Upgraded J-11B Fighter Jet Joins South China Sea Exercise

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy has received delivery of an upgraded version of the J-11B fighter jet, with at least one participating in a recent mock combat exercise over the South China Sea.

Organized by a brigade affiliated with the PLA Southern Theater Command Navy Aviation Force, the round-the-clock flight training featured free aerial battle and offensive and defensive tactical maneuvers, the PLA Southern Theater Command said in its Weibo account on Monday.

Going into more detail, a China Central Television (CCTV) report said that the confrontational training was held over the South China Sea and featured more than 10 fighter jets, which had four-versus-two and two-versus-two mock battles.

Both the video released by the PLA Southern Theater Command and the CCTV report gave a glimpse of a J-11B fighter jet returning from the exercise and entering its hangar. This particular J-11B had a grayish white radar dome instead of the black radar domes that other J-11Bs have, observers noted.

Similar changes have been observed in the PLA Air Force since 2019, when the Air Force’s J-11Bs with black radar domes started to switch to white ones, according to eastday.com, a Shanghai-based news website.

It has been widely speculated that the color change to the radar dome indicates that the J-11B has received an upgrade to its radar, possibly switching from the old pulse Doppler radar to the new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, eastday.com said.

This, together with other possible changes, will allow the upgraded J-11B to enjoy a longer detection range, identify more targets and enable the use of more advanced weapons like the PL-10 short-range combat missile and the PL-15 beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile, analysts said.

Wang Ya’nan, chief editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times that China operates a large number of J-11B fighter jets, and their upgrades will significantly enhance the PLA’s combat capability.

The latest drills indicate that not only the Air Force, but also the Navy are getting the upgraded J-11B, observers said.

The PLA Navy’s J-11Bs are also getting China’s domestically developed WS-10 engines, CCTV said in a separate report earlier this month.

With the improvements, the fourth generation J-11B will reach a fourth-plus generation level, and remain in active service with high competitiveness for a long time, analysts said.

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