By John Fricker
Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Corp. Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Corp.’s already upgraded F-7M Airguard is receiving further enhancements for a major acquisition by the Pakistani Air Force
Further upgrades of the classic MiG-21 Mach 2 fighter — which began flying as far back as 1957-58, and is still in production in China — are under development in the People’s Republic, and were unveiled at last November’s national air show at Zhuhai. Production of the MiG-21F-13 (Type 74) as the J-7 I began in 1964 under Soviet license by the Shenyang Aircraft Corp. and Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Corp. (CAC), for China’s Air Force of the People’s Liberation Army (AF/PLA). The J-7 I’s 12,654.5-lbs. thrust Tumansky R11F-300 turbojet was similarly license-built by the Shenyang Aero-Engine Factory as the Liyang LM WP7. Thereafter, China undertook further development of both the J-7 airframe and its powerplants with little assistance from the USSR, and subsequently Russia.
The AF/PLA took the lion’s share of J-7 production commit-
ments, but deliveries of the corre-sponding F-7A export version started in 1972 to such nations as Albania, Egypt and Tanzania. Chinese improvements to the original MiG-21F-13 included a new windshield and rear transparency to replace its single-piece front-hinged canopy unit, a 13,450-lbs. thrust WP7B turbojet, and many other minor changes. All these led to large-scale CAC production of the J-7 II, from 1979 to about 1990. China created the F-7B, an export version fitted with Marconi Type 226 Skyranger range-only radar, and sold copies to Egypt, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Beginning in 1979, China offered an improved model, the F-7M Airguard, with GEC Marconi Type 956 HUDWAC avionics, including a head-up display, weapon aiming computer, radar ranging, a radar altimeter, air data computer, stores management system, Type 3400 UHF/ VHF, TACAN, VOR/DME/ILS, ECM, and Type 605A IFF.
Pakistan has been the F-7M’s main customer, taking delivery of 80 F-7P versions by 1991, then ordering 40 more in 1992 to equip five PAF squadrons, plus an OCU. Known locally as the Skybolt, the aircraft were customized with some 20 modifications, including retrofit installation of Pakistani license-built FIAR Grifo 7 fire-control radar, with provision to operate with AIM-9 Sidewinder, or their PL-2A/5B, E-9 Chinese equivalents. Pakistan’s initial Skybolt order also included 15 two-seat FT-7P combat trainer versions of the MiG-21U (Type 66), also delivered between 1989 and 1991.
The proposed FTC-2000, which debuted as a model at the Zhuhai air show, updates the FT-7 with replacement of the original MiG-21’s central nose intake by two lateral engine inlets, and a deeper center fuselage to allow slightly stepped tandem seating to improve forward visibility from the rear cockpit.
The Guizhou Aviation Industrial Corp. built China’s two-seat MiG-21U developments from 1985 on. Derived from the MiG-21F-13 and J-7 II, the aircraft was titled JJ-7 for the AF/PLA, or FT-7 for export. About 50 JJ-7s have been built for the AF/PLA, and in addition to Pakistan, at least 30 or more FT-7s have been exported to other foreign F-7M customers, including Bangladesh, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. In 1996, Pakistan also received several more FT-7Ps, stretched by a 2-ft. center-fuselage extension for additional fuel stowage to give 25% more range, and F-7P avionics, including a new air data computer, HUD, and stores management system. Later PAF FT-7Ps also included an internal 30-mm cannon, and four underwing weapons pylons, for armament training and combat use.
The proposed FTC-2000 development of the FT-7 also debuted in model form at Zhuhai in November. That model has been in wind-tunnel tests prior to planned prototype construction. Main changes from the FT-7 are replacement of the original MiG-21’s central nose intake by two lateral engine inlets, and a deeper center fuselage to allow slightly stepped tandem seating to improve forward visibility from the rear cockpit.
The design also provides for installation of a forward fuselage-mounted air refueling probe, similar to that developed for the AF/PLA’s Shenyang J-8D II “Finback” heavyweight twin-jet fighter, for tanker link-up training and possible operational use. Four underwing stores attachment points and a fuselage pylon also are included for weapons training or combat roles. With either the 13,450-lbs. thrust WP7B/BM turbojet of the original J-7 II, or the newer 15,430-lbs. thrust WP-13F powerplant, the FTC-2000 will achieve a maximum speed of Mach 1.8, for a fly-away unit cost of only about $2.4 million.
The FT-7MG, also known as the J-7E, has been in production and Chinese air force service since around 1993; China’s “August 1” aerobatic team has used nine of the aircraft since 1995. Pakistan may start taking delivery of 60 F-7PG versions of the aircraft this year.
Starting in the mid-1980s, CAC began building the radically improved single-seat MiG-21MF (Type 96F), with a 14,550-lbs. thrust Tumansky R13-300 (China’s Liyang WP13F) turbojet, and a bigger diameter nose, balanced by a wider vertical tail, to accommodate an improved RP-22S radar (JL-7 in China). The plane entered AF/PLA service as the J-7 III in 1992. This MiG-21MF version carries more fuel and equipment in an enlarged dorsal spine, and features blown flaps to reduce landing field lengths, among other refinements. Curiously, however, all China’s subsequent MiG-21 developments and exports have been based on the earlier J-7 II and JJ-7 series.
As the first of China’s major new MiG-21 developments to appear, the J-7E/F-7MG was first revealed to the public at the November 1996 Zhuhai air show, with major MiG-21F-13 airframe and equipment upgrades. While retaining the central portion of the MiG-21’s 57-deg. clipped delta wing, its area was increased by 8% to 267.8 sq. ft. by new tapered outer panels with only 42 deg. of sweep, and a 3-ft increase in overall span to 27.3 ft. In conjunction with maneuvering slats on the new tapered outer wings, and combat flap settings, designers say the increased wing area improves combat agility by 45%, together with gains in take-off, climb, ceiling and landing performance.
The J-7E/F-7MG retains the twin under-fuselage 30-mm cannon, each with only 60 rounds, of earlier F-7s, but features five external weapon stations. GEC’s original Skyranger was initially replaced in the F-7MG by an upgraded GEC Marconi Super Skyranger full-function lightweight radar, using coherent technology to achieve scan, look-down and shoot-down capabilities. Provision has been reported for incorporation of Russia’s UOMZ Shch-3UM-1 or Rafael’s DASH helmet-mounted sights in the J-7E/F-7MGs’ weapons systems, in conjunction with either Vympel’s R-73E (AA-11 “Archer”), or Rafael’s Python 3 close-combat AAM, produced in China as the PL-8.
The Chinese air force’s J-8 II Active Control Technology ACT demonstrator was used to develop indigenous fly-by-wire electronic flight-control and relaxed stability systems in nearly 50 sorties from Dec. 29, 1996, to Sept. 21, 1999.
J-7Es have been in production and AF/PLA service since around 1993; nine are in service with the “August 1” national aerobatic team, replacing two-seat FT-5s (MiG-17Us) in 1995. Six of the team’s J-7Es performed for the first time before Western observers at China’s 1998 air show, and the type’s first export orders were reported at Zhuhai last November. As a long-term customer for Chinese-built Soviet aircraft, the Pakistan air force was then reportedly finalizing initial procurement plans late last year for 60 Chengdu F-7PG versions of the F-7MG, from overall requirements for up to 100. Deliveries could start to the PAF later this year to re-equip two squadrons of Shenyang F-6s, since most of the required F-7MGs have reportedly already been built in China.
Contract completion has been delayed, however, pending choice of new radars for Pakistan’s F-7MGs. Candidates are BAE Systems’ Super Skyranger (SSR) pulse-Doppler version of the earlier Marconi Skyranger range-only radar, or a development of Alenia/FIAR Grifo 7. The Grifo is being produced under license at Pakistan’s Kamra aircraft factory, but the SSR installation proposed by BAE Systems also includes an air data computer, head-up display, and hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS), plus a Vinten video recording system.
Further upgrades of the F-7MG, which could end prospects of a planned joint Sino/Pakistani Chengdu Super 7/FC-1 procurement, as the ultimate MiG-21 development, were revealed at Zhuhai by a model of the proposed F-7MF. In addition to cranked delta wings, the F-7MF has a relocated ventral rectangular engine inlet, leaving the nose clear for a larger diameter radome, and requiring rearward relocation and aft retraction of the nosewheel unit. It also features small fixed fuselage-mounted canards, and seven external stores pylon attachments.
The proposed F-7MF project could spell an end to the FC-1 program. As part of the F-7MF development program, a J-7FS prototype, which also appeared at Zhuhai, has been flying since June 1998 with an interim chin intake and other changes. Wind-tunnel testing also is complete for the F-7MF, which is expected to fly in prototype form by early 2002. The aircraft design includes installation of MIL-STD 1553 digital avionics, and mission systems, including mainly Russian, Israeli or other Western fire-control radar, plus cockpit and head-up displays, within a target fly-away sales price of about $7 million to $8 million.
Little has been heard in recent years of the radical FC-1 development of the MiG-21, originally known as the Super 7, on which work started as long ago as 1988 as one of two joint projects with Grumman. The U.S. company’s joint ventures with China’s National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corp. (CATIC), to develop a J-7 successor still based on the MiG-21, and to upgrade the Shenyang J-8 IIM indigenous twin-jet heavyweight all-weather fighter with new avionics through the “Peace Pearl” program, were canceled in 1989 by the American government following the Tiananmen student massacre.
The proposed multi-role Super 7 originally was designed around a GE F404 turbofan, with half-round cheek intakes, slatted delta-wing sweep reduced to 40 deg., new avionics and many other modifications, to achieve performance and combat capabilities approaching General Dynamics’ F-16. Following the U.S. embargo on military exports to China, Chengdu continued the program as a multinational venture, with design participation from the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra and the MiG OKB, for planned PAF procurement of up to 150, and possible AF/PLA service. The team selected an adaptation of the MiG-29’s 18,300-lbs. thrust Klimov RD33 turbofan for this project, and orders reportedly negotiated for about 100 of the resulting RD93 engines.
Over the years, the Super 7 design was refined to evolve into the more extensively modified FC-1 (Fighter, Chinese, No. 1), with what appears to be conformal fuel tanks in fairings outboard of rectangular rather than semi-circular lateral engine intakes. Seven hardpoints were designed to tote up to 8,378 lbs. of weapons or fuel-tanks. Advanced digital avionics were reportedly to be supplied by Israel from its canceled Lavi advanced fighter program, and Pakistani interest was reaffirmed in February 1998 by a formal letter of intent signed in Beijing, which included agreement to share the project development costs.
Evaluations were made of several prospective multi-mode pulse-Doppler radar candidates, including the Elta EL/M-2032, FIAR Grifo, GEC-Marconi Blue Hawk, Phazotron’s Kopyo, Thomson-CSF’s RD-400, and even a joint Sino/Russian JL-10A proposal under development for Chengdu’s Lavi-based J-10 fighter program. An FC-1 cockpit mock-up, fitted with a Martin-Baker lightweight ejection-seat, was on display at the 1998 Singapore air show, when a prototype first flight — originally due in 1996 — was forecast for 2000. This commitment was stretched to 2001 at Zhuhai, where a full-scale FC-1 airframe mock-up also was promised for June’s Paris air show.
Funding priorities of China’s own fighter requirements, however, including the J-10, J-11 (Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30MKK) procurement and licensed production, Xian FBC-1/JH-7, and J-8 IIM upgrade programs, appear to have shifted FC-1 priorities to the back burner. Pakistan’s immediate fighter requirements seem to be met by the reported F-7PG order, and there have been no reports to date of the FC-1 starting flight development.
The AF/PLA reportedly is expecting up to 120 more upgraded multi-role J-8 IIs, some 90 of which will have provision for air refueling. CATIC, in conjunction with the Shenyang Aircraft Industrial Co. and Shenyang Aircraft Research Institute, also is continuing to promote an improved F-8 IIM for export, although the “Finback” has yet to find a foreign purchaser. First flown on March 31, 1996, the F-8 IIM is powered by uprated WP-13A turbojets, each developing 14,800 lbs. thrust with afterburning, and airframe modifications to extend its operating life to 3,000 hrs.
In addition to a new Phazotron N010 Zhuk-8 pulse-Doppler radar, with look-down/shoot-down capabilities using Russian Vympel R-77 (AA-12 “Adder”) medium-range active radar-guided AAMs, the F-8 IIM features GPS/INS, advanced integrated ECM systems, and two 15 kva AC alternators, among other new avionics. Armament includes a belly-mounted twin-barrel 23-mm cannon with 200 rounds, plus seven external hardpoints for a wide variety of air-to-air, air-to-surface and anti-ship weapons.
Shown in model form at Zhuhai was an AF/PLA J-8 II Active Control Technology (ACT) demonstrator used to develop indigenous fly-by-wire electronic flight-control and relaxed stability systems in nearly 50 sorties, between Dec. 29, 1996, and retirement Sept. 21, 1999. Static flight instability was achieved by small fixed canard surfaces on the J-8 ACT’s cheek-intake flanks, and countered by three-axes four-channel full-authority digital direct-force autostabilization, incorporating flight boundary limits, to third-generation combat aircraft standards. Three AF/PLA pilots were involved in the ACT program, which involved maneuvers of up to 6.5g, with various combinations of external stores.