Top Gun: China's J-10 Still Holds Its Own Against Some of America's Best

Charlie Gao

Key Point: The J-10 has lasted this long, but probably not much longer.

In the 1990s, China introduced its answer to the MiG-29 and F-16. The J-10 was a light single-seat multirole aircraft meant to replace older J-7 and J-8 aircraft as the bulk of forces a possible adversary would meet.

When China started to reopen itself to the world in the 1980s, the PLAAF realized how obsolete its fleet of J-7 and J-8s were going to be. As a result, Deng Xiaoping began work on a new light tactical fighter. The performance was meant to be better than the J-8II and MiG-23 and “equal” to the F-16, which was cutting edge when development was started.

As with most Chinese projects, the development of the J-10 was not just an exercise in making an aircraft, but the program also aimed to develop several key technologies. Improved manufacturing techniques, fly-by-wire controls, and canards in the design were all things China wanted to improve in the J-10.

Different from the MiG-29 and F-16, the J-10 featured a large delta wing reminiscent of the French Mirage series of fighters. However, unlike the Mirage, it featured two canards right behind the cockpit to grant it increased maneuverability. Like the Mirage 2000, the J-10C is designed to have relaxed stability, so it can have a large delta wing and remain nimble.

Also unlike the Mirage, which featured the intakes for the jet engine on the left and right side of the fuselage, the J-10 had one solitary intake underneath the cockpit, like the F-16. The J-10A’s intake is boxier and has differing design details from the F-16 intake.

As China lacked the technology to build its own advanced jet engines when the J-10 was being built, the intakes lead to a Russian-built engine: the AL-31. This engine was originally designed for the Su-27 “Flanker” for use in a pair, but in the J-10 it operates as a single unit.

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