Is China Selling J-10s to Iran?
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Russian media reported Oct. 22 that China has agreed to send 24 Chengdu Jian-10 (J-10) fighter jets to the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company for $1 billion between 2008 and 2010.
Chinese and Iranian officials have denied the reports, but some observers are convinced.
Chengdu Aircraft Industry began J-10 production in 2004; it entered service with China’s Air Force late last year. So far, China has taken delivery of about 90 of a planned 250 aircraft. The acquisition of the J-10, with a range of 2,940 kilometers, would give Iran a fighter capable of airstrikes on Israel.
“At a minimum, this small number of J-10s could provide the escort necessary to allow one nuclear-weapon-armed Iranian F-4, F-14 or Su-24 to reach an Israeli target,” said Richard Fisher, vice president of the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center. “After all of Israel’s effort to assist the modernization of the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] during the 1980s and 1990s, this rates as a betrayal of the first order.”
The J-10 is based on the defunct Israeli Lavi fighter program, using specifications and technology provided by Israel in the 1980s. (The Israeli-Chinese cooperation was ultimately halted by the United States, on whose F-16 the Lavi was based.)
But another China-watcher said there may actually be no J-10 deal, only rumors started by Beijing to persuade Washington to deny F-16s to Taiwan.
“The J-10A Iran deal has not been finalized so far. Over the past ten years, Iran-made payments for Chinese weapons with oil, and the J-10 deal may be the same deal,” Andrei Chang, a China military specialist with Hong Kong-based Kanwa Information Center. “However, we need to watch it carefully, because Iran is really seeking third-generation fighters, and they have asked Sukhoi to give them more information on a new Sukhoi fighter.”
Chang cited unconfirmed reports that Iran is talking to Russia about buying 250 Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker fighter-bombers.
A J-10 sale would not be the first Chinese-Iranian aircraft deal. Iran operates around 25 Chengdu F-7M and 18 Shenyang F-6 Farmer fighter jets, plus eight Harbin Y-12 utility aircraft.
Fisher called the J-10 a modern fourth-generation fighter that could carry the PL-12 air-to-air missile, “which is slightly better than the Russian R-77 and comparable with some versions of the U.S. AIM-120 AMRAAM.”
Soon, he said, it would be able to carry the C-802 anti-ship missile, Chinese-made satellite-guided bombs and supersonic anti-radar missiles, “good for attacking U.S. Aegis destroyers and AWACS [aircraft].”