MELBOURNE, Australia – China is set to debut its dedicated electronic-attack aircraft on public display at the upcoming Zhuhai airshow, giving observers a first look at the newly developed type.
A single example of the type, which is officially designated the Shenyang J-16D, has been parked at the static display area of the airshow in Guangdong Province ahead of the event, which is due to run from Sept. 28 to Oct. 3 next to the city’s airport.
The twin-seat J-16D is based on the J-16 multirole strike fighter, which is itself a development of the J-11B interceptor and the Russian Sukhoi Su-30MK-series, both of which can trace their lineage back to the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker interceptor.
China has acquired the Su-30MKK and the Su-30MK2 for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, or PLAAF, and the People’s Liberation Army Navy, PLAN, respectively. Some 70 examples of both types, which were acquired between 1996 and 2002, are believed to be still in service.
Images of the J-16D taken on the ground and posted online show that it has some notable differences from the standard J-16, the most prominent of which are a pair of pods mounted on its wingtips.
These are believed to perform a similar function to the Northrop-Grumman AN/ALQ-218 on the U.S. Navy’s Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, which is a passive, high performance signals intelligence sensor system used for detecting, identifying, locating and analyzing sources of radio frequency emissions.
Other distinctive differences from the J-16 include a noticeably shorter nose radome suggesting that a smaller radar has been fitted, along with the lack of the cannon mounted on the right side of the fuselage and the deletion of an infra-red search and track system on the front of the canopy.
The J-16D at Zhuhai carries the number 0109 stenciled on the side of its engine intakes, indicating that it is the ninth aircraft from the first production batch. It carries toned-down PLAAF markings but no numbers on its tail, making it impossible to identify which unit it has been assigned to.
The aircraft has also subsequently been fitted for the airshow with four of what appears to be at least three distinct types of standoff jammer pods on external stores hardpoints below both engine intakes and wings.
Neither of these indigenously developed pods have been seen before with their designation and differences unknown, although it is likely they are for jamming different bands of the electronic spectrum.
A Chinese defense ministry spokesperson has confirmed that other new aircraft types will make their debut at this year’s show, which has been delayed from its original date of November 2020 due to the pandemic.
The other debutants will include the WZ-7 jet-powered high altitude unmanned aircraft, while China’s J-20 stealth fighter will also make an appearance.
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.