CHINA'S CHENGDU F-10 fighter aircraft, being developed jointly with Israel, may be fitted with a Russian air-intercept radar and power plant.

Russian radar-design house Phazotron is proposing an advanced variant of its Zhuk (Beetle) multi-mode pulse-Doppler radar for the fighter, as the Israelis try to convince the Chinese to fit their systems.

Phazotron officials say that they are offering the Zhemchoug (Pearl) radar - described as a "development of the Zhuk, but with a better performance in terms of target detection range".

Previous reports on the development of the F-10 had suggested that the aircraft - effectively a continuation of Israel's Lavi programme, cancelled in 1987 would have an Elta radar.

The Russians also claim that the aircraft is to be powered by a single Lyulka Al-31F engine, two of which are fitted to the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker. With a first flight expected as early as 1996, a power plant for the prototype will already have been selected and possibly fitted.

The Lavi was fitted with the 91.7kN (20,620lb)-thrust Pratt & Whitney PW1120 turbojet, although the release of the US engine to China is highly unlikely. A single Lyulka AL-31F produces 122kN of thrust with reheat.

The Chinese air force already has 26 Flankers in service, with a second batch of 24 believed to be on order. China has ambitions eventually to licence-produce the airframe and Lyulka engine. The latter would probably be produced by Wopen in Guiyang.

While the Chinese may in effect be holding a radar competition, the Israelis have run into serious opposition from the USA over the potential supply of advanced air- intercept-radar technology to the Chinese.

When Flight International first revealed in 1994 that the F-10 was a Chinese-Israeli collaborative programme, the US State Department announced publicly that it would examine whether Israel was in breach of US export regulations.

The US Government had been aware of the programme for several years and tried to get Tel Aviv to drop the project - the Lavi fighter programme having received much of its funding and technology from the USA.

The first pictures of the aircraft are reported to have been taken by US intelligence satellites in 1994, prompting US defence secretary William Perry to make a personal plea earlier this year to recently assassinated Israeli prime minister, Yitzak Rabin to drop the programme - without success.

The prototype of the new fighter is being assembled in a special site at Chengdu Aircraft, in Sichuan. In the late 1980s, at least 20 engineers from Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) were part of the fighter's design team at Chengdu. IAI also helped with wind tunnel testing in the early design stage. The Israeli presence has been scaled down in the last three years.

The Israeli design and development input in the programme is valued at more than $500 million. Overall programme costs are said to top $5 billion.

Source: Flight International