Chinese Manufacturer Lifts DARPA Concept For New Fighter

A model of the K-8NG concept stands in the foreground as a CATIC official briefs a Serbian Air Force delegation at the 2021 Dubai Airshow.
Credit: Mark Wagner/Aviation Images

DUBAI—Chinese manufacturer CATIC has unveiled a concept for a new version of the turbofan-powered K-8 trainer and light attack fighter that appears to leverage close air support technology from a canceled DARPA program. 

The K-8NG is a concept proposal for the export market, says a CATIC official interviewed on the state-owned company’s exhibit stand at the Dubai Airshow on Nov. 15.

The concept features upgrades that include a new cockpit with a large touchscreen and head-up display for the pilot and another large touchscreen only for the weapons systems officer or instructor in the back seat, the official says. 

A brochure for the K-8NG also describes a capability that closely resembles DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) program. In 2015, DARPA described the results of the PCAS program, which was ultimately not selected to transition into service. 

“The tests, which involved 50 successful sorties near Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, showed that a warfighter serving as a joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) on the ground could, in seamless coordination with a pilot, successfully command an airstrike with as few as three clicks on a tablet,” DARPA said in a 2015 news release. 

The CATIC brochure for the K-8NG offered a similar description for a new Chinese capability: “Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) system digitally interconnects the aircraft with the ground Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC).” 

The original K-8 was developed as a collaboration between CATIC and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in the 1980s. The exported design consisted of multiple Western systems, including Martin-Baker ejection seats, Honeywell TFE731 turbofans and Collins Aerospace avionics. 

The K-8NG offers an opportunity for CATIC to replace western suppliers with Chinese alternatives. Its features include a “supply chain highly concentrated within Chinese territory, thus lifecycle supply and support is guaranteed,” the CATIC brochure says. 

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.


1 Comment
I would think covering a parallel effort of the AT-6 Wolverine would be in order for it is the fighter version of the T-6 Texan II Trainer which EVERY U.S. jet qualified pilot has already flown and is qualified. Two more stores stations, longer range, and an A-10 combat system make it quite the ride for a strike mission, but it is not an SNC A-29 Super Tucano so it probably will not be covered.