|Role||Stealth air superiority fighter / multirole combat aircraft|
|Manufacturer||Chengdu Aerospace Corporation|
|First flight||11 January 2011|
|Status||In development / flight testing|
|Primary user||People's Liberation Army Air Force|
|Number built||3 prototypes|
The Chengdu J-20 (simplified Chinese: 歼-20; traditional Chinese: 殲-20) is a stealth, twin-engine fifth-generation fighter aircraft prototype being developed by Chengdu Aerospace Corporation for the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The J-20 made its first flight on 11 January 2011, and is expected to be operational in 2017–2019.
China's J-20 platform has the potential to be a capable, long-range strike system in the Asia-Pacific region, but a number of technical challenges will need to be overcome before production can begin.
Origins of the J-20 came from the J-XX program which was started in the late 1990s. A proposal from Chengdu Aerospace Corporation, designated “Project 718”, had won the PLAAF endorsement following a 2008 competition against a Shenyang proposal that was reportedly even larger than the J-20.
On 11 January 2011, the J-20 made its first flight, lasting about 15 minutes, with a Chengdu J-10S serving as the chase aircraft. After the successful flight, a ceremony was held, attended by the pilot, Li Gang, Chief Designer Yang Wei and General Li Andong (Deputy-Director of General Armaments).
On 17 April 2011, a second test flight of an hour and 20 minutes took place. On 5 May 2011, a 55-minute test flight was held that included retraction of the landing gear. On 26 February 2012, a J-20 performed various low-altitude maneuvers. On 10 May 2012, a second prototype underwent high speed taxiing tests, and flight testing that began later that month.
On 20 October 2012, photographs of a new prototype emerged, featuring a different radome, which was speculated to house an AESA radar. In March 2013, images of the side weapon bays appeared, including a missile launch rail. On 16 January 2014, a J-20 prototype was revealed, showing a new intake and stealth coating, and a system that appeared to be an Electro-Optical Targeting System.
The J-20 has a long and wide fuselage, with the chiseled nose section and a frameless canopy resembling that of the F-22 Raptor. Immediately behind the cockpit are low observable intakes. All-moving canard surfaces with pronounced dihedral are placed just behind the intakes, and behind these, leading edge extension merging into delta wing with forward-swept trailing edges. The aft section features twin, outward-canted all-moving fins, short but deep ventral strakes and conventional round engine exhausts.
The delta canard configuration allows good supersonic performance, excellent supersonic and transonic turn performance, and better short field landing performance compared to the conventional delta wing design.
A research paper described high instability as important design criterion for the J-20, which requires sustained pitch authority at a high angle-of-attack, which cannot be provided by a conventional tailplane. An all-moving canard is capable of deflecting to the same magnitude but opposite to the angle-of-attack, thereby maintaining control.  Furthermore, leading edge extensions and body lift can enhance performance in a canard layout. This configuration is said to generate 1.2 times the lift of an ordinary canard delta, and 1.8 times more lift than an aircraft that purely relies on its wing for lift. This allows the use of a smaller wing, reducing supersonic drag without compromising transonic lift-to-drag characteristics that are crucial to the aircraft's turn performance.
The prototype's engine is believed to be the WS-10 and the AL-31 derivative. Western analysts believe that China is currently working on an advanced domestic turbofan engine similar in performance to the Pratt & Whitney F119 to power the J-20 and will use Russian engines for the time being. Some believe that China will use the AL-41 117S through the purchase of the Su-35, although China has denied any deal. At the 2012 Zhuhai Air Show, Russia approached China with its 117S engine in an unsuccessful attempt to sell the Su-35.
The production version of the J-20's is speculated to feature the WS-15, a turbofan engine producing 18 tons of thrust in development since the early 1990s. According to Global Security, the engine core, composed of high pressure compressors, the combustion chamber, and high pressure turbines were successfully tested in 2005. An image of the core appeared in the 2006 Zhuhai Air Show.
In 2012, China announced a $24 billion investment program to catch up in the field of military turbofans. At the end of 2012, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) announced several breakthroughs in producing alloys for engine turbines, reaching standards used by leading global engine manufacturers.
The aircraft features a glass cockpit, with two main large color liquid crystal displays (LCD) situated side-by-side and three smaller auxiliary displays, and a wide-angle holographic head-up display (HUD).
Two smaller lateral weapon bays behind the air inlets are intended for short-range AAMs (PL-10). These bays allow closure of the bay doors prior to firing the missile, thus enhancing stealth.
Analysts noted that J-20's nose and canopy use similar stealth shaping design as the F-22, yielding similar signature performance in a mature design at the front, while the aircraft's side and axi-symmetric engine nozzles may expose the aircraft to radar. One prototype has been powered by WS-10G engines equipped with a different jagged-edge nozzles and tiles for greater stealth.
Others have raised doubts about the use of canards on a low-observable design, stating that canards would guarantee radar detection and a compromise of stealth. However, canards and low-observability are not mutually exclusive designs. Northrop Grumman's proposal for the U.S Navy's Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) incorporated canards on a stealthy airframe. Lockheed Martin employed canards on a stealth airframe for the Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) program during early development. McDonnell Douglas and NASA's X-36 featured canards and was considered to be extremely stealthy. The Eurofighter reduces its Radar Cross Section by controlling canard deflection through its flight control software.
The diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI) enables an aircraft to reach Mach 2.0 with a simpler intake than traditionally required, and improves stealth performance by eliminating radar reflections between the diverter and the aircraft's skin. Analysts have noted that the J-20 DSI reduces the need for application of radar absorbent materials. Additionally, the "bump" surface reduces the engine's exposure to radar, significantly reducing a strong source of radar reflection.
The first test flight coincided with a visit by United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to China, and was initially interpreted by Pentagon officials as a possible signal to the visiting U.S. delegation. After meeting with Hu Jintao, Secretary Gates told reporters in Beijing, "I asked President Hu about it directly, and he said that the test had absolutely nothing to do with my visit and had been a pre-planned test." Jin Canrong, a professor at Renmin University who specializes in China-U.S. relations, suggested that President Hu being unaware of the test raised questions about the nature of civilian control of the Chinese military. Michael Swaine, an expert on the PLA and United States - China military relations, explained that it is possible that "senior officials did not know that this flight test would occur on this precise day", and was not necessarily an effort to insult the U.S. delegation or embarrass President Hu. Decisions regarding military aircraft development are routinely managed by engineers and mid-level officials more than by civilian or military leadership. Coupled with the initially limited Chinese media coverage of the event, it is likely that the test may not have been considered significant enough to warrant notifying President Hu.
The U.S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper testified that the United States knew about the program for a "long time" and that the test flight was not a surprise. On the other hand, a 2012 report by the U.S.‐China Economic and Security Review Commission suggests that the United States may have underestimated the speed of development of the J-20 and several other Chinese military development projects.
Robert Gates questioned how stealthy the J-20 may be, but also stated that its development potentially "put some of our capabilities at risk, and we have to pay attention to them, we have to respond appropriately with our own programs."
As photographs of the prototype surfaced, observers including Bill Sweetman indicated that the J-20 may be a long-range interceptor, similar to the role of the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark or the MiG-25 with stealth, although this conflicts with the "J" designation traditionally reserved by the PLAAF for air superiority fighters. Sweetman also indicated that the J-20 may have lower supercruise speed and agility, yet greater range, than a F-22 Raptor or PAK FA, but may also have larger weapons bays and carry more fuel. Others have indicated the J-20 may be a light supersonic bomber.
Six possible roles have been outlined for the J-20: a long-range interceptor, an air-combat and escort fighter, a theater strike fighter, a long range reconnaissance aircraft, an electronic attack platform, and an anti-satellite weapon launch platform. Early variants could be employed as strike aircraft, or interceptors, with later variants becoming more adept at air superiority as more powerful engines become available.
Loren B. Thompson speculated that the combination of forward stealth and long range allows the J-20 to attack surface targets while the United States lacks sufficient airbases in the area to counter such attacks, and that a long-range maritime strike aircraft may cause the United States more concern than a short range air-superiority fighter like the F-22.
In its 2011 Annual Report to Congress, the Pentagon described the J-20 as "a platform capable of long range, penetrating strikes into complex air defense environments."
Technology transfer allegations
In April 2009, a Wall Street Journal report indicated that, according to American government officials, information from the F-35 was compromised by unknown attackers allegedly appeared to originate from China, although the article stated the ease of masking identities. There is some speculation that the compromise of the Lockheed Martin F-35 program may have helped in the development of the J-20.
Data from
- Crew: one (pilot)
- Length: 20.3 m (66 ft 7 in)
- Wingspan: 12.88 m (42 ft 3 in)
- Height: 4.45 m (14 ft 7 in)
- Wing area: 73 m2 (790 sq ft)
- Max takeoff weight: 36,288 kg (80,001 lb) upper estimate
|Artist's rendering of the J-20.|
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Related lists
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