The missile is one of the world's most long-range projectiles, according to Chinese media reports.
Reportedly, China demonstrated its long-range air-to-air missile (AAM), the PL-17, mounted on the J-16 fighter jet, as relayed by Sarbaz.kz citing TheDrive.
Photographs released by China's Ministry of Defense depicted four J-16 fighters loaded with air-to-air missile systems, notably including almost all of China's surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). In a caption alongside the photos, the ministry stated, "Fighters belonging to the PLA Air Force Aviation Brigade fly in formation during real combat training on November 25, 2023."
The PL-17 missile, allegedly developed and deployed in November 2022, is China's first long-range missile. It measures 4 meters long and reportedly has a range of 400 kilometers. For comparison, a similar AIM-120D has a range of 200-300 km, and the Russian R-37 missile reaches up to 300 kilometers. The extended range of this Chinese missile is attributed to its ramjet engine, which operates throughout the flight, and its larger size, allowing for increased fuel capacity. In contrast, most modern missiles fly on inertia after fuel depletion.
These missiles are presumed to target vital infrastructure nodes located far beyond the frontlines, such as early warning aircraft and aerial refueling tankers. An early warning aircraft serves as the aerial command, control, and information processing and dissemination center, while an aerial refueling tanker provides ample energy support to combat aircraft. These sizable fighters have relatively low maneuverability and defense. In actual combat scenarios, they are often positioned in a large and deep secure airspace behind them to enhance battlefield survivability.
In real combat, the PL-17 can be launched from the air based on target information provided by early warning aircraft, ascending to higher altitudes. During its horizontal flight path, it relies on the Beidou satellite system, inertial guidance, and a data chain for continuous flight trajectory correction. Upon reaching the target airspace, it depends on combined guidance from ballistic radar and satellite navigation in the final stage of targeting to attack the target at supersonic speeds.