Currently, the most valuable part of the PLA Air Force's fighter fleet, which can be effectively used to gain air superiority and perform air defense missions in the PLA Air Force, are the Su-35SK, Su-30MK2, Su-30MKK aircraft, as well as unlicensed J-11 modifications. The Su-27SK supplied by Russia in the early 90s of the last century, due to the outdated avionics, can no longer be considered modern. In addition, these fighters are already very much worn out, are in the final part of their life cycle and are actively being decommissioned. The same applies to the first series J-11 fighters assembled at the Shenyang aircraft plant from Russian components.
However, in addition to heavy fighters assembled in Russia and their Chinese clones, the PRC has its own production of combat aircraft. More recently, the PLA Air Force officially said goodbye to the J-6 fighter. The production of various versions of the Chinese copy of the MiG-19 was also carried out in Shenyang. This fighter became the most numerous in the PLA Air Force, in total, more than 3,000 were built before the early 80s. In addition to the front-line fighter, several modifications of the air defense interceptor were built with on-board radar and missile weapons. However, in the 21st century, these machines could no longer compete with fighters of the 4th generation, and as the air regiments were saturated with modern aircraft, outdated fighters were written off. The official farewell to the J-6 fighter took place in 2010. Nevertheless, the J-6 is still in flight test centers, where training flights are performed on them and used in research programs, conserving the life of more modern fighters. Also, a significant number of J-6s have been converted into radio-controlled targets, which are actively used during testing of new anti-aircraft systems and during control and training launches of anti-aircraft and aircraft missiles.
Shortly before the breakdown of military-technical cooperation in the PRC, a package of documentation for the MiG-21F-13 fighter was transferred, as well as several ready-made aircraft and assembly kits. However, due to the “Cultural Revolution” that began in China, serial production was stopped, and it was possible to bring the Chineseized MiG-21 to mind only by the beginning of the 80s. Further improvement of the J-7 in the PRC was largely due to the outright theft of Soviet MiG-21MF fighters supplied to the DRV through Chinese territory. In addition, as they write in Western sources, in the 70s, several MiGs came to China from Egypt.
The J-7C fighter, which appeared in 1984, received a radar sight, a more powerful engine and was armed with a 23-mm cannon and four PL-2 thermal homing missiles (a copy of the Soviet K-13) or improved PL-5s. On the J-7D fighter, the JL-7A radar was installed with a detection range of the Tu-16 bomber of about 30 km. J-7C / D production continued until 1996.
In the future, the Chinese designers relied on Western help. So on the J-7E fighter, which made its first flight in 1987, British-developed avionics, the Israeli fire control system and PL-8 missiles were largely copied from the Python 3 missile. Thanks to the changes made to the wing design, it was possible to significantly improve the takeoff and landing characteristics.
In 2001, flight tests began of the latest and most advanced modification in the family of Chinese "twenty-first" - a J-7G fighter with a Chinese-made KLJ-6E onboard radar (licensed copy of the Italian Pointer-2500 radar) with a range of air targets against the background of the earth up to 55 km.
A Type 956 ILS is installed in the cockpit of the J-7G fighter, which displays flight and targeting information. The official adoption of the J-7G into service took place in 2004. The pilot can target air-to-air missiles with the PL-8 TGS using a helmet-mounted target designator.
Production of the J-7 continued until 2013. In total, about 2400 aircraft were built, approximately 300 machines were exported. The reason for the great longevity in the PLA Air Force of a clearly outdated fighter is its relatively low cost, ease of maintenance and low operating costs.
Although the Chinese designers managed to seriously improve the combat characteristics of the latest modifications of the J-7, it is very difficult for them to compete even in close combat with foreign fourth-generation fighters. The short range and absence of medium-range missiles in the J-7's armament and weak radar make it ineffective as an air defense interceptor. Nevertheless, several air regiments of the "second line" are armed with Chinese clones of the MiG-21. Also, single J-7 and twin JJ-7s are actively used as training aircraft in units armed with modern fighters.
It is noteworthy that the J-7 fighters mainly remained in the air regiments deployed in the periphery or, as an addition, are located at air bases where there are also modern fighters. According to satellite images, the number of J-7s in the PLA Air Force is rapidly declining. Over the past 3-4 years, more than half of the air units previously armed with J-7 light fighters have switched to the new J-10.
From the moment the J-7 was adopted, it was clear that this very successful light front-line fighter was not very suitable for the role of the main air defense interceptor. This required an aircraft with a longer flight range, equipped with a powerful radar, automated guidance equipment from ground command posts and armed with medium-range missiles. The PLA Air Force leadership, fearing Soviet and American long-range bombers, demanded to create an interceptor fighter with a maximum speed of at least 2, 2M and a rate of climb of at least 200 m / s, capable of reaching heights of up to 20,000 m, having a combat radius of 750 km. Chinese designers did not "reinvent the wheel" and based on the well-mastered aerodynamic design of a delta wing aircraft, they created the J-8 interceptor. This aircraft looks very much like the J-7 (MiG-21F-13), but it has two engines, and is much larger and heavier.
The interceptor was equipped with two WP-7A turbojet engines (a copy of the R-11F turbojet engine) with 58.8 kN afterburner thrust. The maximum takeoff weight was 13,700 kg. Thrust-to-weight ratio - 0, 8. Maximum operational overload - 4 g. The combat radius is about 800 km.
The first flight of the J-8 fighter took place in July 1965, but due to the general decline in industrial production caused by the Cultural Revolution, production aircraft began to enter combat units only in the early 80s. By that time, the fighter equipped with a very primitive radar sight and armed with two 30-mm cannons and four melee missiles with PL-2 TGS no longer met modern requirements. In addition, the technical reliability of the first J-8s was not very high. All this affected the volume of serial construction of interceptors of the first modification, according to Western data, they were built a little more than 50 units.
In the second half of the 80s, the PLA Air Force began operation of the improved J-8A interceptor. In addition to better assembly and elimination of a significant part of "children's sores", this model was distinguished by the presence on board of a Type 204 monopulse radar with a detection range of about 30 km.Instead of 30-mm cannons, a 23-mm Type 23-III cannon (Chinese copy of the GSh-23) was introduced into the armament, and in addition to the PL-2 missiles, improved missiles with PL-5 TGS could be used.
Despite the improvement in the combat characteristics of the modernized J-8A, relatively few were built, and they entered the regiments, where the interceptors of the first modification were already in operation. Visually, the J-8 and J-8A can be distinguished by the canopy. On the first production J-8, the flashlight tilts forward, and on the modernized J-8A, it folds back.
In the early 90s, in order to improve the combat characteristics, a significant part of the J-8A was modernized by installing a radar capable of seeing targets against the background of the earth, a new fire control system and state identification, as well as an ILS, a radar radiation receiver and semi-automatic navigation equipment operating on signals from radio beacons … The modified interceptor is known as the J-8E. Despite the improvements, aviation experts did not rate the J-8E highly. The main disadvantages of this fighter were considered the modest characteristics of the radar and the lack of medium-range radar-guided missiles in the armament. Although the J-8A / E no longer corresponded to the realities of the 21st century and their radars and communications equipment could be easily suppressed by the onboard electronic warfare equipment of Tu-95MS and V-52N bombers, and missiles with TGSN launched at a distance of no more than 8 km had low noise immunity to thermal traps, the operation of the interceptors continued until 2010. There is information that some of the obsolete interceptors removed from service have been converted into radio-controlled drones.
Even before the start of serial production of the J-8, it was clear that the capabilities of the airborne radar would be severely limited by the size of the air intake cone. In connection with the impossibility of placing a large and powerful radar on the interceptor, at the end of the 70s, the design of an interceptor with side air intakes began. In the West, it is generally accepted that the layout of the front part of the J-8II interceptor, which first took off in June 1984, was influenced by the acquaintance of Chinese specialists with Soviet MiG-23 fighters received from Egypt. The cone-shaped nose of the J-8II housed the SL-4A (Type 208) radar with a detection range of up to 40 km. The dry weight of the J-8II has increased by about 700 kg compared to the J-8A. The aircraft's flight performance was improved by installing WP-13A engines (a copy of the R-13-300) with 65.9 kN afterburner thrust and improved aerodynamics. In addition, the radically modernized interceptor has become stronger. Thanks to the use of outboard fuel tanks, the combat radius remains the same.
Although a more powerful radar was installed on the J-8II, the combat capabilities of the new fighter-interceptor did not increase significantly compared to the J-8A / E. The reason for this was the absence of medium-range missiles in the arsenal, the arsenal of the J-8II remained the same: a 23-mm built-in cannon and melee missiles with TGS on four hardpoints.
Realizing that the characteristics of the new interceptor still do not correspond to modern realities, the Chinese leadership took a non-standard step. As part of the Sino-American cooperation in 1986, a contract was signed worth more than $ 500 million for the modernization of the Chinese J-8II interceptors in the United States. Details of the secret program known as "Peace Pearl" have not yet been disclosed. But a number of sources say that American AN / APG-66 (V) radars, MIL-STD standard 1553B data exchange buses, fire control computers, multifunction displays, an indicator on the windshield were to be installed on the Chinese fighter-interceptors. modern navigation and communication equipment, ejection seat from Martin-Baker.
In early 1989, two specially trained J-8II fighters in Shenyang were delivered to the US Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base. According to Western data, the PRC managed to prepare 24 interceptors for the installation of American avionics.However, after the events in Tiananmen Square, the Americans curtailed military-technical cooperation with the PRC, and further improvement of the J-8II had to be carried out on their own.
However, the Chinese experts managed to spy on the Americans quite a lot of useful things. After breaking the contract with the United States on the interceptor known as the J-8II Batch 02 (J-8IIB), an improved SL-8A radar with a detection range of 70 km, multifunctional displays and modern navigation equipment appeared at that time. But the interceptor fell short of the version that was to be received under the Peace Pearl program. The capabilities of the fire control system were very modest, and melee missiles remained the main weapon. However, this variant was put into mass production. After modernization, the installation of air refueling equipment and medium-range missiles PL-11 (a copy of the AIM-7 Sparrow), the aircraft received the designation J-8IID (J-8D). The interceptor's standard armament consisted of two PL-11 medium-range missile launchers with semi-active radar guidance and two PL-5 melee missile launchers with a thermal homing head.
As part of the next modernization, since 2004, the J-8IID interceptors have equipped a Type 1492 radar capable of seeing an air target with an RCS of 1 m² flying towards them at a distance of up to 100 km. The armament included the PL-12 and PL-8 missiles. After the installation of a new radar, weapons control system, new navigation and communication equipment, the aircraft received the designation J-8IIDF.
The cancellation of the Peace Pearl project coincided with the normalization of relations with the USSR and at the disposal of Chinese specialists was the Soviet N010 Zhuk-8-II radar, which was specially adapted for installation on the F-8IIM interceptor. According to the advertising brochures, the detection range of this station is 75 km. It also became possible to use Russian R-27 medium-range missiles with a semi-active radar seeker.
However, the PLA Air Force command, after getting acquainted with the Su-27SK heavy fighter, was not impressed with the capabilities of the F-8IIM interceptor, and orders for it were not followed.
Almost simultaneously with the F-8IIM, the J-8IIC was tested. This interceptor used Israeli avionics: Elta EL / M 2035 multi-mode radar, digital fire control system, "glass cockpit" with multifunction displays, INS / GPS navigation equipment. To increase the flight range, air refueling equipment was installed on the plane. Many of the developments obtained on the F-8IIM and J-8IIC that did not go into series were used to create the J-8IIH (J-8H) interceptor. The main innovation embedded in this modification was the KLJ-1 radar with a target detection range with an RCS of 1 m² - 75 km. The armament included medium-range missiles: Russian R-27 and Chinese and PL-11. The J-8IIH interceptor was put into service in 2002 as a temporary measure, pending the end of testing of the J-8IIF (J-8F) modification.
Since 2004, the PLA Air Force began deliveries of J-8IIF interceptors. This modification is equipped with a Type 1492 radar and PL-12 missiles with a launch range of up to 80 km. Two WP-13BII engines with a total thrust of 137.4 kN afterburner accelerated the interceptor at high altitudes up to 2300 km. Maximum takeoff weight 18880 kg normal - 15200 kg. Thrust-to-weight ratio - 0, 98. Some of the interceptors were equipped with a WP-14 TRDF with an afterburner thrust of about 75 kN, which significantly improved the thrust-to-weight ratio and acceleration characteristics. However, for reasons of strength, the maximum speed was limited to the previous value, and the WP-14 engines themselves were not very reliable.
Combat radius of action without refueling in the air, with outboard tanks exceeds 900 km. Maximum operational overload - up to 8 g. The main means of destruction of air targets are PL-12 and PL-8 missiles with a maximum launch range of 80 and 20 km.
Although significant resources were devoted to the creation of various modifications of the J-8, two-engine delta-wing interceptors were not built by Chinese standards.The construction of new aircraft continued until 2008, and the refinement of previously built aircraft to the level of the most advanced serial modification of the J-8IIF - until 2012. According to American data, the Chinese aviation industry built approximately 380 J-8 aircraft of all modifications, this number, in addition to interceptors, also included reconnaissance aircraft. In 2017, 6 fighter regiments were equipped with interceptors of the J-8IIDF, J-8IIF and J-8IIH modifications in the PLA Air Force, and another 1 regiment on the J-8H was in the naval aviation.
The most high-profile incident involving J-8IID was a collision with an American electronic reconnaissance aircraft. On April 1, 2001, the calculation of the YLC-4 radar station located in the southeastern part of Hainan Island detected an air target flying at an altitude of 6700 m at a speed of about 370 km / h along the border of Chinese territorial waters. In the direction of an unidentified air target from the Lingshui airbase on the east coast of the island, two interceptors from the 25th Fighter Aviation Regiment of the 9th Aviation Division rose.
As they approached, the pilots of the Chinese interceptors identified the target as the EP-3E ARIES II, an American electronic reconnaissance aircraft based on the P-3 Orion anti-submarine warfare aircraft. During the maneuvers, the American aircraft dropped to 2,400 m and slowed down.
During close maneuvering, during the third flyby of the intruder aircraft, one of the interceptors collided with it and fell into the South China Sea. Its pilot went missing and was later presumed dead. The damaged aircraft RTR EP-3E ARIES II under the threat of the use of weapons was landed at the Chinese airbase Lingshui. As a result, the Chinese military ended up with cryptographic and reconnaissance equipment, encryption keys, call signs and radio frequency lists of the US Navy, classified information regarding the operation of radar posts in China, Vietnam, North Korea and Russia. The American crew of 24 was released on April 11. The EP-3E ARIES II aircraft returned to the United States in disassembled form on July 3, 2001 aboard the Russian An-124 heavy transport aircraft.
Despite modern avionics and long-range missiles, the Chinese J-8II interceptor fighters in service look very archaic and represent a mixture of aviation technology from the 60s and 70s interspersed with modern avionics and weapons. In fact, the PRC repeated the evolutionary path from the Su-9 to the Su-15 made in the USSR 40 years ago. Like the Soviet fighter-interceptors S-9, Su-11 and Su-15, the entire line of Chinese J-8s was sharpened for high-speed interception of single targets flying at medium and high altitudes. At the same time, the main emphasis was placed on acceleration characteristics, detection range by radar and an increase in the missile launch distance. In close maneuvering combat, J-8 interceptors of all modifications are hopelessly inferior to the MiG-21, and cannot compete with modern fighters. Despite the fact that the process of creating and fine-tuning the avionics and weapons of the J-8II was unacceptably delayed, and 4th generation fighters began to enter the PLA Air Force combat regiments, the Chinese leadership considered it necessary to continue work on the creation of new modifications of the delta wing interceptor. Apparently, this decision was made in connection with the need to develop our own aviation design and scientific school and gain the necessary practical experience. At the same time, on the latest modifications of the J-8II, the elements of the avionics were worked out, which were later used on the heavy J-11 fighters.