Wednesday, 22 January 2020

China must make more J-20 stealth jets to meet air force demand, say military analysts


China must make more J-20 stealth jets to meet air force demand, say military analysts | South China Morning Post

People’s Liberation Army Air Force has high expectations of its ‘Powerful Dragon’ but not enough of them in combat service.

  • People’s Liberation Army Air Force has high expectations of its ‘Powerful Dragon’ but not enough of them
  • Expert says J-20 numbers will have to at least double to maximise mission flexibility

China will need to speed up the production of its most advanced Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter jets, with the supply of the “Powerful Dragons” well behind demand, military analysts said.

On Sunday, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force posted a video on its social media accounts that featured two J-20s in a combat training scenario with two J-16s and a J-10C. The jets belonged to the Wang Hai Air Group, named after an ace Chinese combat pilot who served in the Korean war.

This type of five-plane formation was seen for the first time in the video to mark Lunar New Year. State television reported that the air force tested a combination of one J-20, one J-16 and one J-10C in 2018.

The latest video showed the “kaleidoscope of tactics” the J-20 and the other jets are capable of, according to the Global Times.

The fifth-generation stealth fighter jets served as the “backbone” of the nation’s air combat capability, the air force said on its 70th anniversary in November.

China would need between 100 and 200 J-20s at least to maximise mission flexibility, according to Hong Kong military commentator Song Zhongping.

“The J-20 can tackle enemy radar with its stealth capability or attack enemy planes for air [weaponry] superiority from beyond visual range,” Song said.

China was thought to have built about 50 J-20s by the end of 2019, but problems with the jets’ engines delayed production plans. Chinese engineers have been developing high-thrust turbofan WS-15 engines for the J-20, but that work has fallen behind schedule.

In the meantime, the J-20 is understood to have used either Chinese WS-10B or Russian-built AL-31FM2/3 engines, compromising its manoeuvrability and stealth capabilities at supersonic speeds.

By comparison, the US’ F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters, which are regarded as the major rival to the J-20 in the Asia-Pacific, are in mass production. By 2025, 200 F-35s are expected to be in service in the region.

The Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group production line is believed to be able to manufacture about one J-20 a month.

In comparison, Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth assembly plant in Texas delivered 134 F-35s in 2019, three more than its target and 47 per cent more than its output in 2018, according to the company.

Song said that China’s approach to J-20 research and development was to build a small number of each block while continually improving technologies for the following block, as its priority was to gradually improve and then optimise the configuration of the warplane.

“When technological improvements are in place, for the second and third variants the production can be significantly sped up,” Song said.

The J-20 made its first test flight in 2011, made its public debut at Airshow China 2016 and entered military service in 2017.

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