Images of the new variant have emerged on several Chinese military web pages, including a 21 December 2015 video report on the popular Ifeng web page. The most salient modifications are two new wingtip pods similar to the Northrop Grumman AN/ALQ-218 Tactical Jamming Receiver, leading to comparisons with the E/A-18G Growler electronic attack variant of Boeing's Super Hornet.
The Boeing EA-18G Growler is an American carrier-based electronic warfare aircraft, a specialized version of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet.
This possible J-16 EW prototype appears to lack the usual fuselage-mounted gun and the infrared search and tracking system (IRST) also appears to be missing, but the J-16, which resembles the Russian Sukhoi Su-30, would have up to 10 wing and fuselage hardpoints for ordnance and active jamming pods.
An EW version of the J-16 equipped similarly to the E/A-18G would give PLAAF strike packages a far greater chance of reaching their targets and avoiding increasingly capable air defences.
Development of a J-16 EW variant could also lead to a similar carrier warfare version of the twin-seat J-15S.
While in early 2014 an Asian government source estimated that 100 J-16s would be in PLA service by 2020, the emergence of an EW version could increase that number.
A close-up of the new electronic warfare pod on the wingtips of the SAC J-16 shows a similarity to the Northrop Grumman AN/ALQ-218 Tactical Jamming Receiver. (Via Ifeng web page)