MELBOURNE, Australia — A photo has emerged of China’s J-10 fighter fitted with what is believed to be a thrust vectoring nozzle with stealthy features.
The photo, published by an unknown Chinese-language defense magazine, shows a Chengdu J-10C fighter flying with a modified exhaust nozzle for its indigenous Shenyang-Liming WS-10 Taihang turbofan engine.
The modifications to the aircraft, which is one of a small number of J-10s being used by the Chengdu Aerospace Corporation as flying testbeds, include sawtooth edges on the exhaust nozzles similar to that used by other low-observable aircraft to improve their rear aspect stealth characteristics.
The aircraft also has part of the bottom of its brake parachute housing, located on the base of its vertical fin, removed. This would allow its thrust vectoring nozzle to be rotated upwards and would allow thrust vectoring to be applied on both the vertical and horizontal planes.
Thrust vectoring, also known as thrust vector control or TVC, is the ability of an aircraft to manipulate the direction of the thrust from its engines in order to control the attitude or angular velocity of the vehicle, improving the maneuverability of the aircraft compared to solely using its control surfaces. TVC for improved maneuverability is already used on the Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor and Russia’s Sukhoi Su-30/35 Flanker family.
There have long been suggestions that China was conducting research and development into TVC technology for its combat aircraft, with claims that the J-10C test bed flew for the first time with thrust vectoring in late 2017 although Defense News has been unable to independently verify this.
Despite this apparent breakthrough, Andreas Rupprecht, who has written a several books on Chinese military aviation, cautions against expecting Chinese aircraft to feature TVC any time soon. Speaking to Defense News, he believes that the TVC project is being used to explore such technologies for the WS-15 engine, which is currently being developed for the stealthy Chengdu J-20 fighter.
The single-engine J-10C is the current version of J-10 being operated by China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force or PLAAF. In-service J-10Cs feature a number of improvements over earlier versions, which include a Diverterless Supersonic Inlet, improved electronic warfare capabilities and reportedly an active electronically scanned array radar although they are still powered by the Russian Saturn AL-31 engine.
The J-20, which has recently been declared operational by the PLAAF, is likewise powered by AL-31s, with China’s ability to manufacture high-performance military aircraft engines still maturing despite the WS-10 being used for a number of years on land-based indigenous derivatives of Russia’s twin-engined Flanker combat jets.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.