US-China tensions soar: PLA deploys J-16 bombers in all theatre commands

"China expects the U.S. to deploy at least 300 advanced aircraft to the Asia-Pacific, including the F-22 and F-35s," says a Chinese researcher.
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Multirole strike fighter J-16.
Multirole strike fighter J-16.

Ministry of National Defense China 

The growing pressure from the U.S. and its allies has allegedly pushed China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) to deploy J-16 fighter jets across all theatre commands. 

The multirole-fighters have joined all five PLA theatre commands, "amid increasing provocations from the U.S. and its allies in the South and East China seas," state-run China Central Television (CCTV) news confirmed earlier this week. 

"Chinese old-generation military aircraft like the J-7 and J-8 are not enough to deal with the increasing security challenges around its periphery," said Fu Qianshao, a retired PLA Air Force equipment specialist.

"Aircraft replacement is not taking place just in the western border, as China needs more long-range advanced warplanes to deal with increasing provocations from the United States and its allies in the South and East China seas, where the PLA's key strategic focuses are."

Western Theatre Command, which oversees border security along the contentious Himalayan border with India, was the first to receive a batch of J-16s. This command comprises the military regions of Xinjiang and Tibet.

J-16 fighter bomber was first developed in China in 2008, according to the military publication Ordnance Industry Science Technology.

It was the PLA's response to the U.S. air force's upgrade of the F-15C/D Eagle, a significant competitor of China's fourth-generation J-11B heavyweight fighter at the time.

The domestic WS-10 engine, which may be installed for a number of aircraft, including the J-16, J-11, J-10, and J-20, might increase the output of J-16 jets, noted South China Morning Post (SCMP) report on Friday. 

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What are the capabilities of J-16?

US-China tensions soar: PLA deploys J-16 bombers in all theatre commands
J-16 with WS-10 engines taking off.

The Shenyang J-16 is an advanced fourth-generation, tandem-seat, twinjet, multi-role strike fighter designed and manufactured in China by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. 

It was developed from the Shenyang J-11 and is currently operational under PLA since 2103. An improved variant with the capacity to launch ground attacks, it is somewhat comparable to the American F-15E.

"The J-16 has no flaws because it is equipped with many types of weapons and can operate under all weather conditions," Chinese Global Times claimed in 2021, quoting Wang Songxi, a flying instructor at PLA's Northern Theater Command Air Force.

"In terms of performance, the J-16 is superior to all types of aircraft I have flown. Speaking of the control capacity of the aircraft," said Songxi.

The fighter has a payload capacity of 12 tonnes and is comparable to Russian Su-27 and Su-30, as well as China's homegrown fourth-generation J-11B. Its payload is almost equal to U.S. F-22.

US-China rising tensions

US-China tensions soar: PLA deploys J-16 bombers in all theatre commands
J-16D with electronic warfare pods on display in China.

According to Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Beijing-based Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank, the J-16 fighter bomber, a crucial partner of the J-20, may increase air strike capacity due to its larger payload and free up the J-10C to handle land strikes.

"China expects the U.S. to deploy at least 300 advanced aircraft to the Asia-Pacific, including the F-22 and F-35s, with 200 of them belonging to American allies, so the PLA needs to be armed with a certain number of J-20 and J-16," claimed Chenming.

The J-16D, a new model of the fighter built for electronic warfare, made its public debut in September 2021 at the Zhuhai air show, the biggest aviation gathering in China.

In 2022, the Taiwanese military observed two J-16Ds and nine other PLA aircraft as they entered the island's southwest air defense identification zone.

PLA's move comes as the U.S. intensifies efforts to limit Chinese military might, concentrating on Asia under its new Indo-Pacific policy and stepping up support for Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade territory to be reunited one day.

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