Tag Archives: Chengdu J-20

Chinese Stealth Goes Operational, Carrier Program and Export Initiatives Accelerate

China Has Emerged as a Preeminent Global Strategic Super Power: What Does It Mean?

During the past five years China’s defense programs have not accelerated, they have increased by multiples into segments the Chinese had not previously been involved in. The introduction of a developmental aircraft carrier program, the fielding of an operational stealth fighter, the deployment of the world’s longest range ICBM and several new state-sponsored defense programs including tactical aircraft and helicopters intended specifically for export sale signal a parallel emergence of China’s global defense doctrine along with their dominant economic influence.

But what are China’s strategic and tactical air capabilities and, more importantly, what can we theorize about their intentions not only in Asia, but around the world?

China’s new defense and aerospace initiatives are a strategic necessity to provide foundational security for their rising economic influence globally.

Two years ago, in 2015 The International Monetary Fund (IMF) ranked China as the number one economic superpower in the world. That year China surpassed the United States based upon the purchasing power parity of GDP indicator (gross domestic product). The IMF reported that China produced 17% of the world gross domestic product in 2014 passing the U.S. GDP of 16%. China’s increased global influence has inspired low and middle income countries to emulate China’s approach. These Chinese allies now engage in partially state-sponsored rapid economic growth including the Latin American countries, Brazil, Argentina and Columbia as it emerges from a protracted drug war. India and Pakistan are now also aligned with China on several significant defense and economic initiatives.

While the subject of China’s emerging military is vast, there are several standout defense aerospace programs that provide an insight into China’s global motives.

China’s Operational Stealth Fighter: The J-20

China’s Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter has just officially entered active service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF): “China’s latest J-20 stealth fighter has been officially commissioned into military service, Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Wu Qian told global media in a September 28, 2017 press release on the Xinhua.net and the official state defense media website.

Analysts suggest the J-20 is likely a medium-long range interceptor roughly analogous to the interceptor role of legacy aircraft like Russia’s older MiG-25 Foxbat, albeit much more sophisticated, and comparable to a Gen. 5 fighter.

There have also been comparisons to the U.S. F-22 Raptor, although the F-22 has emerged in combat in Syria as a precision strike low-observable aircraft in addition to its air superiority role. Western observers have suggested the primary low-observable capability of the J-20 is from the front of the aircraft, but perhaps not at other aspects, suggesting the J-20 is optimized for the interceptor role at least initially.

At different times, both in 2016 and 2017, there were unconfirmed reports that China may sell the J-20 to Pakistan in what would be the first-ever sale of a stealth air superiority specific Gen 5 aircraft in the export market (the multinational F-35 is described as a multirole Joint Strike Fighter, not exclusively as an air superiority interceptor like the J-20 or the U.S. F-22, which has not been exported outside the U.S.

Given this and more information about the J-20 it can be reasonably suggested that this aircraft is intended primarily for defense of Chinese air space and, if exported, some of its border allies. Sharing air defense with friendly border countries makes sense since China shares a border with a staggering 14 different countries. The U.S. only borders 2.

Flypast of the Chengdu J-20 during the opening of Airshow China in Zhuhai (Imate credit: Alert5/Wiki)

China’s DF-41 ICBM: Global Strike Capability in World’s Longest Range ICBM.

Contrasting China’s regional defense initiative with its J-20 aircraft is the global nuclear strike capability of the Dongfeng-41 solid-fuel, portable launch platform Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

The Dongfeng-41 or DF-41 is an impressive and menacing missile system. It has the longest range of any ICBM in the world, surpassing the U.S. LGM-30 Minuteman III by a significant margin. Various sources quote the U.S. LGM-30 as having an approximate strike range of nearly 8,000 miles. But the Chinese and external analysts suggest the range of the DF-41 exceeds 9,000 miles.

The DF-41 ICBM, developed beginning in late July, 2012, takes a page from Israeli ICBM development on their Jericho 3 ICBM by being so fast it is likely impossible to intercept. The DF-41 flies at Mach 25 or 19,000+ M.P.H. enabling it to strike nearly every target in the world in less than an hour.

Another advantage to the DF-41 ICBM system is its launch platform. As with many Russian systems, it is launched from a wheeled, mobile vehicle platform making its launchers difficult to track and target.

Finally, the DF-41 carries up to 12 large nuclear Multiple, Independently targeted Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) warheads, increasing its effectiveness against multiple large, hardened targets and decreasing the ability to intercept it after re-entry into the atmosphere during its terminal attack phase.

By any measure the DF-41 ICBM with its stealthy, mobile launch platform, extremely long range, massive payload and very high speed position China as a preeminent global nuclear force with the attendant diplomatic might that capability wields.

China’s massive DF-41 ICBM has the longest range of any nuclear missile. (Photo: RT)

The Shenyang J-31 Gyrfalcon: China’s Joint Strike Fighter?

The Shenyang J-31 Falcon Eagle or Gyrfalcon (or “FC-31 fifth Generation Multi-Purpose Medium Fighter”), is China’s second stealth fighter jet.

The first prototype of the aircraft performed its maiden flight on Oct 31, 2012, and made a public appearance on Nov. 12, 2014 at Zhuhai Airshow.

Gyrfalcon is China’s multirole, (claimed) low-observable tactical aircraft roughly analogous, in mission if not in capability, to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It is intended for export to partner nations, it boasts a supposed low-observable configuration, is slated to be built in a naval/aircraft carrier (although not STOVL) and is claimed to be able to perform both the precision strike and air-to-air role.

The aircraft may have had some teething problems in early development.

The vertical stabilizer configuration was completely reworked from early versions that seemed to mimic the twin tails of an F-22. The J-31 has since been seen in its newest version with a swept-back twin tail.

The latest version of the J-31 was seen last year on December 26, 2016, during its first flight: it was significantly re-worked, heavier (three tons more) and at least 20-inches longer than the early prototypes according to most sources.

The latest J-31 variant appears to be a more completely developed tactical aircraft with an Infra-red search and track ball passive sensor (IRST ball).

The wings have been re-worked into a claimed lower radar cross-section shape and new engines have been installed that provide greater thrust to compensate for the additional weight. The new engines are also smokeless, a significant tactical necessity. There are also claimed improvements to its search and targeting radar. Chinese officials and media have hinted at some sensor-fusion capability to hand-off targets to other aircraft and perhaps weapons assets, as with the F-35s capability to direct weapons. Perhaps the most significant claimed future capability project for 2019 is re-engining the J-31 with indigenous WS-19 turbofan engines, providing supercruise capability without afterburner. The U.S. F-22 has supercruise but the F-35 does not.

Finally, the J-31 Gyrfalcon is a twin-engine aircraft to the F-35s single engine.

A new carrier-based variant of the developmental J-31 may be in the works. (Photo: O+Nil)

The Chinese Aircraft Carrier Program: From Buying Used to Building at Home.

That China has even embarked on an aircraft carrier program speaks volumes about their future role in global security. Aircraft carriers are about power projection. They operate beyond a country’s borders to secure its interests around the world. While the idea of having a U.S. aircraft carrier on station anywhere in the world is normal, the deployment of Russia’s only carrier in support of operations in Syria made headlines. When Chinese carriers visit India, Africa and South America the impact will be significant.

China is not new to an aircraft carrier development program. Their research into aircraft carriers dates back to at least 1985. In November of 2016 the Chinese declared their completely refitted 67,500 ton ex-Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag, a Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier built in Russia, as fully operational. It was re-commissioned the Liaoning (CV-16) type 001 aircraft carrier.

Most recently they have installed a new Z-8JH heavy rescue helicopter on board Liaoning expanding its role from power projection to humanitarian aid.

The Liaoning carries eight Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark multi-role tactical aircraft on board. They bear a strong resemblance to the Russian SU-27 aircraft family. Currently the J-15 launches using a ski-jump arrangement as with Russian and soon UK aircraft but at least one modified J-15 was photographed with a catapult bridle on its nose wheel for land-based testing of a new magnetic catapult system likely to be used on the next Chinese aircraft carrier, the yet-to-be-named CV-18, Type 002 aircraft carrier of entirely Chinese indigenous design to be built by the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai.

Chinese Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark aircraft on board the carrier Liaoning (CV-16). (Photo: Xinhua)

Chinese Gunships: A New Category for A New World Order.

On May 18, 2017 China’s new Z-19E attack helicopter built by the state-owned AVIC Harbin Aircraft Industry factory made its first public flight. State news agency Xinhua said the Z-19E is built for both the domestic and export market.

The Z-19E is the first modern helicopter gunship for the Chinese. It features the usual gunship mix of helmet-sight cued cannon mounted in winglet pods, missiles and rockets.

The aircraft uses a covered Fenestron-style internal tail rotor borrowed from the Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin helicopter. The cockpit is armored and the crew seats are energy-absorbing for enhanced survivability.

The Z-19E will likely be an affordable alternative for countries not shopping from the United States or Russia for an import attack helicopter solution. This likely includes several potential customers on the African continent as well as Asia and South America.

The Z-19E is a cost-effective attack helicopter solution for export. (Photo: Reuters)

Chinese RPA’s, Already an Export Success with New Models Coming.

China has already sold remotely piloted aircraft, RPAs, to Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Their newest RPA, the CH-5 CaiHong (Rainbow) flew for the first time this summer on July 14 in Hebei Province.

Jane’s Defense quoted Shi Wen, chief engineer of the CH series RPAs, as saying that the CH-5 outperforms all Chinese RPAs when it comes to endurance and payload. “The UAV is as good as the US-made General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper: a hunter-killer drone often deemed by Western analysts as the best of its kind,” Wen claimed.

Also aiming for export buyers, China has boasted that the new CH-5 is “Less than half the cost” of the U.S. built General Atomics MQ-9 according to journalist Stephan Chin of the South China Morning Post. China claims the CH-5 can stay aloft for “up to two days” and is configured to carry up to 16 guided air-to-ground weapons.

Not for export is China’s secretive “Sharp Sword” stealth drone. The advanced jet-powered RPA is designed to carry a heavy weapons load of over two tons. It is 33-feet long with a wingspan of 44-feet.

The Sharp Sword has more than a passing resemblance to the U.S. X-47B drone and the British Taranis UAV. Initially, analysts suggest the Sharp Sword will be used in the reconnaissance role over dense air defense networks along with maritime surveillance. Follow-on versions will be configured as first-strike weapons against heavily defended targets for a “first day of war” scenario. As with the U.S. jet-powered stealth drones there is planning for a carrier launched version also.

The secretive Chinese Sharp Sword jet powered long range stealth drone is not for export. (Photo: Xinhua)

This is just a brief overview of some of China’s vast expansion in modern defense and aerospace projects for its domestic and newly expanding export market. Given China’s industrial capacity and new global economic dominance we are likely to see many more.

Upgraded, third prototype of China’s stealth jet ready for maiden flight

J-20 Mighty Dragon “2011” has already completed hi-speed taxi tests.

In the last few days, the extremely active Chinese aircraft enthusiasts have documented the ground activity of the third prototype of the J-20 “Mighty Dragon” stealth fighter jet.

The new pictures show the J-20 coded “2011” performing taxi tests at Chengdu airfield. Following a high-speed taxi, the aircraft raised the nose and then deployed the drag chute to reduce speed: the usual steps that precede the first take off.

What is really interesting about the new plane is that it seems to embed a series of improvements. According to several reports it has a new air intake design, shorter engine nozzles and a (basic?) sensor fusion technology.

J-20 third prototype

For sure the J-20 has something worth a mention: a revised nose section, much similar to that of the much criticised F-35, with an IRST/EOTS (Infra Red Search and Track / Electro Optical Tracking System) – used to hunt low observable aircraft, and a metal finish that loosely reminds the radar absorbing Haze Paint first used on F-16s.

Image credit: Chinese Internet, cjdby.net, fyjs.cn

 

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China’s new stealth fighter’s missile launch rails prove Beijing can improve U.S. technology

In order to preserve their stealthiness and keep the RCS (Radar Cross Section) as low as possible, radar-evading planes rely on weapons bay: bombs and missiles to be fired are kept inside the bays until it’s time to use them.

For instance, the F-35 can carry one AIM-120D (AIM-120C8), on a trapeze : when needed, the BVR (Beyond Visual Range) missile is lowered into the airstream on the open bomb bay door, and ejected.

F-22 Raptors use canted trapeze to put the AIM-9 Sidewinder seeker into the airstream to achieve a lock on the target as the side bay doors are open.

Raptor

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Once the missile is fired, the bay doors close up.

Obviously, such method requires the stealth plane to fly with the open bay doors for a certain amount of time, a condition that can limit the aircraft performance, maneuverability, and increases the overall plane’s RCS, with a temporary exposure of the aircraft to the enemy radars.

Something that can be quite lethal in a Within Visual Range scenario.

The problem is to be partly solved with the use of missiles featuring the Lock On After Launch capability. With this kind of missile (available on the Raptor when the AIM-9M will be replaced by the AIM-9X Block II) the bay doors remain open just the time it is needed to eject the missile into the airstream.

However, China might have found a clever solution to the problem, as the latest images of the J-20 Mighty Dragon stealth fighter jet, emerging from the Chinese Internet, seem to suggest.

J-20 2002 side bay maybe - out mod 2

Indeed, the second prototype of the aircraft features a missile deployment device on the side weapons bay which extracts the selected air-to-air missile and then closes the door to keep the reduced RCS.

J-20 missile deployment device

Simpler and probably cheaper than the use of LOAL missiles, the J-20’s deployment device shows that Chinese engineers are not simply copying U.S. tech: if not improving it, they are at least troubleshooting some of the issues already faced by their American counterparts, with some clever ideas.

Missile launch rail

Graphs from Chinese forums

The missile launch rail was used to carry the PL-10 IR air-to-air missile during tests.

Anyway, it’s worth noticing that along with AIM-9X missiles, the F-22 pilots will receive Scorpion HMCS (Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems) that will be particularly useful in case of dogfight. There are no information about similar helmets being fielded to Chinese fighter planes.

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Has China just rolled out third prototype of J-20 stealth fighter jet?

What could be the third prototype of the Chengdu J-20 fifth generation stealth fighter (to be coded “2003”?), was recently spotted at Chengdu airfield.

New images and videos from China show a mysterious roll-out of a seemingly new prototype (for sure it doesn’t appear to be coded as the existing ones – namely, “2001” and “2002”).

Still, someone believes the new aircraft is just the second test plane with a furtherly modified radome, used to fit an active electronically scanned array (AESA) set.

Indeed, the “Mighty Dragon” coded 2002 has not flown for a while: a possible sign that it was being modified.

Image credit: lt.cjdby.net

Another interesting feature of the “new” J-20 is a slit located just ahead of the canopy that could be used to fit a laser rangefinder or a Airborne Electro Optic (EO) Infra-Red Search and Track System (IRST) system for searching, detecting and tracking airborne and ground targets which give off infrared radiation.

For instance, Russian combat planes as the Su-27 or the Mig-29 are equipped with Optiko-Lokatsionnaya-Stantsiya (Optical Locator Station) OLS-27/29 opto-electronic sighting systems located more or less in the same place.

The second prototype of the Chengdu J-20 fifth generation stealth fighter, coded 2002, flew for the first time on May 16, 2012. The first prototype coded 2001, has been involved in the testing activities since Jan. 11, 2011.

Last month, pictures of a new type of Chinese stealth plane, the Shenyang J-31 “Falcon Eagle” (a sort of copy of the F-22 Raptor) leaked online.

Video: First flight of China's second J-20 Mighty Dragon prototype

After the images appeared on the Chinese Internet few hours after the aircraft had landed, a video showing the China’s second J-20 stealth fighter prototype performing its first flight at Chengdu on May 16, 2012 has just been uploaded to Youtube.

Soundtrack aside, the video is enjoyable as it gives the opportunity to see the fifth generation plane during the taxi, (quite short) take off roll and landing phases of its maiden flight.