China’s Advances into the World of Stealth Fighters

According to the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, China’s military air capabilities have taken a very significant turn with the Chengdu J-20 fighter officially entering service as shown here:

The J-20 is China’s latest multi-role stealth fighter, a fourth-generation medium- and long-range fighter which made its debut flight in 2011.   It is a very significant addition to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and sets itself apart as the most advanced fighter in the Asia – Pacific region, giving China a significant advantage over the Japanese, Indian and Korean air forces.  While the jet is not currently fully operational, it represents a direct threat to America’s fifth generation fighters such F-35, and is likely to be fully operational by 2019.  The J029 will provide the PLAAF with both offensive and defensive capabilities, stepping beyond its current function as a territorial air force.

Here is the J-20’s debut at the Zhuhai Airshow in late 2016:

According to China Power, the J-20 is likely equipped with stealth and highly integrated avionics technology and capabilities including supersonic cruising speeds that meet the international standards for a fifth generation aircraft.

Here is a table showing the five generations of both international and Chinese fighter aircraft:

Here is a diagram from China Power comparing the J-20, F-22 and Russia’s T-50 PAK FA:

The J-20 is equipped with two Russian AL-31 engines, however, it appears that China will update the higher with Chinese made WS-15 engines which will give it the ability for sustained supersonic travel.  The single-seater, two engine J-20 is also equipped with a passive detection system that will provide the pilot with 360 degree spherical coverage around the aircraft and a chin-mounted search and track sensor.  The J-20 is equipped with two bays that are designed to hold small air-to-air missiles and a larger bay located on the underside of the fuselage that can hold a variety of weaponry, including both short- and long-range missiles.

Cost estimate (flyaway costs) for the J-20 range from $30 to $120 million compared to less than $100 million for Russia’s T50, $143 million for America’s F-22 and between $94 and $122 million for the F-35 (current costs) which is well below the cost of the early F-35s produced by Lockheed Martin.

According to RAND, the J-20’s combination of forward stealth and extended range could hold United States Navy surface assets at risk, a particular concern given the ongoing issues involving the South China Sea.  As well, other analysts feel that the J-20’s abilities as a long-range fighter make it well suited to penetrate the air defences of other nations, allowing China to destroy high value military infrastructure.

China is also developing an additional stealth fighter; the Shenyang FC-31 also known as the J-31, a smaller multirole stealth fighter that could be commercially exported to other nations.  The J-31 is roughly the same size as the American F-35 and has a range of 7755 miles and a top speed of Mach 1.8.  Some analysts feel that it will be well suited as an aircraft for China’s new aircraft carrier.  Here is a video showing a demonstration of the J-3 in 2014:

China, which for so many years lagged behind the rest of the world’s superpowers when it came to development of highly advanced materiel is proving itself to be a “player” in the world of supersonic, stealth aircraft.  The further development and adoption of these aircraft by the People’s Liberation Army Airforce will make the nation less vulnerable to threats from the United States and India when it comes to its stance on the South China Sea and other territorial boundary disputes.

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