Origin of the JH-7 fighter-bomber goes back to the H-7 (Hong-7) tactical bomber programme initiated in the late 1970s as a replacement for the H-5 (IL-28 Beagle) bomber and Q-5 (Fantan) attacker. In order to meet the separate requirements from the PLA Air Force and PLA Navy, two different variants based on a single airframe were proposed. The Air Force variant was dropped in the early 1980s due to technical difficulties, while the Navy variant later evolved into the JH-7, a naval fighter-bomber primarily designed for the anti-ship missile strike role. An improved variant JH-7A was adopted in the early 2000s by both the Air Force and Navy as a multirole interdiction and attack aircraft.
The JH-7 is a an all-weather, two-seat, twin-engine fighter-bomber in the same class as the European Tornado IDS and Russian Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer. The aircraft features a number of new technologies which were first seen on Chinese-developed combat aircraft, including the turbofan jet engine, fly-by-wire (FBW) control, multi-functional pulse-Doppler radar, integrated INS/GPS/Doppler navigation system, and sophisticated self-defence electronic countermeasures (ECM) suite. As well as serving with the PLAAF and PLAN, the aircraft has also been offered to the export market under the designation FBC-1 Flying Leopard.
The PLAAF and PLAN demanded a multi-role light bomber with both air-to-surface and air-to-air capabilities. The aircraft must be able to carry 3,000~5,000kg weapon payload for maritime strike and interdiction missions against medium- and large-size surface ships, front-line naval and air bases, communication hubs, the beach front, and massed troops. The specifications called for an aircraft capable of supersonic speed at low level in all-weather, day/night conditions. The specifications also demanded that the aircraft have a longer range (ferry range >2,800km, combat radius >800km) so that it can take off from second-line air bases. The specifications also demanded that the aircraft has a maximum speed of Mach 1.5 at high level and Mach 0.9 at low level (<500m), and be able to use afterburning to achieve excellent short-field performance.
The JH-7 has high-mounted wings with compound sweepback and dog tooth leading. There are two small over-wing fences at approximately two third span on the basic variant JH-7, but they were removed on the improved JH-7A. Two pilots sits in tandem in the two-seat cockpit, with the rear seat slightly higher than the front seat to give the weapon operator a better filed of view. Each seat has its own back-hinged canopy. The cockpit and internal fuel tanks are protected by armour plates.
The JH-7 is fitted with a twin-barrel Type 23-III (a copy of the Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23L) 23mm cannon with 200 rounds in a ventral installation. Up to 5,000kg weapon loads and/or drop tanks can be carried on external hardpoints (seven on JH-7 and eleven on JH-7A). While the early variant JH-7 could only carry anti-ship missiles and free-fall bombs, the improved JH-7A is capable of delivering a full range of precision guided and stand-off weapons.
The aircraft is powered by two British Rolls-Royce Spey Mk202 turbofan jet engines, each rated at 54.29kN (5,536kg, 12,250 lbs) dry or 91.26kN (9,305kg, 20,515 lbs) with afterburning. The fuel-efficient turbofan engine provides the aircraft with a much extended range (3,650~4,000km) compared to the turbojet-powered aircraft. The aircraft has no in-flight refuelling ability. Later production variants are powered by two WS-9 Qingling turbofans, a Chinese licensed copy of the Mk202 built by the Xi’an Aero Engine Factory (XAE) since 2004.
Following several years of delay in the development programme due to the dispute between the Air Force and Navy over the aircraft design and specifications, the original plan to develop a single platform that could meet the requirements of both services was finally dropped. Instead, 603 Institute and XAC introduced a design intended mainly for the PLA Navy as maritime strike bomber. The aircraft, re-designated JH-7 to reflect this change of role, made its maiden flight on 14 December 1988.
A small number (~20) of the JH-7 in the pre-production variant was delivered to the PLA Naval Aviation 6th Division based at Dachang Airbase in Shanghai in 1992. However, the certification of the aircraft design did not take place until 1998, when all technical problems and design flaws were resolved. An additional 20 examples in the formal production variant with some minor improvements were delivered to the Navy between 2002~2004.
The aircraft has seven external hardpoints: one under fuselage, four under wings, and two on wing tips, with the centreline fuselage station and two inboard wing stations pumped to carry a 1,400-litre drop tank each. In a typical maritime strike mission, the JH-7 would carry four YJ-81 subsonic anti-ship missiles and two PL-5C/E IR-homing short-range air-to-air missiles (SRAAM), and a 1,400 litre drop tank. The aircraft would fly at low altitudes to avoid the detection of the enemy ship’s air search radar, and launch the sea-skimming YJ-81 missiles at a distance of 30~40km off the target ship.
Alternatively, the JH-7 could carry up to twenty 250kg low-drag general-purpose (LDGP) bombs for surface attack missions. In this configuration, each of the two inboard wing stations is fitted with a pylon integrated dispenser system that can carry up to six 250kg LDGP bombs. Each of the two outboard wing stations is fitted with a smaller pylon that carries four bombs.
The basic variant JH-7 is fitted with a Type 232H Eagle Eye mono-pulse fire-control radar. The radar feeds to a fire-control computer, which is connected to the integrated INS/GPS navigation system, anti-ship missile fire-control system, and head-up display (HUD) via a HB6096 (ARINC429) data bus. This makes possible accurate delivery of weapons over long distances in the sea. The aircraft is also the first Chinese indigenous combat aircraft to be fitted with a self-defence ECM suite consisting of all-aspect radar warning receiver (RWR), active/passive jammer, and chaff/flare dispenser.
As the basic variant JH-7 did not meet all the requirements by the PLA, an improved variant JH-7A with enhanced precision strike capabilities was proposed by 603 Institute in the mid-1990s, with the full-scale development commencing in 1999. The JH-7A was embraced by the Air Force and Navy, as both services were facing increasing pressure in finding a replacement for their ageing H-5 and Q-5 fleets. The JH-7A was first delivered to the PLA Naval Aviation in early 2004, followed by the delivery to the PLA Air Force in late 2004. There are currently three JH-7/A regiments in the PLA Naval Aviation, and a JH-7A regiment in the PLAAF, totalling some 80~100 examples.
The JH-7A was the first Chinese-built combat aircraft to be designed entirely on computer, with over 24,000 components and parts created on the 3D software CATIA. This allowed a virtual aircraft to be assembled in simulation before any the costly physical prototypes were manufactured. The original three-segment windscreen was replaced by a single-piece curving windscreen for better visibility. In order to give the weapon operator a better field of view, the seatback of the pilot was lowered by 30mm, while the seat of the weapon operator was raised by 30mm. Modifications on the airframe included removing the over-wing fences, and replacing the single large under-fuselage stabilising fin with two smaller fins. By using composite and alloy materials, the aircraft’s empty weight was reduced by 400kg, while the maximum take-off weight was increased by 10%.
The JH-7A is fitted with a JL-10A pulse-Doppler multi-functional fire-control radar with 11 working modes including medium-range interception, close-range air combat, surface/sea attack, navigation, etc. The X-band radar has a maximum detection range of 80km and tracking range of 40km, with the “look-down, shoot-down” capability. The original analogue FBW on the JH-7 has also been replaced by a dual-redundancy digital FBW system, which is correlated with the aircraft’s radar to enable the terrain-following capability over the land and the ability to deliver the precision strike weapons. The JH-7A also features an improved ‘glass cockpit’, with a head-up display (HUD) and two large LCD multi-functional displays (MFD).
The number of the external stores stations on the JH-7A has been increased from seven to eleven, with six under wings, two on wingtips, one under-fuselage centreline, and two forward under-fuselage located near the air intakes. The aircraft is able to deliver a range of precision strike ammunitions, including the YJ-91 (Kh-31P copy) anti-radiation missile, the KD-88 TV-guided air-to-surface missile, and the 250kg laser-guided bomb (LGB). The two forward under-fuselage stations can carry various navigation and targeting pods for all-weather, day/night operations. Additionally, the JH-7 in service with the PLA was also seen carrying electronic warfare and countermeasures (EW/ECM) pods.
MRAF / Fleet
|Naval Aviation 5th Division
||Laiyang AB, Shandong
||North Sea Fleet
| Naval Aviation 6th Division
|Dachang AB, Shanghai
||East Sea Fleet
| Naval Aviation 9th Division
||Lingshui AB, Hainan
||South Sea Fleet
|PLAAF 28th Air Division
||Xianqiao AB, Zhejiang
Last update: 24 October 2008