An operational People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Chengdu J-10C fighter has been seen carrying pairs of PL-10 and PL-15 air-to-air missiles (AAMs) for the first time. They are the PLAAF’s next-generation short-range and long-range AAMs, respectively. According to Chinese reports, their performance is equivalent or superior to that of their Western counterparts.
Developed by the 607 Institute, the PL-15 (Pi Li or Thunderbolt), is China’s latest beyond-visual-range air-to air missile (BVRAAM). It achieved a first firing in September 2015. Powered by a dual-pulse rocket motor, the PL-15 has a maximum speed of Mach 4 and is reported to achieve a standoff range of 300 km. In comparison, its predecessor PL-12 has a range of 100 km, similar to its Western counterpart, the AIM-120C AMRAAM. According to Chinese reports, the PL-15 will enable the PLAAF to down enemy high-value assets such as tankers and AEW aircraft, beyond the engagement range of their escorts.
After seven years of development, the PL-10 short-range AAM was introduced last year. Chinese media has highlighted that the PL-10 is the first all-aspect missile in the PLAAF, with a 90-degree off-boresight angle and thrust-vectoring capabilities. It is reported to have a range of at least 20 km and with a multi-element imaging infrared seeker, the PL-10 is said to be very resistant to electronic countermeasures.
The PL-10 has been seen on various test aircraft, including the Shenyang J-16 and Chengdu J-20, as the PLAAF prepares to replace the PL-8 on its next-generation fighters. To further exploit the PL-10’s high off-boresight capabilities, the PLAAF could develop a helmet cueing system, which is currently not seen on any Chinese pilots.
The PLAAF has stopped production of the Chengdu J-10B, in favor of the improved J-10C. Like its predecessor, the J-10C features the diffuser supersonic inlet (DSI) but it is equipped with an indigenous active electronically scanned array (AESA) fire-control radar.
The J-10B/C series has also become PLAAF’s latest multi-role fighter, since it can perform ground strike and suppression of enemy anti defense roles with the KD88H missile and YJ91 anti-radiation missile, respectively. Chinese analysts estimate that with the standard configuration of three drop tanks and air-to-air missiles, the J-10B/C could have a combat radius of 1,200 km, covering the Korean peninsula and into Japanese air space from its Yanji base in northeastern China.