The J-16D fighter variant made its first flight on December 18, 2015
China has a tradition of copying ideas from abroad, modifying it to fit “Chinese characteristics”. It wouldn’t be surprising if they created a Growler with a Chinese identity. It is a variant of the two-seat J-16 Red Eagle attack aircraft, which is a Chinese copy of the Russian Su-30MKK Flanker fighter. The two-seat J-16 is almost equivalent to the US F-15E, but is equipped with active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, the most modern radar technology available on fighters.
The J-16D fighter variant made its first flight on December 18, 2015. The J-16D has been stripped of its 30mm cannon and infrared sensor. Instead, it added several antennas and electronic warfare arrays along the fuselage. The nose dome of the J-16D was reshaped, to accommodate a more advanced AESA radar. And most importantly, the electronic warfare pods are mounted on the wingtips, similar to the US ALQ-218 pod on the EA-18G Growler.
Under the main wings, the J-16D is also equipped with anti-radar radiation missiles and negative jamming missiles. Each wing can carry from 2 to 3 such missiles. The CM-103 anti-radiation missile has a range of 60 km and is accurate enough to hit naval and ground targets with an 80kg warhead. China also has a copy of the Russian Kh-31P missile, known as the YJ-91, which has a slightly longer range and also has anti-surface warfare capabilities. Finally, there is a radiation missile called the LD-10 ARM, which is derived from the PL-12 missile.
Currently, China also has a number of aircraft capable of electronic warfare, including the two-seat JH-7 bomber. Currently, China has about 240 JH-7 aircraft, serving in the PLA Air Force and Naval Air Force. However, the JH-7 lacks electronic warfare equipment integrated in the airframe, not a design specifically for electronic warfare purposes as of the J-16D.
In addition, China has several dozen Y-8GX and Y-9GX. The HD-6 electronic warfare aircraft based on the H-6 bomber, or the Xianglong “Soaring Dragon” UAV can also be used as a tactical jammer. The Chinese Navy also intends to turn the J-15 into a specialized electronic warfare aircraft like the US EA-18G Growler; but because the two carriers used ski jump takeoffs, the J-15Ds could not carry enough payloads.
The question is, which opponent’s air defense systems will the J-16Ds have to face, in the context that neighboring countries with China have strong anti-electronic suppression capabilities. It can be seen that China’s electronic warfare aircraft are most likely used against surface ships of the US Navy, which are equipped with SM-2, SM-6 and Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles, capable of shooting down both aircraft and missiles.
Beijing is seeking to change the balance of military power in the Western Pacific. The development of a dedicated J-16D electronic warfare aircraft will provide China with an air combat capability similar to that of the US Army.