Recently aired Chinese TV pictures appear to indicate that its “home-grown” variant of the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker – known as the J-11B – is beginning to filter through to the "front line". Imagery also shows one of the aircraft carrying a PL-12 active radar-guided air-to-air missile (AAM).
The J-11B is in effect an indigenous version of the Su-27, and is a significant aircraft for the Chinese air force (PLAAF) and industry – for a variety of reasons. The development of the J-11B put pressure on the relationship between Beijing and Moscow over the issue of “license” production.
For the PLAAF the J-11B almost certainly provides a better air superiority platform to the Su-27SK standard of aircraft provided by Russia. For industry it provides an airframe for which to develop indigenous systems and weapons.
A Chinese developed radar replaces the NIIP (Tikhomirov) N-001, along with improved cockpit avionics, and local engines. The PL-12 likely replaces the Vympel R-77/RVV-AE (AA-12 Adder) as the primary active radar-guided beyond visual-range AAM. The J-11B presently is thought to be configured to carry up to six PL-12s and four dogfight missiles.
Images of prototype J-11Bs have been posted on websites showing the aircraft carrying the PL-8 infrared guided short-range AAM. The PL-8 is based on the Israeli Rafael Python 3 which China purchased in significant numbers in a late 1980s deal.
The J-11B, PL-12/PL-8 combination provides the PLAAF with a potentially high capable air-to-air combat platform, offering range, persistence, and a substantial weapon load-out.
A two-seat variant of the J-11B, the J-11BS, is also reportedly in development.
Picture credit CCTV via Chinese Military Aviation/Chinese Military Forum