The J-11D Surprise: China Upgrades Russian Flanker Fighters On Its Own

J-11D's First Flight

J-11D

The J-11D had its first flight on April 29, 2015 at a SAC airfield. It’s most notable feature is its AESA radar, which is obvious thanks to its upwardly canted radar dome.

In a surprise development, the J-11D “D1101” prototype flew its first flight on April 29, 2015. The J-11D is the latest in Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC)’s family fighters licensed and modified from the Russian Sukhoi Su-27 “Flanker.” SAC has built well over 200 Su-27 and J-11s, such as the licensed produced J-11A and indigenously upgraded J-11B, which had better engines and radar, and a lighter airframe. It is possible that improvements from other Chinese Flanker variants, like the J-15 carrier fighter and J-16 strike fighter, have been applied to the J-11D.

The J-11D’s most noticeable upgrade is an upwardly canted radar dome, which carries an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, as well as further use of composites and stealth coatings in the fuselage to reduce weight. The fighter’s Infrared Search and Tracking (IRST) pod has been relocated starboard of the cockpit, to accommodate a retractable inflight refueling (IFR) probe. The J-11D is also believed to have improved weapons hardpoints to carry the latest Chinese weapons, such as the PL-10 air to air missile, long range PL-21 missile and YJ-12 antiship missile.

Chinese AESA

China’s defense industry has become very proficient at building AESA radars, such as those found on the KJ-2000 AEW&C aircraft, Type 052C destroyer, HQ-9 SAM and these fighter AESA radars. The middle one, which is built for the J-16 strike fighter, has 1760 transmit/receive elements. The J-11D’s radar is likely to be an improved model f the J-16’s AESA radar, optimized for air to air combat.

The J-11D’s upgrades allow it to take full advantage of new PLAAF capabilities, and in turn, extend those capabilities further. For example, the IFR probe would enable aerial refueling from an Il-78 tanker, extending both the aerial patrol time and range of the fighter. The AESA radar offers key advantages over older, conventionally scanned radar; it’s more resistant against electronic jamming, offers higher resolution when targetting stealthy aircraft, and has greater range. The J-11D’s datalinks would enable it to share its radar data with other Chinese aircraft and ships. The J-11D’s greater weapons payload would include long range weapons that could then be guided by other systems with longer ranged sensors, like the KJ-500 airborne early warning radar plane.

Divine Eagle Hunts

The offensive applications of the Divine Eagle are demonstrated here, as two Divine Eagles mark out not just the enemy aircraft carrier, but also its escorting warships and aviation wing, while vectoring friendly aircraft and ships into combat. One presumes that the Divine Eagle would also be able to find targets for the infamous DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile.

The J-11D’s first flight is especially interesting given persistent rumors about impending Chinese purchases of the Su-35, the most modern Russian Flanker model. Ironically, the Su-35 uses a passive electronically scanned array (PESA) radar, which is an older and generally less flexible technology. Further flights like this indicate a shift is at hand, as advancing Chinese technology might be killing the Su-35’s China sale chances.

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