft in addition to developing new ones.
Can It Best the F-16?
The J-10 is China’s answer to the F-16. The update likely means that the fighter pictured is now a variant called the J-10D. It’s not clear if the spinal enhancement is to hold more fuel or if it is now equipped with better technology for a two-seat model too.
May Help With Radar Evasion
Zee News said that the J-10’s “Leaked images show the jet with a single-piece canopy design enhancing the stealth capabilities, while the delta wing appears straight unlike the twisted surface on the older J-10, J-10B and J-10C variants. This, again, adds to stealth, drag and aerodynamic abilities.”
F-16D Has the Same Large Spine Modification
This could also be a technology demonstrator test bed and not an airplane that China plans to have in serial production. The F-16D has a similar “big spine” modification for export. Israel and Pakistan have imported the model and Singapore, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt boast the F-16 big spine addition too.
Variants Have Improved Over the Years
The J-10, nicknamed the “Vigorous Dragon” by the PLAAF, is a fourth-generation fighter that is homegrown by China. Development began in 1988 to replace the J-7 fighter and it entered service in 2004. The J-10B came next with the capability of in-air refueling plus better thrust and radar. The J-10C has an indigenously produced powerplant instead of using the Russian Saturn AL-31 engine. There are about 240 various models of the J-10 in service. The multi-role fighter flies up to MACH 2.2 and can carry laser-guided bombs.
Has It Really Advanced Beyond 4th Generation?
The J-10 was sent to Pakistan this year. The War Zone from the Drive.com believes the J-10 spine modification could have been made at the request of Pakistan. But the Chinese may have big plans with the J-10 by making it into a 4th generation “plus-plus” fighter that would have network teaming potential with an unmanned “loyal wingman.” The modified J-10 could also be considered part of China’s flight demonstration team as the J-10CY variant.
Backseat Officer Can Help Improve Performance
The backseat weapons officer on the J-10 will be an important addition. “A second crewman could control any unmanned systems working alongside the manned platform and the J-10’s newly added avionics spine could accommodate the extra hardware and communications gear for manned-unmanned teaming and AI infusion experiments,” the War Zone said.
It’s interesting the PLAAF is dedicated to making improvements to the J-10 program. I’m not convinced that the spine modification is enough to get it to 4th generation plus-plus status even if it greatly improves its electronic warfare capability and the backseat second crewman can add such an advanced innovation as the loyal wingman. The new edition may just be for export, test bed purposes, or for the demonstration team – all important to be sure, but not enough for it to graduate beyond fourth-generation on par with some F-16 models.
Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.