The Shenyang J-16 is a multirole fighter capable of both ‘beyond-visual-range’ air-to-air and precision strike roles. The aircraft is the latest addition to the ‘Sino-Flanker’ family, which has been developed by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) from the Russian Sukhoi Su-27 ‘Flanker’ airframe, but incorporated with Chinese indigenous avionics and weapon systems.
- Type: 4.5-gen multirole fighter
- Designer: AVIC Shenyang Aircraft Design Institute (601 Institute)
- Manufacturer: AVIC Shenyang Aircraft Industry Corporation (SAC)
- First flight: 2011?
- In service: 2013
- Operators: PLA Air Force
- Crew: 2
- In-flight refuelling: Yes (retractable probe)
The J-16 inherited the superior aerodynamic performance and impressive combat radius from its ancestor Su-27/J-11B, combined with the wide range of Chinese indigenous air-to-air and precision strike weapons and the advanced active electrically-scanned array (AESA) fire-control radar, making it a superb modern combat aircraft in the same league as the Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKK ‘Flanker-G’ and the U.S. Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle.1
The J-16 was first unveiled in the flypast of the July 2017 military parade to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the PLA, indicating that the aircraft had achieved the initial operational capability (IOC) milestone.
Internet-sourced photos have confirmed the existence of an electronic warfare variant of the J-16, reportedly designated J-16D, currently undergoing flight testing. The aircraft has been described to be similar in its roles to the U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler, equipped with electronic jammers and anti-radiation weapons for suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) missions. The D-variant may have some of its air-to-air equipment such as the electro-optic system and in-flight refuelling probe removed in order to accommodate additional electronic equipment.2
The most noticeable difference of the J-16 to the previous J-11B series is its two-person crew, with the pilot seated at the front of the cockpit and the weapon system officer (WSO) at the back. The airframe of the J-16 appears to have been developed from the Shenyang J-11BS two-seat fighter-trainer, an unlicensed copy of the Su-27UBK ‘Flanker-C’. Therefore, the aircraft can be distinguished by its cropped vertical fin tails (same as the J-11BS/Su-27UBK) as opposite to the square topped vertical fin tails of the Su-30MKK.
At the same time, the J-16 also bears some design features of the Su-30MKK, including the side-mounted electro-optical sensor (as opposite to the centre-mounted design on the J-11BS/Su-27UBK) in order to make room for the in-flight refuelling probe, and the twin-wheeled nose landing gear (as opposite to the single-wheeled gear on the J-11BS/Su-27UBK) to support the extra weight. Like the Su-30MKK, the J-16 is also expected to have undergone structural enhancements in its airframe in order to achieve an increased take-off weight.
During the flypast on the 30 July 2017 military parade, the TV commentators claimed that the J-16 features “substantially improved electronic warfare capability serving as a force multiplier”, which is believed to be referring to the aircraft’s advanced fire-control radar and electronic countermeasures (ECM) suite.
The original multifunctional Pulse-Doppler fire-control radar on the J-11B has been replaced by a new-generation AESA radar developed by AVIC Leihua Institute of Electronics Technology (607 Institute). Although detailed information on the radar is unavailable, it is safe to assume that the radar is comparable in performance and capability to those equipped by Western fighters.
Compared with conventional Pulse-Doppler fire-control radar, AESA radar offers a number of advantages, including low probability of intercept, high resistance to jamming, better reliability, and additional functionalities such as high-definition ground mapping, acting as radar warning receiver, pinpointing electromagnetic emitters, and even communications/datalink.
Like other Chinese-made 4th-generation fighters, the J-16 is also equipped with an electro-optic sensor comprising an infrared search and track (IRST) and laser rangefinder for passive detection of enemy targets, missile approach warning (MAW) system, and flare/chaff dispenser.
The J-16 is expected to have a similar weapon arrangement as the Su-30MKK, including a 30 mm internal cannon with 150 rounds, and 12 external stores hardpoints (2 tandem under the fuselage centreline, 2 under the air ducts, 6 under the wings, and 2 on the wingtips).
The J-16 is capable of carrying a wide variety of air-to-air, air-to-ground, and anti-ship weapons:
For air-to-air missions, the aircraft can carry both short-range air-to-air missiles (SRAAM) and medium-range air-to-air missiles (MRAAM). During the July 2017 military parade, the air-to-air missiles carried by the J-16 were identified to be the PL-10 IIR-homing SRAAM and the PL-15 active radar-homing MRAAM. An Internet-sourced photo also showed an unknown model of long-range air-to-air missile (LRAAM) being carried on a J-16 for testing.
For ground/surface strike missions, weapons available for the J-16 include the YJ-83K anti-ship missile (active radar-homing, 180 km range), KD-88 air-launched cruise missile (TV/IIR-homing, 180—200 km range), YJ-91 anti-radiation missile (120 km range), 250-kg Laser-guided bombs, 500-kg standoff sub-munition dispenser, 250-kg low-drag general-purpose bombs, 90-mm unguided rocket pods, etc. For delivering precision-guided munitions, the aircraft can carry various Chinese indigenous targeting pods.3
The J-16 is powered by two Shenyang Liming WS-10A Taihang turbofan engines, each rate at 120—140 kN (12,236—14,276 kgf, 26,977—31,473 lbf) with afterburning, with fixed nozzles. The aircraft is fitted with a retractable in-flight refuelling probe, and can be refuelled by the Il-78 ‘Midas’ tanker.
- 科技日报. 2017. 导弹和雷达是歼-16优势所在. [ONLINE] Available at: http://digitalpaper.stdaily.com/http_www.kjrb.com/kjrb/html/2017-08/02/content_375102.htm?div=-1. [Accessed 17 August 2017].
- Popular Science. 2015. China Builds Its Own ‘Wild Weasel’ To Suppress Air Defenses. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.popsci.com/china-builds-its-own-wild-weasel-to-suppress-air-defenses#page-5. [Accessed 17 August 2017].
- 航天航空港. 2014. 歼16专题. [ONLINE] Available at: http://bbs.9ifly.cn/forum.php?mod=viewthread&tid=13047. [Accessed 17 August 2017].