Why China's most exported J-7 fighter jet will be retired in 2023 ?

The obsolete J-7 fighter jet of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), which has been flying for several decades and has been produced in various variants, will finally be withdrawn from service this year.

China started to retire the J-7 as early as 2018. However, Chinese experts have opined that the aircraft could be withdrawn entirely from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force this year.

The reason is the increasing production of sophisticated fighters in China. The J-7, based on the Soviet MiG-21, made its first flight in China in 1966. More than 400 J-7 fighters are still in service, demonstrating the plane’s continued appeal despite its advanced age.

However, the MiG-21s have come of age, and air forces around the world are phasing them out. For example, the Indian Air Force (IAF), a rival to the region’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force of India, also announced last year that it would phase out all MiG-21 fighters from its inventory by 2025.

The decision was prompted by accident, even though the service has fewer fighters than its actual number of authorized squadrons.

Furthermore, the claim about the dismantlement of the aircraft comes months after the PLA Air Force lost a J-7 fighter in an unfortunate crash. 

During a training exercise in June 2022, a PLAAF J-7 jet crashed into a building in Xiangyang, Hubei province, killing one person and wounding two more.

The plane is famous for several accidents that have tarnished its reputation over the years. Several F-7s operate around the world. The crash of their F-7 fighter jet in Anarak in May of 2022 claimed the lives of two Iranian pilots. Accidents have also resulted in the loss of aircraft for the Pakistani and Bangladeshi air forces.

For its part, China Central Television (CCTV) stated on January 28 that the PLAAF has recently acquired a large amount of new equipment, with several units being converted to fly state-of-the-art fighters of domestic manufacture.

At present, outdated technology is being phased out, so the time has come for the J-7’s farewell.

The report comes days after the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post said More advanced J-16 fighters would replace j-7 fighters to combat tougher challenges. In addition, it was announced that J-16 aircraft had been deployed to all PLA theater commands.

In early January, a retired PLA Air Force equipment specialist, Fu Qianshao, told state radio-television: “Chinese old-generation military aircraft such as the J-7 and J-8 are not enough to address the growing security challenges around its periphery.

Some Chinese military experts predict China will replace the fighters like the J-7 with fifth-generation fighters like the J-20 and 4.5-generation fighters like the J-10C and J-16.

As for the old J-7 jets, analysts suggest that retired J-7s could be used for training and testing or adapted to serve new purposes in contemporary warfare as unmanned aircraft.

That being said, the J-7 fighter has played a vital part in china’s air defense for years.

The iconic J-7 fighters that came to define the might of the PLAAF

These fighters are comparable to the outdated MiG-21s used by the Indian Air Force. China produced all the spare parts to facilitate the aircraft’s modernization and maintained a strictly controlled industrial environment.

The Chinese company Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) created and built the single-engine light fighter known as the J-7. Its design is based on the MiG-21 of the Indian Air Force. 

It’s based on the MiG-21 aircraft, and the export version is the F-7. During his reign, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force was the primary user of the J-7/F-7.

The J-7 jet is designed for use in all weather situations during ground assault missions. It has a payload capacity of up to 2,000 kilos.

The J-7 is equipped with air-to-air missiles (AAM) such as the PL-2, PL-5, PL-7, PL-8, PL-9, Magic R.550 and AIM-9, unguided bombs of 50 at 500 kilograms in weight, one 55mm and one 90mm rocket pod.

During the J-7’s 48-year lifespan, more than a dozen different versions were created. Chengdu developed trainer adaptations of the aircraft for Chinese domestic use, which were supplied to the People’s Army Air Force and the People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force.

Pakistan and Bangladesh received technology upgrades to their original versions of the plane in the form of the J-7PG and J-7BG series.

The aircraft was also exported to countries in the Middle East and is operational with the Sudan Air Force (22), the Egyptian Air Force (90), the Tanzania Air Force (16), the Yemen Air Force (18), the Zimbabwe Air Force (24) and the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force. 

China’s neighboring countries, such as Myanmar and North Korea, also operate these aircraft. J-7s have also fought in the civil wars in Sri Lanka, Uganda, and Sudan.

Last year, the plane surprised the West when it participated in exercises near Taiwan, supported by more advanced fighters. In Taiwan, the aircraft is often called the “grandfather fighter.”

A Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies (MIAS) report released last year claimed that legacy aircraft such as the J-7 could be converted to drones and used against Taiwan from forward airfields.

In fact, experts claim that some J-7s were converted into drones, as their cross-sectional radar images were comparable to Taiwanese IDF jets and US-made F-16s, which could be misleading to air defenses.

So while J-7 fighters are being phased out of PLAAF combat service, they may still be in service for some time.