But the MiG-25 wasn't the biggest fighter threat of the Cold War. It was produced in relatively small numbers and it had a rather specialized role as an interceptor, meaning it wasn't a very good air-superiority fighter.
No, the biggest aerial threat during the Cold War was the MiG-21.
|One of MANY MiG-21s|
Was the MiG-21 a good fighter? Not when compared to American F-16s and F-15s it wasn't. It had quite a short range, and its wasn't the most agile of fighters, limited to a mere 7gs with early models. It also quickly lost speed when making tight turns. But the MiG-21 was fast; capable of Mach 2 speeds. It was a light aircraft with lots of power and a fast rate of climb. It had a decent radar and it was capable of firing both radar guided BVR and infrared WVR missiles. It was simple to maintain and easy to fly. Best of all, it was cheap.
With almost 14,000 models built, about 2,400 of which were the Chinese J-7 variant, the MiG-21 is the most produced supersonic jet fighter of all time, It was pretty much standard issue to any communist nation, as well as finding its way into other countries' air forces as well. The MiG-21 was so predominant with potential enemy nations, the F-5 Freedom Fighter has been the choice of US "Aggressor" training squadrons thanks to its similarities to the MiG-21.
The MiG-21 proved so popular that it is still in use with many air forces today, despite its design being almost 60 years old. Heck, you can even pick up a decent used model for the price of a luxury car. You may even be able to find one on eBay.
So what will be the "MiG-21" for the 21st century?
China hopes it has the answer.
|No... Not this one.|
For years China's aerospace industry has been dismissed for producing knock-offs of Russian designs, with a few uninspired indigenous designs. Lately, however, China has struck against its reputation, with some designs catching the rest of the world off guard. The stealthy J-20 isn't likely to be produced in large numbers, however, and its twin engines and stealth design certainly aren't likely to make it as easy to maintain as the MiG-21.
But China has another fighter, one that's offers impressive performance, single engine simplicity, and the potential to be built in large numbers.
|New and improved J-10B.|
Starting production in 2002, the Chengdu J-10 "Vigorous Dragon" already had 270 models built and in use by the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). That's more than the Dassault Rafale or the Saab Gripen, both of which entered production much sooner and both of which have been heavily marketed to foreign sales. The J-10, however, has been limited to Chinese use only, due to restrictions placed on its Russian sourced Lyulka-Saturn AL-31FN turbofan engine.
While there isn't a lot of specific performance information available on the J-10 yet, most indications point to performance akin to that of the F-16. It is capable of Mach 2.2, has a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.024, can carry over 13,000lbs of ordinance, and it has a combat radius of 550km.
A new, improved version of the J-10, the J-10B, offers stealth improvements, a modern AESA radar, and other enhancements similar to other "4++ generation" fighters like the Super Hornet and Su-35. The biggest change, however, is the placement of a Chinese sourced Shenyang WS-10 Taihang engine. Chengdu has plans on building 1,200 J-10s for Chinese use, but the new engine will allow China to market the J-10B without restriction. Up to 36 have already been offered to Pakistan, with more foreign sales likely to follow.
But perhaps the J-10B isn't "high end" enough? What with all this talk of "stealth" and "5th generation" fighters, what about an alternative to the F-35?
|Chengdu J-31, available soon!|
Still in initial testing and development, not much is known about the J-31, but it is claimed to have similar, if not superior, performance to the F-35. It will be available in a carrier version, and will likely find its way on to Chinese aircraft carriers. No STOVL version will be available, likely speeding up development compared to the F-35. The J-31 itself looks suspiciously similar to the F-35, with only its twin engines and different tail design as obvious design differences. Some have stated that the J-31 relies heavily on stolen data from the JSF project.
Now, there's a reason why so many goods are produced in China (like the iMac I currently type this blog on). Labor is cheap, and the workforce is skilled. While some denounce the treatment of these workers, the harsh reality is that China is a manufacturing juggernaut. The same labor force that makes high-tech consumer goods can just as easily make high tech armaments. China has been notoriously lackadaisical when it comes to copyright infringement as well, so any technology it can reverse-engineer or outright steal could likely find a place in future military equipment.
Will the J-10B and J-31 be as good as western fighters like the F-22, F-35, Typhoon, or Gripen? That remains to be seen. But there is a very good chance that both might see large-scale production, numbering in the hundreds, or even the thousands.
Some say quantity has a quality of its own.