06 February 2014

Research, Development, and Acquisition in China’s Aviation Industry: J-10 and Pterodactyl UAV

Andrew S. Erickson, Hanlu Lu, Kathryn Bryan, and Samuel Septembre, “Research, Development, and Acquisition in China’s Aviation Industry: J-10 and Pterodactyl UAV,” in Kevin Pollpeter, ed., Getting to Innovation: Assessing China’s Defense Research, Development, and Acquisition System 7.8 (La Jolla, CA: University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, January 2014), 62-66.

Thanks in part to a revolution in research, development, and acquisition (RDA), China’s long-lagging military aviation industry is finally producing modern products. Fifteen years after the J-10’s successful debut flight, new literature is unveiling the project’s genesis and helping to elucidate its RDA process and that of other Chinese military aircraft such as the Pterodactyl unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Comparing the modern RDA model with the Maoist-modern hybrid RDA model used in the J-10 elucidates changing Chinese political, organizational, and technical changes over time, as well as the J-10’s transitional role in catalyzing development of China’s modern military aviation RDA process. Today hard and soft innovation factors give China creative adaptation capabilities. In addition to successful development and deployment of multiple J-10 variants, one of the greatest signs of new Chinese orientation and capabilities is an emphasis on marketing the Pterodactyl, as well as a J-10 variant, for export. Such advances draw in part on progress in other fields. One source of China’s recent UAV progress has been concurrent development of related support systems, such as Beidou satellites and high-speed data links.