China's new PL-17 air-to-air missile, with a range of more than 350 km, would be operational

Recent photos, released by the People's Liberation Army, show J-16 heavy fighters armed with the new PL-17 missile air to air at very long range. The arrival of this missile could significantly transform the tactical reality of this theater, by pushing back American and allied support planes around Taiwan by several hundred kilometers.

Faced with the threat posed by fleets of Soviet supersonic bombers Tu-16 Badger, Tu-22 Blinder, and the arrival of the new and feared Tu-22M Backfire, the US Navy entrusted, at the end of the 60s, to the Hugues Aircraft company, the design of a unique air-to-air missile.

F14 AIM54 Air-to-Air Missiles | Defense News | Fighter aircraft
The AIM-54 Phoenix missile and F-14 Tomcat were the first multi-target BVR combat system in history.

Much heavier than the AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder which then equipped American fighters, the AIM-54 Phoenix missile above all represented a real technological feat for the time, equipped with a radar seeker allowing the F-14 Tomcat which was able to fire several missiles simultaneously towards several different targets. Thus equipped, a Tomcat could engage and destroy 6 Soviet supersonic bombers from more than 160 km away, with a missile traveling at more than Mach 4.

The heirs of the AIM-54 Phoenix long-range air-to-air missile

Although, with the end of the Cold War, the Phoenix never had to do what it was designed to do, its technological advances gave rise to a new generation of air-to-air missiles with active radar guidance, designed to intercept up to 100 km and beyond, opposing combat aircraft, including agile fighters. The time for BVR, Beyond Visual Range, air combat had come, with missiles like the American AIM-120 AMRAAM, the French MICA or the Russian R-77.

However, these missiles represented more of an evolution of medium-range air-to-air missiles with semi-active radar guidance, such as the American Sparrow, the British Skyfkash or the French Super 530, than heirs of the Phoenix. In this area, it was the Soviet R-37, NATO code AA-13 Arrow, which could take advantage, with a range of 150 km, active radar guidance and a design aimed at eliminating Western support aircraft, such as AWACS or tanker aircraft.

Su-35s fires an R-37M missile
The Su-35s and R-37M pair has proven effective in Ukraine, including against Ukrainian fighters operating at very low altitude and high speed.

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  1. We have no verified information on the real capabilities of the meteor other than the kill zone and a commercial range. Given the structure of this missile it is very likely that its range far exceeds the theory (a bit like the SCALPs with the national or export versions)

    • There is still some information that is not misleading, such as the size of the missile which excludes the possibility that it could exceed 200/220 km isolevel range. The case of Scalp export is different, because exported cruise missiles are not allowed to exceed a range of more than 300 km. This is why the PL-17, R-37M and other LREWs are or will be much more imposing. At some point, you have to store the necessary fuel.


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