The JH-7 has been in development since the mid-1970s to meet a requirement from the Chinese air force and naval aviation for an all-weather interdictor. In design, the JH-7 resembles a scaled-up SEPECAT Jaguar. Its projected performance approaches that of the Tornado IDS, albeit with a reduced payload, but with a longer unrefueled range.
The JH-7 features a wide range of indigenously-developed systems and equipment; these include the JL-10A multi-mode radar, Blue Sky low-altitude radar/forward-looking infra-red navigation pods and inertial/GPS navigation systems. The Xian WS-9 engines are license-manufactured Rolls-Royce Spey turbofans. Although the prototype reportedly first flew in 1988, the programme was troubled by technical problems through-out the 1990s, leading China to consider alternative combat aircraft from Russia in the form of Sukhoi Su-27s and two-seat Su-30s. Surprisingly, the acquisition of the Sukhois has not ended the JH-7 programme. It is likely that the JH-7's revival has stemmed from the PLA's desire to modernize its air forces, and for the need of the Chinese aerospace industry to be able to offer more modern fighters for export.
The decision to feature the JH-7 prominently at the Zhuhai airshow in 1998 was accompanied by a modest order for the type. With the PLAAF's acquisition of Su-30 for the long-range strike role, the JH-7 is being acquired for the Chinese naval aviation, with a reported figure of between 25 to 32 aircraft for a single regiment. The service is gaining a potent long-range maritime attack capability. Armed with the indigenous C-802 or supersonic KR-1 missiles (the latter a version of the Russian Kh-31P/AS-17 Krypton), the JH-7 will markedly effect the balance of power in the Taiwan Straits, and beyond into the South China Sea.
During China's 1995-1996 exercises near Taiwan, Chinese television briefly showed a JH-7 dropping a clutch of free-fall general purpose bombs. The JH-7 is being promoted actively for export as the FBC-1 Flying Leopard. It was recently offered - unsuccessfully - to Iran.