Saturday, January 12, 2008

China's J-10: An Imagery Analysis


The most important modernisation program underway within China's PLAAF is the introduction of the Chengdu J-10 into widespread service. The J-10 is a modern, 4th generation fighter aircraft combining a canard-delta layout with modern avionics and a BVR air-to-air weapon system. Careful analysis of current and past open-source overhead imagery has provided a detailed look at the current status of the J-10 program insofar as operational deployment is concerned. This highlights the value of overhead imagery as an analysis tool, as the J-10 program was not even officially acknowledged by the Chinese military until late 2006. Such secrecy is common in China, and goes a long way towards discrediting the various designs purported to represent the next-generation XXJ, which were revealed as far back as 2002. The fact that China refused to acknowledge an aircraft already visible in hundreds of photographs but at the same time was releasing images of the designs competing for a new stealthy fighter program would seem to be an obvious contradiction in policy, but that is another issue entirely.



Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) is the manufacturer of the J-10 fighter aircraft. Many of the early flight tests took place from Chengdu's facility located northwest of Chengdu in central China. Many of the prototypes are still located at the CAC facility and continue to serve various purposes in the continued development of the J-10.

The following image depicts the J-10 area at CAC's flight test facility:

Xian-Yanliang is home to the Chinese Flight Test Establishment, or CFTE. The CFTE handles the bulk of the flight test programs for the PLAAF, and as such evaluated the J-10 extensively. Xian-Yanliang is located to the northeast of Xian in central China.

The following image depicts a J-10 on the ramp at the CFTE facility:

Dingxin AB
Dingxin airbase, located in north central China near the Shuangchengzi missile test range, is home to a great deal of PLAAF flight test efforts. Pockmarked terrain and targets marked in the desert indicate that among other things, Dingxin is home to weapons integration testing. As such, J-10s have deployed to Dingxin on various occasions beginning in 2002 to conduct trials of the weapon system, including integration of the PL-12 ARH MRAAM.

The following image depicts a lineup of six J-10s on the ramp at Dingxin:

Imagery available in October of 2006 depicted three J-10s on the ramp at Dingxin, with one of the aircraft participating in an apparent display lineup for government or military officials, as seen in the images below:

Cangzhou AB and Jiugucheng AB

J-10s are visible in residence at two airbases known to be subordinate to the Chinese Flight Test & Training Center (FTTC). The FTTC is based at Cangzhou AB south of Beijing. It has been reported that between six and ten J-10s were delivered to Cangzhou in March of 2003 to form the 13th Operational Trials Regiment. Recent imagery taken from 2006 and 2007, however, suggests that six aircraft were delivered to Jiugucheng AB further south, a location also associated with the FTTC in some sources. This does not indicate that no J-10s were operated or are currently operated from Cangzhou AB, but as no J-10s are visible in available imagery of Cangzhou AB one can only speculate as to the status of any J-10 unit at that location.

At least three J-10s are still visible on the ramp at Jiugucheng AB, with six shelters having been constructed for housing the new fighters. The following two images illustrate the alteration of the ramp area. The first image depicts three J-10s sitting behind three of the four hangars, while the second image illustrates the fact that at least two more hangars have been constructed for the J-10s in residence, with a further eight hangars having been constructed for additional aircraft:

If the J-10 Operational Trials Regiment was in fact based at Cangzhou AB, it is possible that the unit based at Jiugucheng is the operational conversion unit tasked with pilot training for J-10 crews. Conversely, the opposite may be true; the OTR may have been based at Jiugucheng AB, with the larger 10 aircraft OCU being located at Cangzhou AB. Whatever the case may be, it is obvious that the J-10 has operated at some point in the past from Jiugucheng AB in some capacity, and the construction of the new hangar spaces does seem to indicate a more permanent presence than an Operational Trials Regiment, whose aircraft may have been reapportioned to operational units following the certicifation of the J-10 for operational service in 2004.


Liuliang AB

The first operational J-10 unit was the 131st Air Regiment of the 44th Fighter Division. This unit formed between July and August of 2004.

The following image depicts the 28 shelters for the J-10s based at Liuliang AB, as seen in photographs of the PLAAF induction ceremony:

Changxing AB

The second operational J-10 unit formed in early 2006 at Changxing AB near Shanghai.

The following image depicts the 28 shelters for the J-10s based at Changxing AB, as well as a solitary J-10 parked on the open ramp:

Siuxi AB

The most recent J-10 unit known to have been formed became operational in 2007 at Siuxi AB, located in southern China north of Hainan Island. Currently available imagery is outdated and does not yet indicate any evidence of J-10 operations from this location.


The following image illustrates the current airbases where J-10s are known to operate or have operated in the past, as described above:

Analysis of the hangar spaces at Liuliang and Changxing air bases indicates that an operational J-10 regiment would consist of no fewer than 28 aircraft. Discounting test aircraft and accounting for the fact that the 4th Air Regiment is known to be operating out of Siuxi AB despite the fact that currently available imagery does not depict any newly constructed hangars for the J-10 unit, there should be no less than 84 J-10s between the three operational units, provided that they are all at full strength. There are also up to 16 other trials aircraft spread between Jiugucheng and Cangzhou airbases, indicating that over 100 J-10s may have been produced to date when the various flight test articles held by Chengdu are accounted for.

The next J-10 unit to enter operational service will most likely be found in either the Nanjing or Guangzhou Military Region. Found across the strait from Formosa, the presence of a J-10 unit in this geographical region would fill a current gap between Changxing and Siuxi airbases.


Replacing the large numbers of J-7s with the new J-10 is a top priority for the PLAAF. The J-10 is by far the most advanced aircraft yet to be produced by the Chinese military aviation complex, and as such will enable the PLAAF to be far more effective in a modern air combat environment. With hundreds of FLANKER-family aircraft already in service, and up to 300 J-10s projected to be produced, the PLAAF is rapidly becoming one of the more modern and well equipped air arms in the world, a welcome change from as recently as ten years ago when FLANKERs were scarce, and aged designs like the J-7 and J-8 were relied upon to provide the bulk of the Chinese air combat force.


-All overhead imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth.

Chinese Military Aviation


Deino said...

Congratulation for that excellent analysis, even if I would say the production should be slightly higer including the prototypes, pre-serials and the operation test-regiment at the FTTC.

Cheers, Deino


Yet again you have produced an extremely well-researched and insightful analysis. Thanks for the great job!

Sean O'Connor said...

There are probably more than 100, but 84 jets at operational regiments (3), 10 at the OTR at Changxing, and 6 doing whatever at Jiugucheng is as far as we can go with 100% certainty, provided the three regiments are all at full strength, of course. The problem is that we don't know which prototypes and pre-series aircraft were sent to Changxing and/or Jiugucheng, so we can't simply add the total of the known prototype/pre-series fleet to the 100 aircraft we can already account for.

VCDH said...

Very informative analysis, any chance that some of the aircraft in the images are mockups or decoys?


Sean O'Connor said...

They could be mockups or decoys, but that is not very likely as these aircraft have been spotted at locations which are well known to be operating the J-10.

Anonymous said...

There are 28 shelters at Mujiayingzi/Cheifang 2 AB of the same design as those in Changxing.

Anonymous said...

1st regiment of FTTC is based at Gucheng airbase with 16 or more J10s and J7Es.

Cangzhou is 2nd regiment of FTTC with J8B/J7B and 3rd regiment of FTTC with Su30mkk.

A standard J10 regiment has 28 aircrafts. Now there are three regiment has established: 131th regiment of 44th division at Luliang, 8th regiment of 3rd division at Changxing, 5th regiment of 2nd division at Guiling(not suixi).

Suixi is 6th regiment of 2nd division with J11/Su27sk.

2nd regiment of 1st divisoin based at Chifeng is now changing their equipment from J7E to J10. At least 8 J10s has arrived.

Anonymous said...

after changxing afb get j-10,guilin afb as the 4th group, chifeng afb as the 5th one.