China’s new J-16D electronic attack jet joins combat training with other warplanes

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China’s new J-16D electronic attack jet has begun combat training alongside other advanced warplanes, according to state television, a dogfight strategy said to be inspired by that of the US Air Force.

The J-16D – an electronic warfare version of the J-16 multirole strike fighter – was part of a joint combat drill soon after it made its public debut at the Zhuhai Airshow in late September, CCTV reported on Saturday.

Wang Mingliang, a researcher at the PLA Air Force Command College in Beijing, told the state broadcaster that the new aircraft – which can carry a range of weapons, interference and surveillance devices – would be more effective when working with other warplanes like the J-20 stealth fighter jet.

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“Both the J-16D and the J-20 can evade detection by rival radar systems,” Wang said. “So the two aircraft will benefit each other when they team up during a future battle.”

The J-16D is a multirole fighter that can jam enemy radars and was designed to accompany the J-20 and J-10C fighter jets. All three aircraft are equipped with computer-controlled active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar systems that allow them to better communicate with each other and detect enemies earlier.

The new electronic attack jet was designed to accompany the J-20 stealth fighter (pictured). Photo: AP
The new electronic attack jet was designed to accompany the J-20 stealth fighter (pictured). Photo: AP

Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology institute in Beijing, said the design concept of the J-16D was “very similar” to the F-15E Strike Eagle multirole fighter used by the US Air Force.

“We can see that the American air force also conducts cohesive team training for their F-22s, F-35s and F-15Es, as well as other fighter jets,” Zhou said. “The Chinese dogfight training and aircraft design concepts have been inspired by their American peers, because in future combat the focus will not be on a single type of aircraft.”

The J-20 is regarded as China’s answer to the American F-22 Raptor, while the J-10C lightweight fighter is seen as able to counter the US F-35, despite the Chinese jet’s weaker stealth features and engine.

Back in 2017, PLA Air Force spokesman Shen Jingke said many J-20 fighter pilots could also operate the J-16 and the J-10C, as well as other new-generation aircraft. A year later, the air force released an image of the three warplanes flying together, calling them the “backbone” of the People’s Liberation Army’s aerial warfare.

“The role of the J-16 and the new J-16D were first revealed in the 2018 photo,” Zhou said. “The Chinese aircraft designers, like their American counterparts, have included artificial intelligence in the new-generation jets to help pilots respond immediately in a dogfight,” he added.

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At least one J-16D has been deployed to an eastern PLA airbase near Taiwan since May, according to satellite imagery released by Canada-based Kanwa Defence Review last month, amid soaring cross-strait tensions. Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory and has not ruled out the use of force to bring the self-ruled island under its control. It has ramped up military intimidation of the island, sending a record number of PLA warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone last month.

Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Tong said PLA fighter pilots had been training for the J-20s, J-16s and J-10Cs to work together since 2019.

“This is the main battle combination that will apply if there is a war against Taiwan,” Wong said. “That combination is very similar to the [US Air Force’s] Boeing EA-18G Growler ship-borne electronic warfare aircraft, which takes an assistant role in a joint operation with the F/A-18E/F and F-35C carrier-based fighter jets.”

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