An overview of the J-11 fighter: Designated by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as Flanker-L, the J-11 was officially introduced to service with the PLA in the late 1990’s.
However, the airframe’s true history dates back much further. Back in the 1970’s, the PLAAF desired a replacement fighter for its stockpile of Soviet-designed MiG-19s to better counter the American-made F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F/A-18 Hornet.
Beijing relied heavily on Soviet-era military equipment at the time, leading the country to eye Russia’ Sukhoi Su-27 fighter for “inspiration.”
In 1995, the PLAAF negotiated a license to produce 200 J-11s in China from Russian-supplied kits. As part of the agreement, Moscow conditioned that the engines and avionics used in the J-11s would be Russian-derived.
Ultimately, however, Beijing canceled the contract after assembling one hundred J-11s, claiming that the Su-27 was no longer viable.
Unsurprisingly given the PRC’s track record, Beijing later revealed that it was continuing to produce J-11 fighters without Russia’s involvement. Analysts believe that China’s Shenyang Aircraft Corporation reverse-engineered components of the Soviet plane without authorization, angering the Kremlin.
J-11: Specs and capabilities
While the J-11 is not stealthy, the platform has remained a mainstay of the PLAAF since its introduction to service more than two decades ago.
The airframe is equipped with a 30mm GSh-30-1 cannon and ten hard points capable of carrying a range of missiles, including radar-guided air-to-air missiles, infrared-homing air-to-air missiles and medium-to-long range air-to-air missiles. The Chinese fighter has a top speed of over Mach 2.0 (times the speed of sound) and enjoys a range of roughly 2,000 miles.
In terms of appearance, the J-11 mirrors the Soviet Su-27 nearly identically. As explained by Military Factory, “The cockpit is situated well-forward in the well-contoured nose behind a nose cone assembly housing the internal radar facilities. The wings are set well-aft of amidships and swept rearwards with straight wingtips. The engines are well-spaced apart and further divided at the rear of the design by a small tail fairing “stinger” type protrusion.” Perhaps the greatest issue surrounding the J-11 platform is its power source.
The WS-10A Taihang turbofan engines that power the J-11B variant have not performed well. These engines lack adequate thrust and also require large amounts of overhauls and maintenance, negatively impacting the platform. In fact, these homegrown Chinese engines have functioned so poorly that the J-11 fleet had to be grounded and refitted with Russia’s AL-31Fs.
Although Beijing strives to be the leader of the aeronautics industry, it clearly still does rely to some degree on foreign nations.
Maya Carlin is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.
Image Credit: Creative Commons.