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J-10 (F-10 in West) is a multi-role tactical fighter with a single seat. It is very similar in appearance to both the Eurofighter Typhoon, in general layout, and the F-16 Falcon in fuselage, cockpit and engine details. The aircraft is being developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC). Development began in 1988.
Development of the J-10 started in the early 1980s, after an agreement was signed with Israel to gain access to their Lavi design. The project turned into a full-scale development effort in 1984. Although the Lavi was cancelled in favour of more purchases from the USA in 1987, CAC went ahead with the design. The main differences between the Lavi and J-10 was that the later focussed on performance in the interceptor role, in order to replace the PLAAF's hopelessly outdated J-6 and J-7 fighters.
The loss of the Lavi slowed the program dramatically, requiring the CAC to find new engines and avionics. During this period the nature of the strategic balance changed, and the need to replace the J-6 and J-7s became somewhat less accute. Changes were worked into the design to make it more like the original Lavi, in that the fighter-bomber role was made more important. Eventually the Soviet's agreed to supply the Lyulka AL-31F Saturn engines, and by the mid-1990s the design was ready for testing.
The first prototypes arrived in 1996, but the fly-by-wire (FBW) system proved problematic and eventually caused the loss of the second prototype in 1997. The CAC was forced to work major changes into the design, further delaying the program, while a new FBW was tested on a F-8 testbed.
It is thought that the J-10 has now completed testing and is ready to enter production. Given normal timelines this means the J-10 will be in service squadrons in 2006-7, well over 25 years since the project started. The J-10 will act primarily as the short-range counterpart to the long-range Su-27SKSK, currently in production as the J-11. These two aircraft will be an enormous leap forward from the 1960's-era aircraft currently in PLAAF service when fully deployed in the 2010 time-frame.
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