China’s J-20 stealth fighter designer promises his aircraft will be a battlefield ‘Trump card’.
China’s J-20 stealth fighter designer promises his aircraft will be a battlefield ‘Trump card’. SMARTER. Better informed. Highly automated. China is striving to prepare for combat. And its new stealth fighters are on the front line. This will allow it to “seize air superiority” in the Asia-Pacific, state media claims. And it’s thinking further ahead. Beijing state media mouthpiece Global Times says the National People’s Congress (NPC) deputy and chief designer of the new J-20 stealth fighter, Yang Wei, told a press conference he would “create more surprises.” “There will be more surprises in future fighter jets, which will be more mechanised, information-equipped and smarter,” Yang told the gathering. “Such a jet could function in many areas, in many battles, and we’ll have our own ‘Trump cards’.”His J-20 design is already undergoing upgrades, the report says, with new high-thrust engines and next-generation electronics topping the priority list. “The advanced series could help China seize air superiority in the Asia-Pacific region and safeguard national security when facing containment from the US, Japan, Australia and India,” military analyst Song Zhongping is quoted as saying. But Beijing is not placing all its eggs in one basket. China’s next generation of stealth fighters is already being designed, and it insists this will leapfrog Beijing from being a “follower” to a “leader” in their development. LEADING EDGE Last year, China made a significant step forward in its bid to equal — and eventually surpass — United States air superiority. According to Beijing’s state media, its first stealth fighter entered fully operational, frontline service in October. This puts it in second place. Before now, only the United States has had a fully operational ‘fifth generation’ fighter — the F-22 Raptor. Russia’s stealth fighter — the T-50 PAK-FA — appears to have stalled in its development. And the US ‘export’ stealth fighter, the F-35, continues to suffer protracted delays. But the J-20 will now likely become a regular feature in the games of cat-and-mouse being played out over the South China and East China seas. And it’s likely the most capable aircraft deployed by any nation in the region — giving it a significant edge over the Japanese, Korean and Indian air forces. So what exactly is the J-20, and how does it compare with other modern combat aircraft? According to Washington defence think-tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS): “Designed for enhanced stealth and maneuverability, the J-20 has the potential to provide China with a variety of previously unavailable air combat options and enhance its capability to project power.” OUT OF THE BLUE The Chengdu J-20 is not only China’s first operational stealth fighter. It’s one of its first fully indigenous combat jet designs. Its appearance in 2011 stunned the military aviation world. Earlier home-built aircraft either owed much of their design to Russian sources, or were direct copies. That China was able to advance so far, so fast, in its quest to attain “fifth generation” stealth fighter capability seemed virtually impossible. But it was done. And now it’s operational. China declared the first deliveries of operational J-20s were made to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force in March last year. It took part in a major military parade in July. In October, state media declared it operational and “officially commissioned into military service, releasing a promotional video boasting of its capabilities as it celebrates the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. International defence analysts have since tracked recent video footage of its first operational deployment to the borders of India. WHAT IS THE J-20 The multi-role J-20 offers the People’s Liberation Army Air Force the ability to penetrate defended airspace to deliver its payload of weapons. It also allows the fighter to range deep over the Pacific — unseen — to intercept the radar and refuelling aircraft so vital to the tactics of its contemporaries. It offers key modern features including stealth, advanced digital avionics and supersonic cruising speeds. Its designer, Yang Wei, says its canard configuration (with small fins in front of the main wings) gives the aircraft improved stealth while maintaining manoeuvrability and supersonic speeds. “The design allows the J-20 to fly further and with greater bomb load,” he told the Global Times. It can do all these things because it claims to be a “fifth generation” aircraft design. “The J-20 is the first Chinese aircraft to fit this description, and it may serve as a critical asset for both the air force and the navy,” the CSIS report reads. CSIS analysis of China’s large (20.5m long) stealth fighter shows it to be — at least on paper — a true competitor to the United States’ older F-22 Raptor stealth fighter
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