Photos of a new configuration of China’s primary medium-weight fighter, the J-10, possibly representing a new J-10D model, have begun circulating online. The images show the aircraft with a relatively familiar modification — an enlarged fairing running along the length of the jet’s spine reports Emma Helfrich, Tyler Rogoway of TheDrive.

Similar to specific export variants of the F-16D and F, the snapshots show the J-10 in a prominent dorsal “big spine” configuration. This addition could potentially house a variety of systems, including expanded countermeasure and electronic warfare systems, as well as communications and passive sensors, not to mention the cooling needed to support those features. It could also potentially provide additional space for fuel, but this is less likely. The extra room is especially important for two-seat fighter derivatives that usually give up extra space and fuel for a second crewman. This means the J-10D can house additional electronics and fuel, helping the jet to carry more electronic warfare equipment.

The internet, on the other hand, is not convinced with the images and says it is a standard Chinese disinformation/propaganda tactic. On the other hand, a popular Pakistani channel analysing Chinese defence aerospace issues, claims the image for real and is a modified J-10B may be used as a testbed.

The leaked images show the jet with a single-piece canopy design enhancing the stealth capabilities, while the delta wing appears straight unlike the twisted surface on the older J-10, J-10B and J-10C variants. This, again, adds to stealth, drag and aerodynamic abilities.

Considering the recent appearance of the big spine, that mission is now suspected by some to be in the realm of electronic warfare and potentially suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD). China is investing heavily in this space of its tactical jet portfolio, with the J-16 electronic attack variant based on the Flanker heavy fighter being rolled out not too long ago. It also uses the ‘D’ designation — J-16D.

The J-10D will most likely get the avionics from the J-10C, which has an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, with 1,200 TR (transmitter/receiver) modules. The Dassault Rafale gets RBE2 AESA radar with 838 TR modules but has a more advanced real-time generation of three-dimensional maps for terrain-following management system, extended range capabilities supporting low-observable target detection and greater waveform agility for SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) imaging and improved resistance to jamming.

Unlike the Chinese J-10 the Rafale is equipped with the OSF (Optronique secteur frontal) long range optoelectronics system. With its narrow field, the visible waveband capability is truly valuable to identify targets in situations where visual contact is required by the rules of engagement. It allows target tracking, through IR (infra-red search) and visual sensors.

The J-10D can be counted as a Gen 4 jet, keeping it less aligned with Rafale and TEJAS from India and F-16 from the US but it would be supplementing the J-20s.

Being that China exported a number of J-10C fighters to Pakistan just this year, some are theorizing that the modification is one being carried out at the request of the Pakistani Air Force, which already enjoys a similar setup on their aforementioned F-16Ds. This could manifest itself in new build aircraft destined for Pakistan or possibly as a retrofit option. 

By Pakistan acquiring J-10C, the PAF has got another frontline fighter apart from the F-16s. India, on the other hand, has the deadly Sukhoi Su-30MKIs, Mirage-2000s, MiG-29s and the Rafale fighters. Pakistan’s JF-17 which is used for point defence, ground attack is no match to India’s advanced TEJAS and hence, Pakistan would be eagerly waiting for the J-10D to go in production.