Israeli tech-transfer to China turns the J-10 into a ‘Chinese’ F-16

The first prototype of the J-10 was completed in June 1997. Its first launch, a significant event in aviation history, occurred on 23rd March 1998. Despite the J-10 fighter jet’s status as the highlight of China’s native fighter jet program, various reports suggest a possible connection between Israel Aerospace Industries and the Chinese Aeronautical Construction Consortium during the J-10’s design phase.

Royal Saudi AF may replace the Tornado fighter with Chengdu J-10
Photo credit: Twitter

Reports have revealed that the Israelis secretly shared classified information with the CAC about LAVI, an American-funded Israeli 1980s combat aircraft. The aircraft’s development was halted at its early stage when the US stopped funding it. 

LAVI included a lot of US-based technology. Some of the features were common with the Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter, showing the technological strength of the US. It’s likely that the J-10 uses US technology, which could involve advanced avionics, composite materials, and specific flight controls, highlighting the international influences in its design.  

Technological limitations

The influence of Israel on the design of the J-10 is noticeable, especially in its unique canard-delta configuration. However, differences such as the increased size, modified wing shape, and the increased distance between the canard and wing differentiate it from the LAVI. 

Due to technological limitations, China couldn’t use the compact Pratt & Whitney PW1120 engine from the LAVI. This was due to an inability to produce lightweight composite parts at scale. As a result, the J-10’s design was altered and extended to accommodate a Soviet AL-31F turbofan engine, resulting in a jet weighing 11.75 tons.

The J-10A and J-10AH were expanded upon with a dual-seater J-10AS or J-10ASH. This model, designed for maritime use, was integrated into the PLAAF in 2005, marking China’s dedication to advancing military aviation. With a two-seat configuration, the J-10 is a key advancement in aviation. Its larger dorsal spine houses essential electronics. 

Israeli tech-transfer to China turns the J-10 into a 'Chinese' F-16
Photo credit: Wikipedia

In March 2009, details were revealed about the J-10B, the next iteration of the J-10. Its main feature is the Saturn-Lyuika AL-3FN Series 3 engine, which generates more thrust than previous engines.

The J-10B features advanced military technology including infrared search and track [IRST], a laser rangefinder ball, and a digital glass cockpit with three high-def color displays. It also has a helmet-mounted display and a holographic head-up display in the cockpit. 


The aircraft uses advanced X-band Passive Electronically Scanned Array [PESA] radar from the respected No. 607 Institute. This is the first time such technology has been installed in a Chinese fighter aircraft. 

Rupprecht suggests the J-10B was designed to include an Active Electronically Scanned Array [AESA] radar developed by the famous 14th Institute. However, due to unfortunate delays, it only entered production in mid-2013. The J-10B model began serial production and soon after, the latest J-10C variant was spotted in late December 2013. The J-10C is equipped with an enhanced AESA radar and since 2019, has an upgrade of the Shenyang WS-10 engine. This is China’s first successfully produced turbofan engine specifically for fighter aircraft.

China’s aircraft technology lags behind the F-16 platform by roughly 15 years, and even more when compared to advanced fighters like the F-35. However, the current J-10 model has one feature the F-16 lacks: thrust vectoring control. This feature improves the craft’s maneuverability by controlling the direction of the jet’s exhaust, allowing it to move in unexpected ways. 

J-10’s thrust vectoring

First introduced in the United States in the early 1990s, thrust vectoring control changes the way aircraft navigate by manipulating the engine’s exhaust direction. This makes it possible for the aircraft to move in a direction contrary to its immediate path. 

Using this technology, an aircraft can change direction abruptly, ascend steeply, slow down considerably, or perform other unusual maneuvers. This is possible due to a computer-controlled system that swiftly turns the pilot’s control input into action, removing the need for complex calculations. The pilot merely commands, and the aircraft carries out the necessary steps to complete the maneuver.

J-10 adopted this technology

Chinese fighter J-10C is a contender to replace the American F-16
Photo credit: Creative Commons

In early aircraft designs, paddles were used to alter the engine’s thrust and change direction. It was similar to changing the flow direction of a garden hose with your thumb. Modern thrust vectoring technology, such as movable thrust nozzles, has now replaced these paddles. This technology is prominently seen in the F-22 Raptor which can shift its thrust angle up to 24 degrees in any direction.  

Similarly, Russia has incorporated this technology into their Sukhoi Su-30s, Su-35s, and Su-57 fighters, demonstrating its effectiveness. This increases the aircraft’s performance and sets a higher benchmark in aircraft technology. In 2017, an air show in Russia showcased the impressive maneuvers of the Su-35, credited to Thrust Vectoring Control [TVC]. Today, China’s J-10 has also adopted this technology, joining the elite group of fighter jets known for their superior maneuverability.


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