Type: Interceptor fighter Designer: AVIC Shenyang Aircraft Design Institute (601 Institute) Manufacturer: AVIC Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) First flight: 12 June 1984 Introduction: 1995 Operators: PLA Air Force, PLA Navy Crew: 1 In-flight refuelling: No
The J-8II (NATO reporting name: ‘Finback-B’) is a single-seat, twin-engine interceptor fighter introduced by Shenyang Aircraft Industry Corporation (SAC) in the early 1980s. Over the next two decades, the aircraft’s capabilities were steadily improved through incorporating of new avionics and weapon systems. With significant numbers of the 4th-generation fighters now in service with the PLA, the J-8II is nearing the end of its service life.
With the basic variant J-8 and the improved J-8I both failing to meet the PLA’s requirements, SAC began to develop a radically improved variant of the aircraft in the late 1970s. Rather than simply pursuing high-speed, high-altitude performance, the new fighter was required have decent aerodynamic performance at transonic speeds and medium-low altitudes. The PLA also demanded the ‘beyond-visual-range’ (BVR) air combat capability using the radar-homing MRAAMs, and ground attack as a secondary capability.
In order to meet these requirements, some extensive changes to the airframe and systems were introduced. While the delta wing remained unchanged, the forward fuselage was completely redesigned, with the original nose air inlet replaced by two lateral air intakes to allow a ‘solid’ nose in order to accommodate a larger size radar antenna. The underpowered WP-7 turbojet engines were replaced by the new WP-13AII. The fighter was also proposed to be fitted with a new fire-control radar with extended range and interception fire-control computer input and an autopilot for all-weather operations.
The new improved fighter, designated J-8II, entered full-scale development in September 1980. The first J-8II prototype made its maiden flight on 12 June 1984. Compared to its predecessor, the J-8II achieved modest improvement in manoeuvrability. Test results showed that the J-8II’s intake efficiency was the same as the J-8 at high speeds and 6% higher at lower speeds. An electrically-controlled differential horizontal tail plane resulted in the J-8II being 45% more efficient in roll control at subsonic speeds compared with the J-8.
After completing its flight testing, the aircraft was certified for design finalisation in October 1988. However, the aircraft’s capabilities were still hindered by the lack of decent avionics and weapon systems. The pre-production variant J-8II was equipped with an indigenous Type 208 mono-pulse fire-control radar with a detection range of only 40 km. Due to the lack of an operational radar-homing MRAAM, the J-8II initially could only carry the IR-homing SRAAM for visual range combat.
Fixed weapon is a twin-barrel Type 23-III (a copy of the Soviet/Russian Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23L) 23 mm cannon with 200 rounds in a ventral installation. The aircraft has seven hard points (one under fuselage and six under wings). The centreline fuselage hard point had a GDJ-4 pylon integrated dispenser system, which can carry up to six 250-kg low-drag free-fall bombs, or a 1,400-litre drop tank. The under-wing hard points could carry up to six air-to-air missiles, or unguided rocket launchers, or 250-kg free-fall bombs. The two outboard wing hard points were also pumped to carry 800-litre drop tanks.
Peace Pearl Project
In 1986, the U.S. Regan administration approved ‘Peace Pearl’, a Sino-U.S. cooperation programme to modernise the J-8II fighter, with the aim to jointly counter the threat of the Soviet Union. Under the agreement, American company Grumman would supply the U.S.-made avionics worth US$502 million to upgrade 55 J-8II fighters. The modernisation package included the Westinghouse AN/APG-66(V) radar, 1553B MIL-STD data bus, fire-control computer, head-up display (HUD), cockpit multifunctional displays (MFD), navigation system, and ejection seat.
In early 1989, SAC delivered two J-8II fighters to the U.S. for modernisation refit and tests. The aircraft were flown by the U.S. Air Force Test Centre at the Edwards Air Force Base. However, the project came to an abrupt end in 1990 as a result of the arms embargo imposed on China by the US in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident.
J-8II ACT Demonstrator
The J-8II ACT (Active Control Technology) demonstrator was introduced in the 1990s for studying and testing the ‘fly-by-wire’ (FBW) technology. The aircraft was based on the J-8II airframe, with a shorter fuselage and a pair of front canards being added to the front fuselage just behind the air inlets. The J-8II ACT replaced the older FBW demonstrators based on the JJ-6 (known as BW-1) and J-8 (known as J-8 ACT). The J-8II ACT played an important role in developing the FBW technology for China’s fourth-generation fighters such as the J-10 and JH-7.
The J-8II Block-02, also known as J-8B, was the first operational variant of the J-8II. Making first flight in November 1989, the J-8B featured a number of improvements in avionics, including the Type 208A mono-pulse fire-control radar, HK-13E head-up display, Type 563B integrated INS/GPS, and JD-3II TACAN. Later production variant was also fitted with the KLJ-1 Pulse-Doppler fire-control radar and KJ-8602A all-aspect radar warning receiver (RWR). Despite these improvements, the J-8B still lacked the BVR combat capability due to its incapable fire-control radar. The aircraft was certified for design finalisation in December 1995 and entered service with the PLAAF and PLANAF thereafter.
Following the cancellation of the “Peace Pearl” modernisation upgrade project, SAC continued its own modernisation programme for the J-8II, possibly under the assistance of Israel or Russia. In the early 1990s, a radically upgraded variant J-8C (also known as J-8III) was introduced featuring new avionics and power plant, which could eventually bring the fighter into the same league as modern Russian and Western fighters such as MiG-29 and Mirage 2000-5. The J-8C programme entered development around 1991 and the aircraft first flew successfully in 1993.
The C model featured a number of improvements including a new multi-mode pulse Doppler radar which was reportedly based on the Israeli Elta EL/M 2035 technology, a digital fire-control system, and a new ‘glass’ cockpit with multifunctional displays (MFD). The aircraft’s original WP-13AII turbojet engine was replaced by the more powerful WP-14 turbojet then being developed by the Shenyang Liming Aero-Engine Company.
A total of two J-8C prototypes were identified, carrying serial number ‘8301’ and ‘551’. Prototype ‘551’ was also fitted with an in-flight refuelling probe. The J-8C development was cancelled in the late 1990s by the PLAAF in favour of the more capable Su-27/J-11 fighter. Its technologies were late used on the development of the J-8F variant.
SAC began to study the feasibility of adding the J-8II fighter with in-flight refuelling capability in the late 1980s. A modified J-8II with a fixed refuelling probe first flew on 21 November 1990. The first successful in-flight refuelling from a H-6 tanker possibly took place in 1992/93. The aircraft entered the PLAAF and PLA Naval Aviation service in 1996 under the designation J-8D, and made its first public debut on 1 October 1999 during the flypast in Beijing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.
The J-8D has a fixed, non-retractable refuelling probe installed on the starboard side of the cockpit. Chinese newspaper reported that the early J-8D design suffered from high volume of noise caused by the air passing around the fixed refuelling probe in high-speed flight, causing serious disruption to the pilot inside the cockpit. The problem was solved later by modifying the probe design.
Apart from its refuelling probe, the J-8D appeared to be identical to the J-8B in avionics and weapon configuration. The aircraft was deployed in limited numbers by both the PLAAF and PLANAF. With one refuelling, the aircraft’s combat radius can be extended from 800 km to 1,200 km, enabling it to reach the remote islands in the South China Sea.
The rapidly improving Sino-Russia relations in the early 1990s presented an opportunity for Shenyang to upgrade the J-8II with Russian technologies. This led to the introduction of the F-8IIM, a multirole fighter fitted with Russian-made radar and weapons. The first F-8IIM prototype built from the J-8II prototype ’57’ first flew on 31 March 1996. The aircraft made its debut during the first Zhuhai Air Show in November of the same year.
Key improvements on the aircraft included:
– Russian Phazotron Zhuk-8II coherent pulse-Doppler fire-control radar (X-band)
– Type 563B integrated INS/GPS navigation system
– Coloured multifunction displays (MFD) in the cockpit
– New fire-control system with MIL-STD-1553B data bus and MIL-STD-1760A weapon bus
– New electronic countermeasures suite (with active jamming and all-aspect RWR)
– Type 125 IFF
– Two Russian-made PGD-40-2K 15kW alternators
– Two improved WP-13B turbojet engine each rated at 4,800 kg dry and 7,000 kg with afterburning
The X-band Phazotron Zhuk-8II coherent Pulse-Doppler fire-control radar developed by NIIR Phazotron had a maximum detecting range of 75 km against airborne targets and 100 km against sea surface targets. When in the air-to-air mode, the radar can track up to 10 airborne targets and attack 2 of them simultaneously. With its 14 operating modes, the radar can guide a range of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons including the R-27R1 (AA-10 ‘Alamo-A’) semi-active radar-homing MRAAM and the Kh-31A (AS-17 ‘Krypton-A’) supersonic anti-ship missile.
In 2004, SAC introduced a revised F-8IIM design featuring purely Chinese developed avionics, possibly based on the technology of the J-8F. The new 2004 version F-8IIM was fitted with an indigenous JL-10A (or Type 1492) Pulse-Doppler fire-control radar with both air-to-air and enhanced air-to-surface capabilities. As well as the R-27R1 and Kh-31A, the aircraft was also capable of firing the Chinese indigenous PL-12 (SD-10) active radar-homing ‘fire-and-forget’ MRAAM and laser guided bombs.
The F-8IIM project was entirely funded by SAC with no PLA support. The company hoped to target primarily third-world customers seeking a low-cost, relatively high-performance fighter to replace their ageing Cold Ear-era designs. However, the aircraft failed to attract any foreign or domestic buyer, possibly due to the complexity in aircraft maintenance involving both Chinese and Russian manufacturers, and also partially due to the competition of Russian 4th-generation fighters such as the Su-27 and MiG-29 in the international market.
The J-8F introduced by SAC in the early 2000s was the ultimate final mature variant of the J-8II family. With a new X-band fire-control radar (Type 1492), the PL-12 active radar-homing MRAAM, secondary air-to-surface/ship strike capability, ‘glass’ cockpit, in-flight refuelling probe, and more powerful WP-13BII turbojets (each rated at 7,000 kg with afterburning), the J-8F finally met all requirements set by the Chinese military when the aircraft development first began almost two decades before.
The J-8F is generally similar to previous models of the J-8II family in appearance. The most recognisable features are two wing fences on each wing (in contrast to one on previous models) and the stiffened nose radome. The new fire-control radar has a radio command transmitter to provide mid-course correction for the PL-12 MRAAM during the ‘beyond-visual-range’ (BVR) attack. If necessary, the radar could also guide Russian-made missiles such as the R-27 (AA-10) and R-77 (AA-12). The radar also has enhanced air-to-ground and air-to-sea modes to fire a range of precision guided (laser/radar/satellite) munitions and anti-ship missiles.
Although the J-8F has yet approached the capabilities of advanced 4th-generation fighter aircraft such as the Su-27 or Su-30, it provides a relatively inexpensive solution to augment the PLAAF’s 4th-generation fighter fleet. The aircraft first flew in 2000 and the first successful test fire of the PL-12 MRAAM took place in spring 2004. The fighter entered PLAAF service in 2003. Early J-8D and H variants in service with the PLAAF and PLANAF were also later upgraded to the F variant standard.
The JZ-8F is a reconnaissance variant based on the J-8F airframe. The aircraft features an internal camera compartment replacing the twin-23 mm cannon. With a small and a large window, the compartment possibly accommodates both day-light and night-vision cameras.
The J-8H was introduced in 1999 as a stopgap before the more capable J-8F variant could enter service. The aircraft features a KLJ-1 (Type 1491) pulse-Doppler fire-control radar with ‘look-down/shoot-down’ capability and ability to fire the PL-11 semi-active radar-homing MRAAM. Other improvements include modernised cockpit avionics, two wing fences on each wing (similar to those of the J-8F) for better aerodynamic performance and the stiffened nose radome. The H model has been serving with the PLAAF in a limited number since 2002, and may have now been upgraded to the J-8F standard.