The Chinese have held a long-running and beneficial relationship with the Russians that eventually netted the country access to potent military equipment - fighters, tanks, small arms, warships and associated technologies. Even after the fall of the Soviet Empire in the early 1990s, the trend has continued while China has also poured billions of its own into internal developments to help promote a more self-sufficient China in the Asia-Pacific region.
In 1998, the country introduced the Shenyang J-11 twin-engine air superiority fighter which was based on the capable Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKK "Flanker" - nearly 200 of the type have since been produced in China. The Shenyang J-15 then emerged as a carrierborne multirole fighter to serve on China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning (16). This aircraft was developed from the existing Sukhoi Su-33 "Flanker" line and is expected to be formally introduced sometime in 2016. Yet another Shenyang/Flanker development has arrived as the Shenyang J-16 ("Red Eagle") which is largely based on the J-11 (J-11BS model) with increased operational range, improved avionics suite and a multirole capability. The aircraft was introduced in 2013 and has seen some 24 production examples follow the single flying prototype.
The J-16 was first unveiled in mid-2012 and is primarily intended for the strike-fighter role which allows its crew to engage ground targets as well as air threats. The airframe supports a crew of two seated in tandem and overall dimensions include a length of 72 feet, a wingspan of 48.2 feet and a height of 21 feet. Empty weight is 38,600 lb with a maximum take-off-weight nearing 77,000 lb. Power is served through 2 x WS-10A afterburning turbofans generating 33,000 lb thrust (wet). Performance includes a top speed of Mach 2, range of 1,900 miles and service ceiling of 56,800 feet.
As a strike-fighter, the J-16 series supports both air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions. A 30mm GSh-30-1 internal cannon is standard and afforded 150 projectiles. There are twelve external hardpoints which support PL-9 and PL-12 series air-to-air missiles, standard anti-radiation (anti-radar) missiles, anti-ship weaponry, rocket pods, conventional drop bombs and precision-guided ordnance. An onboard Electronic CounterMeasures suite provides missile and radar tracking/engagement defense as expected while incoming threats are thwarted through onboard chaff and flare dispensers. Several hardpoints are plumbed for jettisonable external fuel tanks for increased operational ranges.
Outwardly, the J-16 mimics the clean, smooth lines of the excellent and proven Sukhoi Flanker product save for a few subtle external differences. It is said that the J-16 makes use of a special radar absorbent coating along its skin to promote a certain stealth aspect though it is not invisible to existing radar systems. Internally, the aircraft is given an indigenously-designed and developed, all-modern AESA (Active, Electronically-Scanned Array) radar system. The engines (WS-10) are also of a local design (though based on the General Electric GE F101 turbofan) and the same that powers the Chengdu J-10, Shenyang J-11 and Shenyang J-15 fighters. The twin powerplants are aspirated through two under-fuselage rectangular intakes under the wingroots, an identifying feature of all Sukhoi Flanker aircraft. Composites are used throughout the overall construction of the aircraft to promote strength with weight-saving measures.
The J-16 is considered to be in the same general class as the American Boeing F/A-18 "Super Hornet", European Eurofighter Typhoon and French Dassault Rafale multi-role aircraft and adds a new multi-faceted participant to growing Chinese military authority in the tumultuous Asia-Pacific region.
The J-16 designation marks basic strike model variants. The J-16D is a reported Electronic Warfare Aircraft (EWA) variant noted by its wingtip equipment pods and other equipment add-ons. This version also lacks the internal 30mm gun. In this arrangement, the J-16D is comparable to the Boeing F/A/18 "Growler" EWA aircraft used by the United States Navy.