Details have emerged of a new version of China's Xian JH-7 fighter-bomber, the JH-7A, believed to be undergoing flight tests at China's central trials establishment.

Images emerging from China show few external differences to the JH-7, except for a one-piece forward canopy section. Most changes are to the weapons and systems.

The JH-7A has been pictured carrying the indigenous C-801K anti-ship missile and the Russian-built Zvezda Kh-31 - probably the anti-radiation Kh-31P that China is known to have acquired - and a new Chinese laser-guided bomb (LGB).

The LGB, unveiled at the Beijing air show last September, uses a guidance kit with a configuration similar to the Russian KAB series.

A laser targeting pod for the LGB would be mounted on the forward fuselage, as would a system to locate targets for the Kh-31.

It is unclear whether the JH-7A will be equipped with a new Chinese built radar or a modified Russian system, as used in the Chengdu J-10 and the multirole version of the Shenyang J-8II.

Last year's deal to sell 80-90 used Rolls-Royce Spey 202 engines to China could allow manufacture of a batch of 20-30 JH-7As, to join the 15-20 JH-7s in Chinese navy service.

In addition, Chinese sources say a new medium-range air-to-air missile is in development. Also first seen in model form last year, the new missile is likely to be actively-guided, similar to the RaytheonAIM-120 AMRAAM and Russian Vympel R-77. Such a missile has been under development in China for some time, and is probably derived from the Lyouyang AMR-1 programme.

Source: Flight International