China’s copycat J-16D EW is not a EA-18 Grolwer

On 22 September 2021, China’s new domestic electronic warfare aircraft J-16D has flown to Zhuhai, and will make its first public appearance.

China’s aviation engineers have never been too proud to copy a good idea from abroad, usually modified with “Chinese characteristics.” Perhaps it is not surprising that China appears to have copied the idea to have a Growler of their own. Often failed to copy an aircraft and make disaster fighter aircraft such as J-15 –Chinese CGTN called J-15 a “flopping fish”.

A J-16D aircraft displayed in Zhuhai, South China’s Guangdong Province on Tuesday afternoon in preparation for its debut at the Airshow China, to be held from September 28 to October 3 in the city, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Wednesday.

Electronic Warfare Pod of J-16D

The J-16D is China’s domestically developed electronic warfare aircraft based on the J-16 fighter jet, Guangdong-based news website southcn.com reported.

The J-16D electronic warfare aircraft began flight tests in December 2015 at the latest and was revealed to be using Chinese-made WS-10 engines. The J-16D electronic warfare aircraft has two wingtip external mount points carry electronic warfare equipment, while removing IRST and gattling to balance total take off weights.

The aircraft in question is a variant of the two-seat J-16 Red Eagle strike plane—itself a Chinese copy of the Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKK Flanker. While China has had major problems developing reliable high-performance jet engines, it’s more successful at producing electronics, perhaps due to crossover with its civilian electronic sector.

The J-16D variant—the “D” in the designation comes from the Chinese word for “electronic,” diànzǐ—made its first flight on December 18, 2015.

The J-16D has had its thirty-millimeter cannon and infrared sensor removed; this is not a plane intended to get into short-range dogfights! Instead, there are several new antennas and conformal electronic-warfare arrays along the fuselage. The J-16D’s nose radome is reshaped, possibly to accommodate a more advanced AESA radar. Most importantly, new electronic-warfare pods are mounted on the wingtips that resemble the American ALQ-218 electronic support measure pods on the wingtips of the EA-18G Growler. These are electromagnetic sensors that can analyze radar frequencies and help determine the position of radar-transmitting devices—data that would be highly useful both for jamming radars and for targeting them for destruction.

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Compared to China’s previous electronic jamming pods, the new tactical jamming pods are heavier, larger, and will further expand the coverage frequency to 0.05 to 20 GHz, the launch power will also be increased from the existing 30 to 40 kilowatts, the effective jamming distance will be increased from the current stage to 50 kilometers, according to CCP backed Global Times.

That’s all that’s known for sure—the PLAAF, after all, is not in the habit of giving detailed briefings about its latest fighters. Let’s move on now to the realm of plausible speculation.

Even with a maximum load of electronic-warfare gear, the J-16 would have six of its twelve hardpoints free to carry weapons. The CM-103 missile has a range of sixty-two miles and is probably accurate enough to hit naval and ground targets with its 176-pound warhead. China also has developed a copy of the Russian Kh-31P missile, known as the YJ-91, which has slightly longer range and also has antiship applications. Finally, there is an LD-10 ARM missile derived from the PL-12 antiaircraft missile. These include a couple dozen Y-8GX and Y-9GX transports equipped with tactical jammers and other electronic-warfare gear, and HD-6 electronic-warfare planes based on the H-6 bomber.

Military experts do not believe that a J-16D will take off from an aircraft carrier soon as the current J-15 is limited to take off weights due to poor performance of WS-10 engine and its derivatives. Chinese type 001 aircraft carriers’ ski-jump-style decks has limited capability to launch an aircraft such as J-16D with twelve hardpoints fitted with heavy payloads.

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