The Early 1980s: The then Chinese leader and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) Deng Xiaoping announced that China would spend RMB 500 million to develop a new generation fighter with better performance.
1982: Representatives of the PLA General Staff Department, PLA Air Force, PLA Naval Aviation Corps, and the Chinese Ministry of Aeronautics met in Beijing to discuss the concept of the new-generation fighter and initial requirement. The fighter was required to be superior to the indigenous J-8II and Soviet MiG-23, and approach the U.S. F-16 in general performance, and can form the backbone of the Chinese fighter fleet in the 1990s. A second meeting was held six months later.
January 1984: The PLAAF adjusted some requirements for the new fighter aircraft. The Ministry of Aeronautics received three design proposals submitted by aircraft design institutes in Shenyang, Xi’an and Chengdu. These proposals included a conventional configuration, a tailless delta-canard configuration, and a variable-sweep wing configuration.
May 1984: After comparing the three design proposals, the Ministry of Aeronautics decided to chose the tailless delta with canard design submitted by Chengdu-based 611 Institute (now Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute). The development task of the new-generation fighter was officially assigned to the 611 Institute and Chengdu Aircraft Manufacturing Factory (now Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation, CAC). Four key technological areas were identified, including the tailless delta-canard configuration, computerised flight control, integrated avionics design, and computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM).
1986: The new-generation fighter designated J-10 became one of the state’s key projects. Wang Ang was appointed as the programme’s chief executive director, and Song Wen-Cong the chief designer.
1987: China obtained some technologies of the cancelled Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) Lavi (“Lion”) fighter. The Lavi development began in October 1982 under the help of the United States, and the aircraft made the first flight in December 1986. However, the U.S. was not prepared to finance an aircraft that would compete in export market with the F-16C/D and F/A/-18C/D, and a dispute arose to the final cost. The Israeli Government was unable to finance the project along and the development programme was finally cancelled in 1987. China was believed to have received the software originally developed for Lavi’s “fly-by-wire” control system shortly after its cancellation, despite denial of such cooperation by both sides.
1990: The J-10 project encountered great setback because China was unable to obtain crucial technological assistance from Western countries resulted by the arms embargo imposed by the United States and European Union after 1989. In particular China was unable to produce a suitable engine for the fighter aircraft.
1993: Chengdu had constructed the first full-scale metal mockup of the J-10. Wind tunnel testing revealed potential problems with low-speed performance and less-than-expected maximum AOA at subsonic speeds. At the same time the main trend in fighter aircraft development was a transition from single-purpose fighters such as high-speed interceptor or low-altitude dogfighters to multirole aircraft combining good subsonic and supersonic air-to-air performance with extensive air-to-ground capabilities. Added requirements for air-to-ground operations called for an in-depth redesign of the J-10 to accommodate terrain-following radar, more and sturdier hardpoints, an entirely new targeting, flight control and navigation systems.
The mid-1990s: Russia became involved in the J-10 development programme by contributing its Lyulka-Saturn AL-31F turbofan engine.
1996: The first prototype ‘1001’ reportedly made its maiden flight but the design was not entirely successful.
March 1998: After a 15-month delay, a modified second prototype ‘1003’ made its maiden flight. The same year the aircraft received its official service designation “J-10”. By then, the development programme was already two years behind the schedule.
1999: Chengdu had produced seven prototypes for flight testing. The first five were powered by an indigenous WS-10 engine while the last two were powered by a Russian-made AL-31F engine and also featured some modifications in avionics.
December 1999: Two J-10 prototypes were transferred from Chengdu to China Flight Test Establishment (CFTE) based at Yanliang, Shaanxi Province for further flight tests and service evaluations.
2000: Development of the two-seat fighter-trainer variant J-10S officially began at Chengdu, with Yang Wei appointed as the chief designer.
May 2000: Intensive flight tests of the J-10 were carried out by CFTE at Yanliang. By late 2000 the flying models accumulated over 140 flight hours.
Summer 2000: The first successful live test of the ejector seat for the J-10 fighter was carried out on a test plane.
2001: China ordered 54 specially configured AL-31FN engines from Russia to power the initial batch of the J-10 fighter. These engines were received in 2002~04.
Summer 2002: After two years of flight tests in Yanliang, the J-10 prototypes were relocated to the PLAAF’s Dingxin Airbase in Gansu Province for weapon and fire-control tests.
28 June 2002: The first flight of the pre-production model J-10. Small batch production of the aircraft began shortly after.
10 March 2003: J-10 fighter officially entered PLAAF service. Six J-10s were delivered to the PLAAF Flight Test & Training Centre at Cangzhou AFB, Hebei Province for operational trial and evaluation. During the handover ceremony, two J-10 fighters made demonstration flights to senior PLA officials.
Spring 2003: The test of the J-10’s fire-control radar was carried out onboard a modified Y-8 radar testbed in Shandong Province.
Summer 2003: The J-10 conducted its first successful aerial refuelling simulation.
26 December 2003: The two-seat J-10S fighter-trainer variant made its first flight.
December 2003: The first successful air-to-air missile test launch from the J-10.
Early 2004: The J-10 fighter received its design certificate, marking the ending of the 18-year development programme.
August 2004: The first J-10 regiment was formed in the PLAAF 44th Air Division based at Mengzi AFB, Yunnan Province.
2005: The J-10S fighter-trainer variant completed its flight test and received its design certificate.
July 2005: China reportedly ordered an additional 100 modified AL-31FN engines worth US$300 million from Russia for more J-10 fighters. Production continues at a rate of 2~3 units per month at the moment.
November 2006: Chinese state media announced that the new-generation J-10 fighter had achieved initial operational capability (IOC). The aircraft was officially declassified. CAC / AVIC-I were planning to demonstrate the aircraft during the 2006 Zhuhai Air Show, but this was cancelled the last minute, possibly due to political concerns.
October 2008: Chinese state media confirmed that the J-10 would attend the 2008 Zhuhai Air Show in both static and flight demonstration.