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J-11B images fuel speculation about AESA radar upgrade

07 November 2019
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Recently released images showing J-11Bs featuring a light-grey radome (an example of which is seen on the right) have fuelled speculation that some of these aircraft might have been upgraded with AESA radars. Source: Via CCTV

Images have emerged in Chinese state-owned media showing at least two People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Shenyang Aircraft Corporation J-11B multirole combat aircraft featuring light-grey radomes instead of the usual black ones, prompting speculation that some of the fighters may have been upgraded with a locally built active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system.

The images, which were shown in early November by China Central Television (CCTV) and on the People's Liberation Army (PLA) website, show the aircraft at an undisclosed airbase alongside several standard J-11Bs.

CCTV reported that the J-11Bs, which based on their serial numbers belong to the PLAAF's 1st Air Brigade at Anshan, were participating at the time in combat exercise over the desert.

On 5 November, the state-owned Global Times newspaper quoted Wang Ya'nan, chief editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, as saying that the possible new radar "is likely [to be] an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, which has longer detection capabilities, can better identify targets and enable the use of long-range air-to-air weapons."

In this context, Wang pointed out that the Soviet-era Sukhoi Su-27, from which the J-11B was developed, uses a mechanically scanned pulse-Doppler radar, which has a shorter maximum detection range and lower scan rate.

The new radar would enable the J-11B to conduct a wider variety of missions, said Wang, adding that the participation of this J-11B variant, which is commonly being referred to as the J-11BG, in a military exercise means that it is either being tested or has already entered service.

The latest developments come after images emerged on Chinese online forums in 2016 showing a J-11B carrying the PL-15 beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM), which currently only appears to be used operationally by the PLAAF's J-10C, J-16 and J-20 combat aircraft.

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