After the French had embargoed the delivery of more Mirage IIIs to Israel in 1967, the Israelis decided to focus more on developing an indigenous aircraft to fulfill the demand of its armed force.
As they say “Necessity is the mother of all invention”, soon Israel started manufacturing first the Nesher and then the Kfir which were produced in quantity to serve both the Israeli Air Force and meant for export. But after a while, the country switched over to US-origin fighters, A-4 Skyhawks and later followed by large number of F-16s and F-15s. However, by then the country’s indigenous industry had successfully developed three prototypes of IAI Lavi (Lion Cub). This production line didn’t last long and later on was ceased, reportedly under US pressure.
The single-engined Lavi, incorporating composite materials, resembled the F-16 but included close coupled canards with advance quadruple-redundant fly-by-wire flight control systems. Though Israel’s Lavi Programme intrigued many countries but by late 1987, it was totally ceased owing to US pressure.
But by that time, the programme caught the eyes of Chinese and as written by John W Golan in his book Lavi: the United States, Israel and a Controversial Fighter, “Israeli involvement in the J-10 appears to have begun at around the same time that China first opened diplomatic relations with Israel in January 1992 . . . Israeli contractors were engaged to provide the aerodynamic and structural outlines for the J-10. The Israeli influence on the J-10’s design are unmistakable: a close-coupled, canard-delta arrangement; a single-engine fighter featuring a ventral engine inlet; twin ventral strakes; and an area-ruled fuselage……”
Again under US pressure, Israel soon ceased its involvement in the J-10 programme but in 2008 several interviews with Russian engineers returning from Chengdu had confirmed that “the J-10 benefited from significant, direct inputs from Israel’s Lavi programme – including receipt of one of the IAI Lavi prototypes itself which resulted in extensive design and performance modeling, wind-tunnel testing and advanced aerodynamic design input . . .”
As for the critical power plant, the Chinese obviously did not have access to the American PW1120 engine and therefore, adopted the Russian AL-31F turbofan engine which resulted in the new fighter becoming significantly longer and heavier than the aircraft it had been cloned from.
The first J-10 prototype was rolled out in November 1997, making its maiden flight on March 23, 1998. The final J-10A rolled off the production line in Chengdu in 2014 and was supplemented by the J-10S tandem seating operational trainer.
This was followed by the J-10B which features a lighter and stealther diverterless supersonic inlet, a longer nose radome possibly housing a more advanced radar and electro-optic targeting sensor (IRST) plus a new electronic warning or countermeasures pod atop the vertical stabiliser.
This aircraft is powered by the Russian-origin AL-31FNM1 even as the Chinese are continuing efforts to develop their WS-10A turbofan engine, again with considerable reverse engineering.