ASIA & AUSTRALIA
THE TOPIC of combat aircraft in the Asia-Pacific region was once again to the fore in recent times, with China said either to be close to placing its J-20 into service or to have actually done so. Indonesia is yet again reportedly close to signing a contract with Russia for Su-35 fighters and there have been more machinations in a number India’s tortuous fighter programmes.
Elsewhere in the region, Australia is seeking to upgrade its electronic attack capability conferred by the EA-18G Growler, by joining the US Navy’s Next Generation Jammer programme.
J-20 to enter service soon?
Chinese media reports in early November suggest that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) may be close to introducing the Chengdu J-20 into operational service. China’s official Englishlanguage news website of the People’s Liberation Army reported on November 1 that five aircraft have recently been seen flying in formation, which it says may indicate a high level of operational readiness.
Increasing numbers of J-20s have been seen at public events in China in recent months, culminating in the five-ship ‘training’ flight. Western media reports, quoting China’s Xinhua news agency, also suggest that the J-20 may have already entered service.
The J-20 is a fifth-generation fighter designed to counter the US Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II combat aircraft. It was first unveiled to the public in 2011 and made its maiden flight in October 2012. The public debut of the aircraft in front of foreign media occurred at Air Show China, held in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, in November 2016.
The aircraft is currently in low-rate production for the PLAAF and at least six are believed to be currently undergoing operational test and evaluation, after being handed over to PLAAF’s Flight Test Establishment at Yanliang, on the outskirts of Xian, Shaanxi province.
Indian fighter news
The French government is pressuring the Indian government to buy more Dassault Rafale fighter aircraft, according to local sources in Delhi in October.
India is already in the process of acquiring 36 Rafales to partially recapitalise its ageing and dwindling fighter force, after previous negotiations for 126 aircraft, under the Indian Air Force’s Medium Multi- Role Combat Aircraft competition, fell through.
Under the proposal, an unspecified number of additional aircraft would be manufactured locally, as part of the Modi Government’s ‘Make in India’ policy and Indian media outlets report that the matter was discussed during French Defence Minister Florence Parly’s recent visit to New Delhi.
The Indian Air Force is also soon to release a Request for Information (RFI) to Lockheed Martin and Saab, as it seeks to acquire up to 114 single-engine fighters, the majority of which will also be manufactured locally. Lockheed Martin is proposing the Block 70 F-16 Fighting Falcon and Saab the JAS 39 Gripen E. Indian Air Force sources say that 18 of the winning fighter type will be acquired in flyaway condition, with the remainder to be manufactured in India in partnership with local companies.
The RFI was widely expected to be released during October, but had not been made public as AIR International went to press in early November.
Indonesia to sign Su-35 contract?
Indonesia’s plans to purchase a number of Sukhoi Su-35 fighters has been widely reported over months, if not years, but, according to Russian sources in late October, a deal will finally be signed in November.
Quoting Indonesia’s Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu on October 30, Russian state corporation Rostec said that the contract for 11 Su-35 Flanker E fighters would be signed the following month.
Indonesia’s state-owned PT Perusahaan Perdagangan had previously signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Rostec on a barter trade deal for the aircraft (see Indonesia to Barter for Su-35 fighters, AIR International October 2017, p9).
The Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Udara (Indonesian Air Force or TNI-AU) currently operates Sukhoi Su-27SK/Su-27SKM and Su- 30MK/Su-30MK2 fighters, the first of which were delivered in 2003, but has a requirement for more to replace its Northrop F-5E and F-5F Tiger II aircraft. The current aircraft are based at Lanud Hasannudin Air Base, near Makassar, South Sulawesi with the TNI’s Skadron Udara 11.
The initial requirement was understood to have been for eight aircraft, but the number of Su-35s reportedly under negotiation has varied over the months between eight and ten aircraft. Defence Minister Ryacudu’s previous comments had perhaps indicated that the contract would be for eight aircraft, so Rostec’s announcement that it will in fact cover 11 Su- 35s comes as a surprise to some analysts in the region.
Australia seeks to increase Growler capability
Despite having only recently introduced the Boeing EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack aircraft to service, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is seeking to upgrade its capabilities and has joined the US Navy’s Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) programme.
On November 2, Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Leo Davies announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the RAAF and the US Navy to develop jointly the ALQ-249 Next Generation Jammer mid-band (NGJ-MB) capability.
The MoU was signed on October 18 at US Navy Pacific Fleet Headquarters at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, and will provide a framework for co-operation during the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the programme.
Air Marshal Davies said: “This is a very important milestone for both nations, one that took four years of communication and collaboration to successfully achieve. As this is a rapidly evolving area, we will work in partnership with the US Navy to develop the next generation jamming capability, which will ensure that our aircraft remain at the technological forefront throughout their service life.”
The NGJ-MB will be developed and acquired by Australia under the RAAF’s Project Air 5439 Phase 6. The RAAF acquired 12 Growlers under Project Air 5349 Phase 3, with deliveries to Australia being completed by the middle of this year. They are operated by No.6 Squadron at Amberley, south-west of Brisbane.
Although they largely share a common configuration with their US Navy counterparts, the RAAF’s Growlers are also integrated with the Raytheon ASQ-228 Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared targeting pod and AIM-9X air-to-air missile.