Enter a More Vigorous Dragon.

The J-10C, the latest variant of China’s J-10 Vigorous Dragon multi-role fighter was put into active service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) on 16 April.

The new J-10C represents a quick, relatively low risk solution to Chinese requirements, and is likely to replace older Su-27s (and early licence built J-11s), and to augment the 280 or so earlier J-10As, J-10Ss and J-10Bs in service with the PLAAF and PLANAF (People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force).

The J-10C is equipped with modern avionics including an indigenous Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) fire-control radar and the aircraft incorporates a range of signature reduction measures, and a new defensive aids system.

These will allow the J-10C to augment the newer, fully stealthy ‘Fifth Generation’ J-20, which entered service in, but which is expected to serve in relatively small numbers.

The J-10 is an aerodynamically unstable canard Delta design with a quadruplex digital fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system (FCS). The aircraft was designed and developed by the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute (CADI), part of the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation. Chengdu has acknowledged receiving assistance from Russia’s Siberian Aeronautical Research Institute (SibNIA), and allegedly also received considerable input from Israel’s IAI, whose stillborn Lavi fighter bore a strong resemblance to the J-10.

The J-10 prototype first flew on 23 March 1998, and the first J-10A service aircraft were delivered to the 13th Test Regiment on 23 February 2003. The type was declared operational in December 2003.

The broadly similar two-seat J-10S made its first flight on 26 December 2003, and entered service in late 2005.

The original J-10A was superseded by the upgraded J-10B, which featured a new glass cockpit based on that of the JF-17, an X-band PESA (Passive Electronically Scanned Array) radar, an electro-optic targeting sensor and a lighter, stealthier, higher mass flow diverterless engine intake. The first J-10B made its maiden flight on 23 December 2008.

The Russian Lyulka-Saturn AL-31FN turbofan engine was finally replaced by the Chinese WS-10B turbofan during production of the J-10B. The J-10B has now ceased production in favour of the further improved J-10C.

The J-10C was officially unveiled in August 2017 during the PLA 90th Anniversary parade at Zhurihe military training base in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Development of a new J-10 variant may already be underway, with reports that any new version would be equipped with conformal fuel tanks and a more powerful WS-10IPE turbofan engine with thrust vectoring.

The precise configuration of a proposed FC-20 export version remains uncertain.