The Chinese J-10 4th-generation fighter aircraft flies with a massive arsenal mounted from more than 11 hardpoints or pylons under the fuselage and wings.
Weapons include laser-guided missiles, satellite-guided and glide bombs, as well as a wide range of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons.
How good would it be in combat against the U.S. Air Force?
Meet the J-10 Fighter
The aircraft, in existence since 2005, forms a key foundation for the People Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), can also hit extensive ranges of 1,400 miles and take off with a full load of extra fuel tanks and up to 42,000 pounds of ordnance.
The PLA Air Force operates more than 540 J-10s, according to a citation from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a number that presents a clear ability to “mass” in-air formations against an adversary.
While a 4th-generation aircraft, the J-10 Chengdu was engineered with a series of modern technologies, perhaps with a mind to overmatch 1980s-era U.S. Air Force F-15s and F-16s. Some of the systems built into the J-10 were listed in an interesting write-up from SinoDefence in 2010.
The essay describes the J-10 as operating a multi-mode fire control radar and a mechanically-scanned planar array antenna capable of tracking up to 10 targets. The essay says up to two targets can be engaged simultaneously with “semi-active radar homing” missiles or four can be engaged with “active radar homing” missiles.
While an ability to track multiple targets is indeed quite significant as it is something likely intended to match the AN/APG-63 V1 radar upgrade on the U.S. Air Force F-15, according to an essay from Globalsecurity.org. As an upgrade to the APG-63, the “v1” version enables the radar to simultaneously attack six targets and track as many as 14.
The AN/APG-63 (v1) radars armed many F-15s in the early 2000s, yet in 2000 Boeing and the U.S. Air Force took a huge step in adding AESA radar to the F-15 with the AN/APG-62 (v2), perhaps in an effort to overmatch the at the time emerging J-10. An AESA radar, variants of which are not arming F-15EXs and even F-35s, massively increases precision to detect, track, and destroy multiple targets at once, with much greater effectiveness than traditional radar.
“In an AESA system, the traditional mechanically scanning radar dish is replaced by a stationary panel covered with an array of hundreds of small transmitter-receiver modules. Unlike a radar dish, these modules have more combined power and can perform different detection, tracking, communication and jamming functions in multiple directions simultaneously,” the Globalsecurity.org essay states.
China’s early applications of radar, fire control, and targeting on the J-10 have doubtless been upgraded by this point. One reason the U.S. Air Force has continued rapid computing and radar upgrades for its F-15s as it plans to fly the jet well into the 2040s.
It would indeed be interesting and significant to determine the extent of PLA Air Force upgrades to the J-10 in terms of what technologies they may consist of for purposes of comparing it to today’s F-15. Some of the enhancements to the J-10 include the incorporation of the WS-10B domestically produced engine. Like a U.S. Air Force F-16, the J-10 is built with a “bubble canopy” to ensure a 360-degree surrounding viewing angle for the crew.
How Good Are the Upgrades?
The pressing question with the J-10, it seems, is the question about the extent of the upgrades.
For instance, if the aircraft have received high-speed computing, high-fidelity, longer-range sensors and targeting, and new generations of weapons, then perhaps they too could fly into the 2040s as a credible rival to the US F-15.
Also, the extent of weapons upgrades would be critical as the J-10 can carry a large payload of weaponry as if it were a bomb truck to a degree.
Given that that aircraft is large and not as fast as other fighters, it’s unlikely the J-10 would present a huge dogfighting threat, the potential extent and effectiveness of its upgrades would likely determine the extent of the threat it presents to the West.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.