Chengdu J-10C is one of the most widely produced Chinese aircraft. With more than 400 airframes introduced in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, the aircraft serves as a frontline fighter for the service.
However, even after more than 20 years of service and production, the aircraft is yet to see any export success and its own country’s Air Force is the lone operator of the aircraft. The reasons are quite not clear. Generally, the most common targets (customers) of the Chinese aviation industry are countries with low budget, looking for alternatives for western equipment. Therefore, the South Asian states like Pakistan, Bangladesh and a majority of African states are famous users of Chinese origin weaponry.
Now we have a very interesting photograph doing rounds on social media and appears to be a display plaque of Chengdu J-10C in Pakistan Air Force livery and No.7 “Bandits” squadron markings. The information reads “PAF Base Masroor planning for complex renovation”. This possibly hints at a PAF’s approach towards the single-engine Chinese fighter to counter the Indian acquisition of Rafales. However, the photo is yet to be authenticated as an official PAF product.
The Chengdu J-10 is in line for Pakistan since the induction of JF-17. The reports of Chengdu’s proposal to sell J-10 to Pakistan Air Force are very often seen in media. There were also reports of unofficial deployment of these fighters at an unclassified PAF base which naturally cannot be confirmed. But the fact remains that JF-17 Block 2 or even Block 3 may not be a tough challenge for Indian Rafales as there are limitations posed due to its small size, lightweight and an engine less. The F-16 variants in service with PAF, which are ADF Block 15, AM/BM Block 20 and C/D Block 50, are in limited quantity, and can as well be outperformed by the Rafale’s advanced sensors.
J-10C is the latest variant of the J-10 family and features effective solutions for Electronic Warfare, air-to-air and air-to-ground offence capability, and a robust avionics package. With Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, it has a capability to deploy the latest Chinese PL-15 Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air-to-air missiles. We already made an editorial covering the comparison of PL-15 with Meteor. The solid fuel-powered ramjet missile has several parameters favouring it over the Chinese counterpart.
Talking about J-10 against the Rafale, J-10C is yet to match the capability of the European battle machine up to full scale. The RBE2-AA AESA radar’s high performance gives it a 200km range to track 5m2 RCS targets.
Also, J-10 does not have any integrated EW suite but needs to carry external ECM pods of various bands. The Rafale’s integrated SPECTRA (Self-Protection Equipment to Counter Threats for Rafale Aircraft) electronic warfare suite allows the aircraft to maintain a semi-stealth profile during any type of mission. The suite contains radar warning, laser warning and missile warning receivers that provide 360° coverage against radar emission threats, along with phased array radar jammer and a decoy dispenser for threat countering. InfraRed (IR) based Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) allows precise detection and identification of incoming missiles. The dedicated management unit for threat level assessment and multi-threat decoy dispensers with a smart dispensing facility eases the operator’s role during the combat. Interestingly, the famous Active Radar Cancellation (ARC) method of SPECTRA is battle-proven and believed to be the most potent method to dodge hostile radar systems, both ground-based and airborne.
Technically, Rafale holds an edge over the J-10 in many prospects but the latter still poses a competition in within visual range (WVR) combat, as it armed with PL-10 IIR missile, and coupled with HMS and Infra Red Search and Track (IRST) system. Both aircraft have canard delta wing design (though different configuration of wings) and equally competitive in the dogfight scenario.
But going realistically, the days of 1v1 dogfights are now over, or the chances are less likely to occur. Modern Air Forces like Pakistan and India are now equipped with effective data link and AWACS platforms that make coordination in the sky well acknowledged and precise. Aircraft in the formation can send and recieve real time data from other systems and react accordingly. The BVR combat technology has evolved as well, favouring the operator who detects and presses the trigger first.
In conclusion, even if J-10 is inducted in the inventory of Pakistan Air Force (officially or unofficially), they would still need to give time to master the platform and come head to head against Dassault Rafale F3R. Same applies for Indian Air Force as the platforms are recently inducted and need to familiarize and assimilated into combat structures of the organisation. The modern gen simulators may make it easy for the Air Forces to learn about the aircraft much faster than the previous times, but hands-on real throttle and stick is what is required for actual experience.