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1f F 35atsunsetAmerican made F-35, the Ultimate Desire of Espionage, First Flight in 2006

It is no secret that modern China used copycat industrial techniques to fast track their rise as an industrial power. It is a subject that has appeared in a rash of news articles lately, but often overlooked is how China obtained these designs and the challenges they face while reproducing them in numbers in order to be a factor in the market. Numerous arrests have been made in the United States for espionage activities concerning advanved naval designs, including the electro magnetic railgun, and other items too sensitive for public discussion found on CDs in a Chinese national's baggage at Los Angeles International Airport in 2005. Perhaps because of political reprecussions, the story of how the Israelis sold China the designs to their one time souped up F-16 delta wing jet gets totally buried by the media. What has not been buried is the interest of Iran at purchasing the J-10 fighter.

1 J31Chinese Prototype J-31, First Flight, October 2012

2a F35 3American F-35B on Sea Trials, 2014

 2b J31Chinese J-31 Prototype doing take offs and landings, 2015

Follow the lines they rarely lie

3aF 16American F-16 Viper, Deployed in 1978

3bIAI Lavi B 2 hatzerim 1Israel IAI Lavi B 2, First Flight December 31, 1986

3chengdu j 10 aircraft sitting tarmacChina's Chengdu J-10, First Flight 1998

The backbone of a superpower is its abilitiy to project logistical support around the globe. Images of beautiful fighter jets look great on front pages when crisis arises, but nothing gets done until all the gear gets deployed. The problem is that many of these out of the way location hot spots do not have proper air fields, so the need for a heavy lifting short take off and landing jet enables material to get where it has to go. The United States bought over 220 of the near 747 sized jets that can land on a dirt strip. The Chinese so far have four under powered jets of a similar design.

4xC 17American made McDonnell Douglas C-17 Globemaster, note high bypass turbofan engines, First Flight 1991

4 Y20Chinese Xian Y-20 Cargo jet, Note the primitive Russian engines, First Flight January 2013

McDonnell Douglas C-17, Length 174 feet, wingspan 169 feet, height 55 feet, empty weight 282,000, max take off weight 585,000 lbs, max payload 170,000. The key are the four Pratt and Whitney F117 engines with 40,400 lbs of thrust

Xian Y-20, Length 154 feet, wingspan 150 feet, height 49 feet, empty weight 220,000 lbs, max take off weight 485,000. Prototype has Russian engines with 24,000 lbs of thrust while production rumored to have 28,000 pounds of thrust

8a lockheedc130egyptLockheed C-130 in Egyptian colors, First flew in 1960's latest version appeared in 1996

8b Yuan 9Chinese Shannxi Y-9, First Flight November 2010

Lockheed C-130, Length 97 feet, wingspan 132 feet, height 38 feet, empty weight 75,000, loaded weight 175,000, max payload 75,000 pounds.

Shaanxi Y-9, Length 118 feet, wingspan 131 feet, height 36 feet, empty weight 85,000 pounds, loaded weight 169,000 pounds, payload 55,000 pounds.

9a SU 33Russian SU-33 Flanker, Twin Engined Navy Fighter, First Flight 1987, Thirty Five Built

9b J 15Chinese J-15 Twin Engined Naval Fighter, First Flight August 2009, Deployed 2013, 15 built

Sukhoi 33, Length 72 feet, wingspan 48 feet, height 19 feet,  empty 40,000 lbs, loaded 66,000 lbs.

Shenyang J-15, Length 72 feet, wingspan 48 feet, height 19 feet, empty 38,600 lbs, loaded 60,000 lbs.

10a Yak 130 2011Russian Yak 130 Two Seat Trainer, First Flight 1996, Introduced in 2009

10b L15bChinese L15, Two Seat Trainer, Fight Flight 2006

Russian Yak-130, length 37 feet, wingspan 31 feet, height 15 feet, empty weight 10,100 lbs, max weight 22,000 lbs.

Hongdu L-15, length 40 feet, wingspan 31 feet, height 15 feet, empty weight 9,900 lbs, max weight 20,900 lbs.

15a Su 27 9Russian Su-27, Introduced in 1985, 800 built

15b j 11Chinese Shenyang J-11, Introduced in 1998, over 250 built

Sukhoi-27, Length 72 feet, wingspan 48 feet, height 19 feet, empty weight 36,000, loaded weight 67,100.

Shenyang J-11, Length 72 feet, wingspan 48 feet, height 19 feet, empty weight 36,000, max loaded weight 73,000.

IAI Lavi B 2 hatzerim 2IAI Lavi B 2

 IAI xJ10BChengdu J-10B

Lavi, length 48 feet, wingspan 29 feet, height 16 feet, empty weight 15,500 lbs, max loaded 42,500 lbs, single engine, fly by wire controls.

J-10, length 50 feet, wingspan 31 feet, height  17 feet, empty weight 21,000 lbs, max loaded 42,500 lbs, single engine, fly by wire controls.


The story of the Lavi has the longest reprecussions. As a recipient of aid from America, some four billion dollars plus a year for the last forty years, one wonders why Israel had the hubris of trying to finance its own fighter jet. Largely based on the earlier F-16, it had a delta wing with canards and mostly homegrown avionics and fly by wire. Five Lavis were built before being cancelled, while there have been over 250 of the J-10s built with recent orders sending shockwaves through the Middle East.

At some point in time the plans for the Lavi made their way to China, and while claims have been made of the J-10 as a follow up to their indigenous J-9, the configuration of the engine inlet, tail, delta wing, last but not least fly by wire controls meaning fiber optics and servos move wing controls not heavy hydraulics, makes this entirely western in origin design. 

The irony of the Israelis slipping, or more likely selling the plans of the Lavi to the Chinese in the early 1990's, is that it became with subsequent development the best made plane in the Chinese Air Force. Kharma being a bitch, Israel now has to ponder what Iran may do with an alleged order of over 100 J-10s that just occurred.

The Lavi legacy lives on elsewhere in that, the most able and brilliant jet design of this generation, the F-22 Raptor has been legally precluded from export by the United States Congress. Both Israel and Japan had requested the Raptor and were denied.

Lockheed Martin F 22A RaptorLockheed Martin F 22A Raptor, First Deployed in 2002

Screen Shot 2015 11 14 at 20.15.56

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About the Author

Robert Alexander Boyle

Robert Alexander Boyle

 Alexander Boyle is a graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, CT where he majored in History. Prior to graduation he co-authored the seminal book Acid Rain in 1983. Alex has worked for the Metropo...