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The latest version of the jet is the J-10C, which made first flight in December 2013. Deliveries began in late 2016 and the new version is thought to be in service as of July 2017. The new J-10C incorporates an indigenously-built active electronically scanned array (AESA) fire-control radar and uses more composite materials in its airframe. However, it is possible that the jet will be further refined with the addition of a Shenyang-Liming WS-10 Taihang turbofan engine with a vectored thrust nozzle.
The Chengdu J-10 Firebird was the People’s Republic of China’s first attempt to develop a fourth generation fighter comparable to the American Boeing F-15C Eagle and Lockheed Martin F-16 Falcon as well as the Soviet Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker and the Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum.
While initially envisioned as a pure air superiority fighter when development started in 1988 as a direct counter to the Su-27 and MiG-29, the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union meant that Beijing could retool the J-10 into a multirole fighter that would complement the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s (PLAAF) growing fleet of Flanker derivatives—which a formerly adversarial—and impoverished—Russian Federation was more than willing to supply in exchange for hard currency. Indeed, while the J-10 has evolved over the years into a formidable warplane as new technologies are added to the jet, various unlicensed Chinese copies of the Su-27 and Su-30 including the J-11B, J-15 and the J-16 among others have largely overshadowed the Firebird.