China's J-16D is an illegal copy of Soviet/Russian Sukhoi Su-27 "Flanker" air superiority fighter

Electronic variant of J-16 fighter will feature at Zhuhai Air Show and bears military insignia, indicating it has entered service. The Chinese jet is the second of its type, after the American EA-18G Growler

China’s electronic warfare aircraft the J-16D will make its debut at the country’s largest air show next week, showcasing the advances in the military’s capabilities in electromagnetic warfare.

A J-16D – the electronic variant of China’s J-16 fighter – landed in the southern city of Zhuhai on Tuesday in preparation for display at the show, China Central Television (CCTV) reported. The six-day China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition, also known as the Zhuhai Air Show or Air Show China, begins next Tuesday.

The aircraft was painted with the insignia of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), CCTV said. That indicates that it has been in service for the military.

Senior Colonel Shen Jinke, spokesman for the PLA Air Force, told CCTV on Friday that the J-16D had entered combat training to aid the force’s electronic attack capabilities and support expansion of its combat range.

The J-16D’s notable features are several antennas on its fuselage and an electronic warfare pod on each wing, designed to jam and disrupt the targets of an enemy’s air defence system and launch anti-radiation missiles for attacks, typically against an enemy radar, Guangdong-based news website reported. It can also protect other aircraft from enemy attacks, the report said.

China is the second country to develop this type of electronic warfare fighter, after the United States, whose EA-18G Growler is, similarly, designed for jamming enemy systems and for electronic protection of other aircraft during attack missions. It is evidence of China’s greatly improved electronic warfare capabilities, experts said.

“The J-16D shows that China attaches great importance to domination in electromagnetic warfare,” former PLA instructor Song Zhongping said.

“To win future warfare, it will be necessary not only to dominate the air and sea but also to be proactive in domination of information and electromagnetic power.”

Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology institute in Beijing, said the J-16D – which had its first flight in 2015 – had been modified to improve its engine system and would be used mainly for electronic support of the entire air force and suppression of enemy air defence systems.

More than a dozen Chinese fighter jets, including J-16s, flew into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone early this month, the self-ruled island’s defence ministry said. Scholars in Taiwan said the possible inclusion of the J-16D in such missions should be monitored, given its ability to suppress ground-based and sea-based air defence systems and jam radar systems.

“It is possible that both the J-16 and J-16D will be used in combat against Taiwan,” Zhou said, adding that the electronic version could soon join patrols near the island, which Beijing views as its territory and has vowed to bring into its fold, by force if necessary.

According to CCTV on Friday, WZ-7, an unmanned aerial vehicle, will also make its debut at the air show. A high-altitude unmanned reconnaissance aircraft developed and produced domestically, the WZ-7 mainly performs border reconnaissance and territorial sea patrol tasks, the report said.

Also set to appear are the J-20 stealth fighter jet, the Y-20 transport aircraft, the KJ-500 airborne early-warning and control aircraft, the H-6K bomber and the JL-10 trainer aircraft, the report said.