Warplanes: East Asia's Own


July 29, 2006: In the past 15 years, three Asian nations have developed jet fighters of their own. Taiwan, China, and Japan all were looking to improve upon older forces, and this led to the birth of four fighters – each of which was along the lines of the F-16, albeit with differences. As a baseline, the F-16 has nine hardpoints capable of carrying six tons of bombs or missiles. It has a top speed of 2145 kilometers per hour, and a combat radius of 800 kilometers.
China developed two projects. The first was the FC-1/JF-17, which began in 1986 as the Super 7, an advanced version of the J-7, a knockoff of the MiG-21, which Grumman was supposed to help with. The 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square shot that deal down, and the Chinese eventually turned to Russia for help. The FC-1 has a total of seven hardpoints, a top speed of 1,908 kilometers per hour, and a range of 2,037 kilometers. Its virtue is a relatively low cost, which will permit the purchase of a significant number of these planes, which can take on aircraft or attack ground targets.
The second project is a more high-end aircraft, the J-10. This is a variant of the cancelled Israeli Lavi (itself an "improved F-16"). The J-10 has more hardpoints (eleven). It has a top speed of 2,450 kilometers per hour, and a range of 1,850 kilometers. The J-10 has also picked up a lot of Russian technology, like the AF-31 engine( also used in the Su-27/Su-30 aircraft China is pushing into service). The J-10 is more capable than the FC-1, and close to the F-16 in performance. That said, it is just now entering service, while the F-16 is nearing replacement, in the United States Air Force, by the F-35.
Taiwan went with a slightly different approach. The Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighter (CIDF) was designed after Taiwan found itself unable to buy into the F-16 in the 1980s, and the sale of the F-20 Tigershark was blocked as well. The CIDF has a top speed of 1,296 kilometers per hour, and a range of 1,100 kilometers. This plane has six hardpoints (plus two wingtip points for air-to-air missiles).
Japan's F-16 variant, though, is clearly the most capable aircraft to come out of East Asia in a long time. The Mitsubishi F-2 carries nearly nine tons of bombs on thirteen hardpoints, has a top speed of 2,145 kilometers per hour, and a combat radius of 1,000 kilometers. This plane is expensive, but it carries an active electronically scanned array radar, and is capable of carrying four anti-ship missiles, four air-to-air missiles, and extra fuel tanks.
Of these planes, the F-2 and the J-10 are close in terms of performance. A slight edge has to go to the F-2, which is not only being produced in larger quantity (130 F-2 to 100 J-10), but it is better on a plane-to-plane basis. It is awfully expensive (four times the cost of a Block 50 F-16), but the plane's electronics are probably the best of any aircraft manufactured in Asia. With the F-2, Japan has proven it is back in the business of making top-end fighters. – Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)


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