Attrition: China Slips Away From Failure


October 4, 2011: Without any publicity at all (as in stories about its "glorious career"), China is beginning to retire its J-8 jet fighters. Up until recently, China was upgrading and trying to export the J-8. There were no takers. Everyone seemed to know that the J-8 was a turkey.

Dumping the J-8 was hard to do, because the Chinese have long believed that their older designs still had lots of useful life left in them, as long as they could still fly. In the case of the J-8, many were upgraded to be "smart" bombers. This is being done to take advantage of new smart bomb designs the Chinese have been introducing. These include laser and satellite (GPS) guided bombs. The J-8II had a hard point added under the fuselage, and additional ones on the wings. New radar, equipped to support finding and hitting, ground targets has been added. This J-8 model could deliver laser or GPS smart bombs.

But the J-8 was a failed design, in that it was less maneuverable than the original MiG-21 it was based on. Maneuverability was further degraded when carrying all those bombs. But it was believed that if the J-8II could deliver those smart bombs effectively, the new model will be considered a success. The J-8II is also being equipped for SEAD (Supression of Enemy Air Defenses), carrying anti-radiation missiles to destroy enemy radars.

The J-8 is an 18 ton, two-engine, variant of the MiG-21. This was China's first attempt at combat aircraft design. But it was not a very original or successful effort. The J-8 first flew in 1969, and didn't get into service until 1980. It was quickly realized that this was a turkey.

Fewer than 400 were built. The J-8 carries about three tons of bombs, and is not very maneuverable. China decided to make the most of it, and used a lot of J-8s for reconnaissance and electronic warfare. The navy adopted it as well. It was a J-8 that collided with an American EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft off the coast in 2001. The J-8, which made the mistake of maneuvering too close to the much slower (propeller driven) EP-3, and crashed. The EP-3 survived and made an emergency landing in China, kicking off months of diplomatic tension.

Earlier this year, about 300 J-8s were still in service, most with the navy. That number is expected to rapidly decline over the next few years as more of these aircraft are scrapped (or put on display.)






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