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A model of an export version of the PL-12, SD-10A, (bottom-left corner) with JF-17 on display at the Farnborough Airshow 2010.
Type Air-to-air missile
Surface-to-air missile
Place of origin People's Republic of China
Service history
In service 2007
Used by People's Liberation Army Air Force
People's Liberation Army Ground Force
People's Liberation Army Naval Air Force
People's Liberation Army Navy
Production history
Manufacturer CATIC
Unit cost $550,000
Produced 2002
Weight 180 kg (396 lb)
Length 3.85 m (12.63 ft)
Diameter 203 mm (8 in)
Warhead High explosive fragmentation warhead
Laser/microwave proximity fuse

Engine Solid fuel dual-thrust rocket motor
Wingspan 670 mm
Propellant Solid fuel
70 km[1][2][3][4] - 100 km[5]
Flight ceiling 21 km
Flight altitude 0-21 km
Speed Mach 4
Inertial / Data-link (mid-course)
Active radar homing (terminal phase)
Shenyang J-15
J-11B / J-11BH / J-11BS / J-11BSH
J-10A / J-10B / J-10S
Shenyang J-16
Type 054, Type 054A frigates
External images
image icon [1]
image icon [2]
image icon [3]
image icon [4]

The PL-12 (PiLi-12, 霹雳-12), along with its derivatives designated SD-10 (ShanDian-10, 闪电-10) and SD-10A, is a series of radar-guided air-to-air missile developed by China's Luoyang Electro-Optical Technology Development Center. PL-12 is in service with the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).

Development history

The PL-12 active-radar BVR air-to-air missile became the highest priority air-to-air weapons programme for China's military industry during 2002, and supplanted several previous developmental projects (such as the PL-10 and PL-11) in terms of effort and importance. It provides the People's Liberation Army Air Force with a sophisticated, domestic airborne weapon on par with mainstream Western Airforces around the world. It will equip the mainstream of future modern Chinese fighters, and current compatible fighters.

The PL-12 is listed as part of CATIC's current 'Thunder-Lightning' family of air-to-air missiles, that includes the PL-5E, PL- 9C and TY-90 systems (all developed by the Luoyang Electro-Optical Technology Development Center). The chief designer of PL-12 is Fan Huitao (樊会涛) of AVIC I. Development of PL-12 was once led by Dong Bingyin, former chief designer of PL-12 who died in 2000.[6]

Prior to the emergence of the PL-12, China's active radar seeker AAM development programme was sometimes identified as the 'AMR-1'. During Air Show China 1996, held during November in Zhuhai, the China Leihua Electronic Technology Research Institute/No 607 Research Institute exhibited a newly developed active radar seeker, the AMR-1. This seeker was, in turn, believed to have been applied to a new air- to-air missile design, derived from the LY-60 surface-to-air missile, and dubbed the 'PL-12'. This active radar missile, and the earlier semi-active radar homing PL-11, seemed to have a common design heritage with the Italian Aspide missile, supplied to China during the late 1980s. The status of the PL-11 and 'LY-60/PL-12' development programmes is unclear, but sources within CATIC say these earlier programmes have all been abandoned in favor of the PL-12.

The existence of the PL-12 programme was acknowledged by Chinese officials for the first time in early 2002 (the first pictures of the new missile appeared from Chinese sources during 2001). According to CATIC sources the missile has a range of 70 km.[7] Earlier speculation around the AMR-1/LY-60 programme suggested that a ramjet engine was being developed for it, and such a powerplant would allow a missile to be effective at such long ranges.


SD-10 is the export version of the PL-12. Originally developed as a test round, it entered service before the PL-12. Instead of adopting the lattice fins of the Russian R-77, conventional fins were adopted for the PL-12 series, and it was thus necessary to determine if such a design was as maneuverable as the R-77. Due to the tremendous difficulties encountered in the development of PL-12, development of the guidance system lagged behind other systems. It was therefore decided to integrate a Russian seeker and data link to a domestic motor and warhead indigenously developed by China to test the domestically-developed Chinese motor, warhead and flight control software. Having the identical guidance would provide a side-by-side comparison, and as it turned out, the domestic Chinese design was as capable as Russian R-77; able to engage target maneuvers at 12g, just like the R-77. Due to the urgent need of active radar guided air-to-air missile, the test round was pressed into Chinese service in 2002 and made its first public appearance in the same year at the 4th Zhuhai Airshow as SD-10.[8]


SD-10A is the export version of PL-12A. Original SD-10 equipped with Russian guidance is not compatible with western avionics, such as western radars and helmet mounted sights, so SD-10 was upgraded to avert this problem. SD-10A essentially is a SD-10 built to the MIL-STD-1553 standard, so that it is compatible with western avionics. In comparison to SD-10, SD-10A also improved reliability and ease of production. SD-10A is slightly larger than SD-10 in that it is lengthened by around ten centimeters and the weight is also increased by around nineteen kilograms.[9] SD-10A has been adopted by CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder. Specification:[10]

  • Length (m): 3.934
  • Diameter (m): 0.203
  • Weight (kg): 199
  • Wingspan (m): 0.67
  • g-overload: 38 g
  • Speed (Mach): 4
  • Range (km): 70
  • Altitude (km): 0 - 21
SD-10A on display with the JF-17 light-weight fighter at the Farnborough International Airshow 2010.

The new PL-12 active guided air-launched anti-aircraft missile uses the radar and data link from Russia's Vympel R-77,[11] combined with a Chinese missile motor. Some sources claim the resulting combination has a greater range than the Russian missile, and a fire-and-forget active guidance (from R-77) capability comparable to the modern U.S. AIM-120 AMRAAM.[8][12][13]

The PL-12 is outwardly very similar to the US-designed AIM-120 AMRAAM. The two share a comparable aerodynamic configuration, although the PL-12 is a little longer, wider and heavier than the AMRAAM. The PL-12 has four rear-mounted control fins that each have a very distinctive notch cut into their base. These fins are longer and more prominent than those of the AMRAAM and are cropped at an angle (rather than in line with the missile body). Four larger triangular fins are fixed to the midsection of the missile. Internally, the leading edge of the centrebody fins is in line with the start of the missile's rocket motor. That motor is a solid rocket booster, that offers two levels of motive power for different sections of the flight envelope.

CATIC is known to be developing X-band and Ku-band active radar seekers, which may be intended for the PL-12. However the latest reports confirm that China has been co-operating closely with Russia's AGAT Research Institute, based in Moscow, and that AGAT is the source of the PL-12's essential active seeker. This joint development effort (perhaps with the name 'Project 129') has reportedly seen the supply of AGAT's 9B-1348 active-radar seeker (developed for the Vympel R-77, AA-12 'Adder') to China for integration with the Chinese-developed missile. Alternatively, technology from AGAT's 9B-1103M seeker family may be offered to China. Russia is also the source for the missile's inertial navigation system and datalink.

The PL-12 has four engagement modes. To take the greatest advantage of its maximum range it will use a mix of command guidance (via a datalink) plus its own inertial guidance before entering the active radar terminal guidance phase. The missile can also be launched to a pre-selected point, using its strap-down inertial system, before switching on its own seeker for a terminal search. Over short ranges the missile can be launched in a 'fire-and-forget' mode using its own active seeker from the outset. Finally, the PL-12 has a 'home-on-jam' mode that allows it to passively track and engage an emitting target, without ever using its own active radar or a radar from the launch aircraft. This capability is the foundation on which the capability of anti-radiation missile is developed. The seeker is connected to a digital flight control system that uses signal processing techniques to track a target. The missile's warhead is linked to a laser proximity fuse.

The PL-12 is claimed to have an operational ceiling of at least 21 km, with a maximum effective range of 100 km and a minimum engagement range of 1,000 m. The missile has a 38+ g manoeuvering limit and, according to CATIC, it has been tested for a 100-hour captive 'live flight' life. According to Chinese claims, PL-12 is more capable than the American AIM-120 A/B, but slightly inferior than the AIM-120C.

The PL-12 can be deployed by the Chengdu J-10, Shenyang J-8F, Shenyang J-11 and JF-17 combat aircraft.[4]


DK-10 is another surface-to-air missile derived from PL-12 series, and it was first revealed to the public in 2012 at the 9th Zhuhai Airshow. DK-10 is derived from SD-10A, and the missile is lengthened with an additional booster stage, which has larger diameter than the original air-to-air missile. The developer has not revealed the exact weight of the DK-10, but many has postulated it would be somewhere around 350 kg. Specification:[14]

  • Length (m): 5.07
  • Diameter (m): 0.203 for 1st stage, 0.26 for the 2nd stage
  • Wingspan (m): 0.75 (0.66 when folded)
  • Range (km): 50

Sky Dragon 50

Sky Dragon 50 air defense system (SD ADS) is an SAM system based on DK-10A. SD ADS consists of a fire distribution vehicle, an IBIS 130 radar vehicle, and up to six launching vehicles each carrying four SAMs. The 3D radar can simultaneously track 144 targets and engage 12 targets by guiding a total of 24 missiles, with two missiles against each target to ensure the minimum probability of kill is great than eighty percent. A new radar, the IBIS 200, is also available for the system. The IBIS 200 has a range of 250 km and a target designation range of 150 km. It has fire and forget capabilities and since it is carried by two vehicles, it can be set up within 15 minutes.[15]



  • PL-12
  • PL-12A: improved variant
  • PL-12B: variant with improved guidance
  • PL-12C: with foldable tailfins
  • PL-12D: with a ramjet motor and a belly intake


Map with PL-12 operators in blue

Current operators

 People's Republic of China
  • Pakistan Air Force (PAF), 800 ordered.[17]


  • Length: 3.85 m (12.63 ft)
  • Body diameter: 203 mm (8 in)
  • Wing span: 670 mm
  • Fin span: 752 mm
  • Launch weight: 180 kg (396 lb)
  • Warhead: HE fragmentation
  • Fuse: Active proximity fuse
  • Guidance: Inertial mid-course and/or datalink updates, with active radar terminal homing
  • Propulsion: Solid dual-thrust rocket motor
  • Maximum Range: 70+ km[1][2] - 100 km[5]
  • Minimum Range: 1 km
  • Maximum g-force: > 38 g
  • Maximum Altitude: 21 km
  • Maximum Speed: > Mach 4
  • No Escape Zone (NEZ): around 15 km


External links