One of aviation's worst kept secrets was revealed today as China officially launched its multi-role Jian-10 (J-10) indigenous fighter jet today with the unveiling by China Aviation Industry (AVIC) I of a scale model in Beijing.

Chinese news agency Xinhua quotes Geng Ruguang, deputy general manager of AVIC I as saying that the launch proves the country "has become the world's fourth country that is capable of developing on its own advanced fighter aircraft, engines and missiles."

© Xinhua 

It is understood that he was referring to France as the third country capable of exporting fighter aircraft after the USA and Russia.

The announcement was the first public press announcement of the programme. Estimates place the number of J-10s in service with the Chinese air force at around ten. AVIC I has also sought export orders for the J-10, notably from Pakistan. The aircraft first flew in prototype in 2002 after around two decades of development. Several internet images have circulated for two years appearing to show the aircraft borrows heavily from the Lockheed Martin F-16.

Orders may number up to 300 for the Chinese air force.  The J-10 is powered by the Taihang turbofan engine and features indigenous air-to-air missiles, Xinhua says.