Reports: China to Sell J-10 Fighter to Iran, Syria?

Aug 3/15: Iran is rumored to be buying 150 Chengdu J-10 fighters from China. Reports from 2007 alleged that China planned to sell 24 of the fighters to Iran, however the Chinese government subsequently denied these claims. Pakistan is also a possible regional customer for the J-10, with reports in November 2009 indicating that a deal had been signed for 36 of the jets. The J-10B model entered mass production last year, with China looking to develop an indigenous engine to power the fighter to get around Russian objections to the export of its AL31FN-S3 engines currently powering the J-10.

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Chinese J-10(click to view full) DID’s Benelux reader David Vandenberghe tips DID to the original RIA-Novosti report that Iran has signed a contract with China for the delivery of two squadrons (24) of its J-10 fighter planes, which are powered by Russian engines and avionics. Representatives of the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company said China would deliver the jets during the in 2008-2010 time frame. Novosti adds that “Experts, estimating one fighter at $40 million, put the contract’s value at $1 billion.” Iran’s most advanced fighters are currently MiG-29s, many of which once belonged to Saddam Hussein and fled to Iran during the 1991 Desert Storm war, and a handful of F-14 Tomcats that have been ingeniously maintained over the years. The Chinese J-10 is based on plans sold by the Israelis in the 1980s, after their Lavi fighter program had been canceled. The massacre at Tiananmen Square ended cooperation with western aerospace firms, however, forcing China to install Russian AL-31FN engines instead of American F100/F110s. This in turn forced a slew of alternations owing to changes to the aircraft’s new inlet requirements, weight distribution, center of gravity, et. al. Russian avionics with their own set of space requirements also […]
AIR_J-10.jpg

Chinese J-10
(click to view full)

DID’s Benelux reader David Vandenberghe tips DID to the original RIA-Novosti report that Iran has signed a contract with China for the delivery of two squadrons (24) of its J-10 fighter planes, which are powered by Russian engines and avionics. Representatives of the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company said China would deliver the jets during the in 2008-2010 time frame. Novosti adds that “Experts, estimating one fighter at $40 million, put the contract’s value at $1 billion.” Iran’s most advanced fighters are currently MiG-29s, many of which once belonged to Saddam Hussein and fled to Iran during the 1991 Desert Storm war, and a handful of F-14 Tomcats that have been ingeniously maintained over the years.

The Chinese J-10 is based on plans sold by the Israelis in the 1980s, after their Lavi fighter program had been canceled. The massacre at Tiananmen Square ended cooperation with western aerospace firms, however, forcing China to install Russian AL-31FN engines instead of American F100/F110s. This in turn forced a slew of alternations owing to changes to the aircraft’s new inlet requirements, weight distribution, center of gravity, et. al. Russian avionics with their own set of space requirements also had to be installed and tested to replace American/Israeli equipment, which led to further design changes. Then there were the indigenous Chinese efforts, including the Type 1473 pulse-Doppler (PD) fire-control radar to replace Israel’s Elta or the American APG-68. The end result entered service in 2003 after well over a decade in development, and is a rather different aircraft than the Lavi. Nonetheless, it retains the aircraft’s canard-delta layout and some of its capabilities, and its aerodynamic layout and known/reported characteristics suggest an aircraft that is equal or slightly superior to American F-16 C/Ds. This could complicate Israeli strikes on targets related to Iran’s nuclear program, though many other variables would also come into play for such scenarios.

If the deal pans out at all… recent reports have thrown it into question.

AIR_J-10B_Takeoff.jpg

J-10B
(click to view full)

The Xinhua press agency interrupted its coverage of the Communist Party of China’s 17th National Congress to run a story denying the Novosti report. “The report is false and irresponsible,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a regular press conference. “China has not conducted any negotiation on so-called fighter issue.”

If it was an official Novosti report, RIA-Novosti and Xinhua would present the interesting dilemma of 2 agencies born under totalitarian Marxist government as arms of the state, both of whom are currently under the thumb of open or de facto authoritarian governments whose regard for truth remains low, whose reports disagree. In this case, however, Novosti lists the report as coming from an outside source: the publication “Business and Financial Markets.”

Meanwhile, experts have suggested that the rumors may have been started by China in order to persuade the USA to continue to deny sales of F-16 C/D aircraft to Taiwan. The USA had been offering this deal for some time, along with a broader package of air defense missile, anti-submarine aircraft, et. al. Years of stalling by the opposition KMT party have led to sharp, bipartisan warnings from the US that if Taiwan did not wish to defend itself, the USA would reconsider its own commitment – and finally to refusal to approve Taiwan’s F-16 request. The source of Taiwan’s political gridlock has been something of a mystery, as the KMT has pressed for the same items when they had been in power that they later blocked. A Chinese gambit to prolong and widen that gridlock does not seem like an implausible follow-up move.

Then again, China also has important oil and gas agreements with Iran. The quid pro quo has included the same kind of UN Security Council protection Sudan has received over the Darfur genocide, as well as Iranian purchases of Chinese armaments ranging from assault rifles to fighter jets (F-6/MiG-19, F-7/MiG-21) and transport aircraft. This would certainly be a logical continuation of that trend, and denial could easily be used to buy time for delivery, which would become harder to interfere with once Iran has or announces that it is in possession of atomic weapons.

Time will tell.

Novosti reports that as of mid-2007, the Chinese Air Force had a complement of 89 J-10s, out of 120 intended for its needs. Other sources like Sino Defence place the eventual program size closer to 300. Their Russian AL-31FN engine is an upgraded version of the AL-31F that powers Su-27 Flanker fighters flown by China and many other air forces. In July 2005, China concluded a contract with Moscow’s Salyut plant for 100 AL-31FN engines, with an option on another 100. In the summer of 2007, China exercised its option for 100 more engines over the next 2 years. These engines require Russian consent for foreign sales, but China has also been working on an indigenous WS-10A Taihang turbofan, and may look to integrate it into future J-10 versions.

The Jerusalem Post recently covered the Iranian sale report in the context of a possible early IAF in-service date for the F-35A, and added that there have been rumors of a pending J-10 sale to Syria as well.

Syria’s fighter fleet is aging, and the addition of Chinese J-10s would complement its forthcoming multi-role MiG-29M2s from Russia… unless those are in fact bound for Iran, as the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported.

Developments

Aug 3/15: Iran is rumored to be buying 150 Chengdu J-10 fighters from China. Reports from 2007 alleged that China planned to sell 24 of the fighters to Iran, however the Chinese government subsequently denied these claims. Pakistan is also a possible regional customer for the J-10, with reports in November 2009 indicating that a deal had been signed for 36 of the jets. The J-10B model entered mass production last year, with China looking to develop an indigenous engine to power the fighter to get around Russian objections to the export of its AL31FN-S3 engines currently powering the J-10.

Additional Readings & Sources

* Sino Defence – J-10 Multirole Fighter Aircraft

* UPI (Dec 14/07) – Analysis: China eyes J-10A sale to Iran. The analyst doesn’t think so, and explains why. Short version: engine export issues, a focus on meeting Chinese and Pakistani demand, and an unwillingness to create a major conflict over a minor issue.

* Defense News (Oct 29/07) – Is China Selling J-10s to Iran?

* Xinhua press agency (Oct 25/07) – China denies signing deal with Iran on selling fighter jets

* RIA Novosti (Oct 23/07) – What the Russian papers say

* Sino Defence (April 17/07) – J-10 Fighter to be Fitted with a Chinese-Made Engine

* Sino Defence (Dec 29/06) – J-10 Fighter Officially Declassified. “Pakistan is reportedly in negotiation with China to purchase up to fifty J-10 fighters.”

* Sino Defence (July 31/05) – Russia Signed AL-31 Engine Deal with China

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