We have examined the aircraft and its capabilities internally, as well as in previous articles, roughly equivalent to an F-16C, the FC-10 is China’s hope to achieve independence in the production of advanced combat aircraft and may have export potential in the next 5-6 years.
Such a program however has significant repercussions for the Chinese industry as a whole. The advanced technologies developed for and used on this aircraft have propelled the Chinese industry in a new technology era, and will most likely lead to the acceleration of several new programs in the area of weapon systems, payloads and sensors.
To some degree, the J-10 is roughly the equivalent of a mini Apollo program for the Chinese. We estimate that roughly 150,000 people are directly or indirectly participating in this program. As a direct consequence of the lengthy development of J-10, China has made key advances in the areas of propulsion, low observability and flight control systems that will be further refined and integrated in the J-12.
This also raises the usual concerns about technology transfers by third party countries such as Israel and Pakistan, which have undoubtedly provided China with a wealth of knowledge, worth millions of man-hours of research and development.
Now, looking back at the aircraft itself, it is most interesting to note the apparent quality of the manufacturing process, which is in sharp contrast with previous versions of the J-8II for example. Engines and radar are derivatives or licensed versions of Russian origin initially developed for the ill-fated Mig-33. Indeed, China and its original partner in the J-10 project, Israel, were not capable of developing the advanced propulsion system needed for aircraft. China then turned to Russia who initially supplied the AL-31F, which are used in China's J-11 Flankers. J-10 now uses the modified AL-31FN, which is a miniaturized upgraded version of the F model and has a modular afterburner.
We also believe that the current engine used on the J-10 is only going to be fitted on early production; a next generation engine, the WS-10/A turbofan engines designed by Shenyang Motor Company will likely be fitted later on. The WS-10/A has already completed flight-testing on a J-11/SU27. We can expect WS-10/A to be a lighter engine with performance superior to the AL-31FN, in the area of 25,000Lbs of thrust. Russian and Chinese engineers are also collaborating in the area of thrust vectoring developed for the SU-35, and future versions of J-10 or more likely J-12 could be fitted with this additional capability.
J-10 is bad news for Taiwan and India. Now equipped with advanced generation aircraft (J-11, J-10 and may be FC-1), and developing its AEW capabilities, China is almost on par technologically with some of Taiwan’s most advanced aircraft.
Still, much needs to be done in the areas of training and weapon systems to give the PLAAF a significant advantage over the Taiwan straits. Although China is in a position to fight and possibly win such an engagement now, its capabilities and chances of success will reach new levels around 2008-2009. That’s of course if you take the US out of the equation…