To help strengthen its strike wing, the Chinese defense ministry enacted a new program to produce an indigenously designed and developed two-seat fighter-bomber. The end-product became the Xian JH-7 "Flying Leopard" (NATO codename of "Flounder") which first flew on December 14th, 1988. The aircraft line was introduced in 1992 and manages an operational existence as of this writing (February 2014) across some 70 to 115 examples. The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) both make use of the type. The original JH-7 production models have since been improved through the JH-7A initiative with an much improved form - the JH-7B - currently in development.
The Chinese military is expanding by leaps and bounds and was once heavily tied to the fortunes and willingness of the Soviet Union. Since its rising dominance, China has looked to within for solutions to its many military problems and this has led to an expansion of its military-industrial complex. While still reliant on foreigners for some key components such as engines, Chinese industry has been slowly making a name for itself and has itself even become an export supplier to other less-fortunate world militaries.
The JH-7 saw its roots in a 1970s PLAAF requirement calling for a new strike platform with fighter capabilities primarily to replace a stable of outgoing, outmoded types then in service. After overseas inquiries fell to naught, it was decided to develop a local solution to be powered by the British Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan engine which was then adopted (by legal means) through importation by China. The resulting aircraft certainly showcased European-inspired design lines through its slab-sided fuselage, high-mounted swept-back wings and single-tail rudder. The aircraft was crewed by two seated in tandem with ejection seats afforded to both pilots. The raised fuselage spine blocked views to the rear by added internal volume. Designed elected for two engines in a side-by-side configuration for the necessary power and to improve survivability should one system give out. The engines were aspirated through smallish intakes found on either side of the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit. The undercarriage consisted of three legs - two main and a nose leg. Large ventral strakes were seen under the tail for added stability.
Initial production models appeared as "JH-7" which were born from six prototypes emerging in late 1988. The program initially called for a side-by-side seating model for the Chinese Air Force with a tandem-seat model for the Navy. Plans for the former model was ultimately scrapped. After passing a lengthy evaluation period, JH-7s aircraft were formally adopted into service and used in the anti-ship role, carrying 2 x YJ-82 air-to-surface missiles. The earlier Spey Mk 202 series engines were eventually replaced with the locally-produced, license copy by Xian as the "WS-9".
After several years of operational service, the JH-7 design was revisited where improvements could be made and this was completed on CAD software. This resulted in a slightly revised and reinforced airframe which also became lighter. The aircraft's ordnance-carrying capability was broadened to include six hardpoints for missiles and bombs. Avionics were dutifully updated for the better to include Fly-by-Wire controlling and the JL10A Shan Ying J-ban pulse-Doppler radar system. Weaponry was improved for the better air-to-surface targeting, tracking and engagement and support for precision and guided munitions. A pair of large LCD monitors was added as were mountings for specialized mission pods. The JH-7 entered formal operational service in 2004 with the Chinese Navy.
Standard weaponry includes 1 x 23mm GSh-23L internal cannon. Across its external hardpoints, the latest version of the JH-7 can field up to 20,000lb of stores to include missiles, precision-guided bombs and conventional drop bombs.
The JH-7 makes use of the Xian WS9 series (Rolls-Royce Spey Mk 202) afterburning turbofan engine delivering 12,250lb of dry thrust and up to 20,500lb of thrust with reheat (afterburner). Maximum speed is listed at 1,120 miles per hour (Mach 1.75) with a combat radius of 1,100 miles, a ferry range out to 2,300 miles and a service ceiling of 51,180 feet.
To help extend the operational value of the JH-7 series, Xian is now developing a more modernized variant as the JH-7B. This product intends to bring about support for an uprated WS-9A turbofan engine pairing, an in-flight refueling probe, improved weapons capability, updated avionics and incorporation of radar signature reduction. The JH-7B is not expected to reach operational service until 2015 or later.
The export versions of the JH-7 and JH-7A are recognized under the designations of FBC-1 "Flying Leopard" and FBC-1A "Flying Leopard II" respectively. The FBC-1 in the designation stands for "Fighter-Bomber China-1".
January 2019 - It was revealed that the Chinese Ministry of Defense intends to develop a new tactically-minded fighter-bomber to field alongside the upcoming H-20 stealth strategic bomber under development (as of this writing). The new fighter-bomber type would most likely succeed the JH-7 fleet currently in service but not before 2025.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Air-to-Air Combat, Fighter
General ability to actively engage other aircraft of similar form and function, typically through guns, missiles, and/or aerial rockets.
✓Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
✓Close-Air Support (CAS)
Developed to operate in close proximity to active ground elements by way of a broad array of air-to-ground ordnance and munitions options.
Equipped to search, track, and engage enemy surface elements through visual acquisition, radar support, and onboard weaponry.
73.2 ft (22.30 m)
42.0 ft (12.80 m)
20.3 ft (6.20 m)
31,967 lb (14,500 kg)
62,832 lb (28,500 kg)
+30,865 lb (+14,000 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Xian JH-7 (Flounder) / FBC-1 (Flying Leopard) production variant)
1 x Xian WS9 (Rolls-Royce "Spey" Mk 202) turbofan engine developing 12,250 lb thrust on dry and 20,500 lb thrust with reheat.
Up to 20,000lb of external stores across nine hardpoints to include air-ti-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, anti-ship missiles, anti-radiation missiles and conventional drop bombs.
(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 9
JH-7 - Base Series Designation; original production form as anti-ship fighter-bomber.
JH-7A - Improved JH-7 for ground strike role; lighter and more robust airframe; increased ordnance-carrying capability.
JH-7B - Improved JH-7; new avionics suite; reduced radar signature; uprated engine; improved weapons support; aerial refueling capable.
Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective aerial campaigns / operations / aviation periods.
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