The JH-7 entered service shortly before the introduction of the Russian Su-27 air superiority fighter into Chinese service
Xian JH-7 or Jian Hong-7, NATO code name Flounder, otherwise known as Flying Leopard, was a two-seat Chinese fighter-bomber designed to replace the Chinese ageing fleet of Harbin H-5 and Nanchang Q-5 aircraft.
JH-7, although the feature is worse when standing next to J-11 or J-16, thanks to the advantage of high localization rate, cheap manufacturing cost, simplicity in operation and maintenance that it still gained trust from both the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
JH-7 is considered to be simpler and lighter than Su-24 or F-111, and is much cheaper than the Su-30 versatile fighter with high combat performance.
In the mid 1970s the Air Force thus sought to commission a modern strike fighter into service, and submitted a request to the country’s Ministry of Aviation Industry. The program was authorised only in 1983, when the country’s economic upturn, meant additional funds were available for such high end military programs. The JH-7 was the most ambitious fighter program the country had developed until that time.
The full scale production of original JH-7 began in 1984. The first JH-7 prototype was rolled out in August 1988 and unveiled to the public in September 1988 at Farnborough International Air Show.
The JH-7 entered service shortly before the introduction of the Russian Su-27 air superiority fighter into Chinese service, which alongside its more advanced variants such as the Su-30 and domestically manufactured J-11B provided the People’s Liberation Army Air Force with world leading air to air combat capabilities – ensuring that the JH-7 would be conserved exclusively for a strike role.
With the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Beijing’s subsequent reconciliation with Moscow removing any potential for conflict what had long been the People’s Liberation Army’s primary potential adversary, the Pacific theatre and the United States military became China’s primary security concern – particularly considering the sharp deterioration in relations with the Western bloc from 1989. The JH-7’s long range and high payload incidentally made it an ideal anti shipping strike platform, and the fighter entered service in roughly equal numbers in both the Navy and the Air Force as a result of its significant potential for maritime interdiction.
The exterior of the machine has European-inspired design lines, high-mounted swept-back wings and single-tail rudder. The aircraft was designed with two crew members sitting in tandem with ejection seats for both pilots.
The cockpit accommodates a pilot and a weapons load officer and is protected by armour plates. The back seat is reserved for the weapons load officer and is fitted slightly higher than front seat to provide clear visibility of the battlefield. Each seat has its own back-hinged canopy.
All landing gear has twin wheels, obviously for operating on rough runways, the nose gear retracting backward and the main gear retracting up and forward into the fuselage. On the approach, with gear down, the JH-7A has an unmistakeable resemblance to an Anglo-French two-seat SEPECAT Jaguar strike fighter, the resemblance not being so strong from other angles.
The raised fuselage spine blocked views to the rear by added internal volume. The JH-7 is powered by two Rolls-Royce Spey Mk202 turbofan engines. Each engine can produce 54.29kN of dry thrust and its thrust after burner is 91.26kN.
The engines were aspirated through smallish intakes found on either side of the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit. China signed an agreement with Rolls Royce in 1975 to reproduce the Spey Mk202 engine through reverse engineering.
Later production variants are powered by two WS-9 Qingling turbofans, a Chinese licensed copy of the Mk202 built by the Xi’an Aero Engine Factory since 2004.
The aircraft can fly at a maximum speed of 1,808km/h. Its cruise speed is 903km/h. The normal and ferry ranges of the JH-7 are 1,759km and 3,700km respectively. The service ceiling of the aircraft is 16,000m. The aircraft weighs around 14,500kg while its maximum take-off weight is 28,475kg.
Standard weaponry includes 1 x 23mm GSh-23L internal cannon. The aircraft has nine hard points of which six are located under wing, two beneath wing tips and one under the centreline fuselage section. It can carry 9,000kg of payload.
The JH-7 is equipped with Type 232 H Eagle Eye multi-function fire-control radar, which tracks target information of YJ-8 subsonic anti-ship missiles from a maximum distance of 70km to 100km. It also offers fixed air to air and navigation capabilities. The radar cannot operate on land due to its deficiency of terrain and precision strike abilities.
While formidable, the JH-7 has largely been surpassed in its strike capabilities by the more advanced J-16 which entered service in 2013. Based on the J-11 airframe, the platform is one of the most advanced strike fighter in service – possible the most capable anywhere in the world, and makes use of a number of technologies developed for the JH-7.
The J-16 retains a number of advantages including deploying more advanced air to air munitions for beyond visual range engagements, far superior manoeuvrability and a higher speed, range and maximum altitude among a number of other attributes. With the PLA Air Force having demonstrated its confidence in the new strike platform in early 2018, displaying it alongside the new J-20 stealth fighter, the J-16 is set to enter service in ever greater numbers in future.
The military’s need for the JH-7 may well decrease as a result, and the strike platform has reportedly since been converted into an advanced experimental electronic warfare platform comparable to the U.S. EA-18G Growler.
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