Meet China’s New JH-7A ‘Flying Leopard’ Supersonic Fighter-Bomber

Meet China’s New JH-7A ‘Flying Leopard’ Supersonic Fighter-Bomber

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Asia

The real deal or a paper tiger?

On August 8, Chinese media reported that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force had unveiled a new variant of its JH-7A maritime strike jet at the Russian Aviadarts aviation competition. The new model, called the JH-7AII, was not visibly different from the base model, but is believed to possess improved radar and cockpit avionics.

The JH-7 “Flying Leopard”—codenamed “Flounder” by NATO—is an old-school design conceived before the advent of stealth technology. The bomber manufacturer Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation began working on a two-seat supersonic H-7 bomber in the early 1970s inspired by the fast and powerful American F-111 Aardvark.

Over time, the concept was reworked into a fast-anti-ship fighter bomber, (resulting in the “JH” designation), with a pilot and weapons systems officer seated in a tandem arrangement. The resulting jet—the first in China designed using computer software— somewhat resembled an enlarged version of European Tornado and Jaguar attack jets.

During a decade-long phase of Chinese defense cooperation with the West, Xi’an licensed and imported British Rolls-Royce Spey 202 turbofan engines, also used on British F-4 Phantom fighters. Two Speys helped propel the hulking jet to supersonic speeds, though they still proved underpowered for the sixteen-ton fighter bomber.

Having studied British naval losses in the Falkland War caused by anti-ship missiles fired by Super Etendard attack jets, the PLA Naval Airforce decided to adopt the bomber into a dedicated maritime strike platform lugging large anti-ship missiles linked to Type 243 radar capable of detecting large warships over one hundred miles ahead.

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