The Dragon’s Fighters

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Aviation Defence & in India -

Chengdu J-10

Long re­garded as a ben­e­fi­ciary from the can­celled Is­raeli Lavi fighter air­craft pro­gramme, the Chengdu J-10 is per­haps the most suc­cess­fully de­signed front­line com­bat air­craft in ser­vice with PLAAF, match­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties with its western op­po­nents like the F-15/ F-16/ Mi­rage 2000. Its de­vel­op­ment started as a re­quire­ment to cre­ate a fourth-gen­er­a­tion fighter air­craft in 1983 at CAC. Meant to be a J- 7 re­place­ment, the first pro­to­type flew in 1998, largely helped by the Is­raelis and Rus­sians. A sin­gle Rus­sian AL- 31FN ( se­ries 1) tur­bo­fan pow­ered the J-10 pro­to­type and the first J-10A reg­i­ment was formed in 2004. The J-10 cur­rently equips nine PLAAF front­line units, as well as the PLAAF’s Ae­rial Demon­stra­tion team Ba Yi (Au­gust First), which was formed in 2009.

The fi­nal J- 10A rolled off the pro­duc­tion line in Chengdu in 2014. Its ar­ma­ment con­sists of the PL- 12 AAM, LS500J PGMs and the K/ JDC- 01 FLIR tar­get­ing pod. In 2009, the J- 10B was un­veiled with a new fixed di­verter less in­let ( DSI), a flat­ter radome, an In­fra- Red Search & Track­ing Unit (IRST) and a holo­graphic HUD. Although pow­ered by the Rus­sian AL-31FN (se­ries 3) tur­bo­fan, it is be­lieved that the do­mes­tic WP-10B en­gine has been mated to this ver­sion by 2013. The radar sen­sor is a X-band pas­sive elec­tron­i­cally scanned ar­ray (PESA) de­vel­oped by No. 607 Tech­ni­cal In­sti­tute. The first front­line J-10B unit was formed

in 2015 and at the same time the first J-10C, equipped with an AESA radar de­vel­oped by the 14th In­sti­tute, and man­u­fac­tured with greater use of com­pos­ite ma­te­rial and the WS-10B made an ap­pear­ance at Chengdu in late 2014. The Block 02 J-10C will re­place the Block 01 J- 10B on the pro­duc­tion lines and prob­a­bly all J-10 vari­ants will be brought to the J-10C stan­dard by 2022. By mid 2016, a to­tal of 350 J-10s had en­tered ac­tive ser­vice with the PLAAF. Though not part of the WTC forces, J-10As have been con­sis­tently seen op­er­at­ing out of Gong­gar and Shi­gatse in Ti­bet over the past few years. In all prob­a­bil­ity, some of the WTC reg­i­ments will be re equipped by this type by 2018. In June 2017, a J-10C flew with a PL-15 BVRAAM for the first time.

Shenyang J-11

The Chi­nese leaned to­wards Rus­sia in the 1990s for sup­ply of a fourth-gen­er­a­tion fighter air­craft. Af­ter due dili­gence in 1991, a con­tract was signed between Rus­sia and China to equip the PLAAF with the Su27SK air su­pe­ri­or­ity fighter, which con­sisted of di­rect sup­ply of the Sukhois from Rus­sia, as well as assem­bly of KnAAPO’s knocked down Su-27SK kits in China. 200 of th­ese were to be li­cense pro­duced at Shenyang by China un­der the des­ig­na­tion J-11. In 1999, an up­graded ver­sion of the J-11, equipped with new N001V/ VE radar flew for the first time and was des­ig­nated the J-11A. Seven PLAAF units are equipped with this vari­ant.

When faced by is­sues con­cern­ing sup­ply of avion­ics and other parts from Rus­sia, the Chi­nese then can­celled the con­tract in 2000, with about 100 kits sup­plied as part of the orig­i­nal deal. The Chi­nese, in their usual man­ner shrewdly re­verse en­gi­neered the orig­i­nal Su-27SK into a ver­sion called the J-11B, which used Chi­nese-made parts in­stead of the orig­i­nal Rus­sian com­po­nents. Though ac­cused by the Rus­sians of fly­ing an un­li­censed copy of the orig­i­nal Su-27SK, the Chi­nese went

ahead with the pro­duc­tion of the J-11B in 2007, equip­ping th­ese with the Type 1474 or 1478/KLJ-4 pulse Dop­pler radar, a glass cockpit and af­ter the ini­tial run with Rus­sian AL-31Fs, the WP-10A ‘Tai­hang’ tur­bo­fan. By 2014, J-10Bs equipped three PLAAF reg­i­ments, with the like­li­hood of the J-11As be­ing up­graded soon to this stan­dard in terms of avion­ics.

The J-11D pro­to­type (D1101) made its first flight on 29 April, 2015. The J-11D fea­tures an up­wardly canted radar dome, car­ry­ing an AESA radar, as well as fur­ther use of com­pos­ites and stealth coat­ings in the fuse­lage to re­duce weight. The fighter’s In­frared Search and Track­ing (IRST) pod has been re­lo­cated star­board of the cockpit, to ac­com­mo­date a re­tractable in­flight re­fu­el­ing (IFR) probe. The J-11D is also be­lieved to have im­proved weapons hard points to carry the lat­est Chi­nese weapons, such as PL-10 AAMs, the long range PL15 mis­sile and YJ-12 anti-ship mis­sile. As a cross de­vel­op­ment of this plat­form, the J-15 is a car­rier-based vari­ant of the J-11BS, with ca­nards, a strength­ened un­der car­riage, and folding wings, and is de­ployed on the Chi­nese air­craft car­rier Liaon­ing. An­other ver­sion, the J- 16, is a twin seat strike ori­ented plat­form, which is a copy of the Rus­sian Su-30MKK de­sign.

In Novem­ber 2016, a Chi­nese J-16 test­fired a gi­gan­tic hy­per­sonic mis­sile, re­port­edly de­stroy­ing the tar­get drone at very long ranges. The mis­sile is 19 feet long, with range ex­ceed­ing 300 km. The VLRAAM flies 15 km up­ward of its launch­ing fighter to a 30 km alti­tude, guided by a com­bi­na­tion of long range radars and satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion, be­fore dive bomb­ing at hy­per­sonic speeds onto en­emy air­craft, in­clud­ing stealth fighters, stealth bombers and AEW&C air­craft. This weapon will add a punch to the Chi­nese air dom­i­nance ef­fort against the threat of US com­bat and AEW&C air­craft, and may be des­ig­nated as the PL-21.

Chengdu J-20 Stealth Fighter

First re­vealed by the US Of­fice of Naval In­tel­li­gence in 1997 as Project 718, the J-20 is en­vis­aged as China’s next gen­er­a­tion fighter air­craft with ad­vanced stealth fea­tures. In early 2002, Shenyang (SAC), was cho­sen to de­velop the fighter, but ow­ing to un­known rea­sons, the project was handed over to Chengdu at its Fac­tory 132. While lit­tle is known of its de­vel­op­ment in the in­terim pe­riod, in Novem­ber 2009, the PLAAF’s Deputy Chief had stated that China’s next gen­er­a­tion fighter “would soon fly”, with pro­jected ini­tial op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity by 2019. He re­vealed that the de­sign would im­bibe four ‘ S’

ca­pa­bil­i­ties : stealth, su­per cruise, su­per ma­neu­ver­abil­ity and short take off. By 2010 two pro­to­types (No 2001 and 2002) were un­der de­vel­op­ment, with the first flight per­formed in Jan­uary 2011 from CAC’s home base at Chengdu Huang­tu­anba. By 2012 four air­frames had been built (2001, 2002, 2011 and 2012). Around that time, it re­ceived sev­eral un­of­fi­cial ap­pel­la­tions such as Black Ea­gle, Black Silk or the Wei Long (Mighty Dragon).

The J-20 in­cor­po­rates de­sign as­pects of the F-22 Rap­tor, with a sharp di­a­mond shaped nose and sin­gle piece cockpit. Other fuse­lage as­pects have been bor­rowed from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as well as the can­celled MiG 1.44 project. It is pos­si­ble that the Chi­nese, in an in­dus­trial es­pi­onage coup, stole part of F-22 and F-35 de­signs from US con­trac­tors, re­verse en­gi­neered the de­sign and im­ple­mented do­mes­tic in­no­va­tions. This was re­in­forced in 2016 when Su Bin, a Chi­nese na­tional pleaded guilty with US au­thor­i­ties to con­spir­ing with two un­named mil­i­tary of­fi­cers in China to ac­quire plans for F-22 and F-35 fighters and Boe­ing’s C- 17 mil­i­tary trans­port air­craft by il­le­gal means (con­trolled by the PLA’s Tech­ni­cal Re­con­nais­sance Bu­reau as part of ‘Oper­a­tion Byzan­tine Hades’).

By 2013, Chengdu had be­gan weapons in­te­gra­tion of the J-20 with the PL-10 and PL-15 AAMs. A large in­ter­nal weapons bay ac­com­mo­dates the var­i­ous ar­ma­ment, in ad­di­tion to ex­ter­nal hard points. Ma­jor im­prove­ments were done from the third pro­to­type on­wards fea­tur­ing stealth coat­ing, re- de­signed in­takes, re­tractable re­fu­elling and ver­ti­cal sta­bilis­ers and a new canopy. It had an elec­tro-op­ti­cal tar­get­ing sys­tem mounted un­der the nose which sen­sor could be Bei­jing A- Star Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy’s EOTS- 89 elec­tro- op­ti­cal tar­get­ing sys­tem (EOTS). At the same time, the J-20 is equipped with six dis­crete, low pro­file win­dow aper­tures around the air­craft, also sus­pected to house elec­tro op­tic sen­sors. The aper­tures are ar­ranged in the air­craft in such man­ner whence they ap­pear to pro­vide 360-de­gree spher­i­cal cov­er­age around the air­craft and the place­ment and con­fig­u­ra­tion of the aper­tures are like the place­ment of the six aper­tures for the F-35’s AN/AAQ-37 Dis­trib­uted Aper­tures Sys­tem. There­fore, some Chi­nese mil­i­tary watch­ers have de­scribed J- 20’ s Elec­tro Op­tic Pas­sive De­tec­tion Sys­tem as a ‘DAS’. How­ever, much like the EOTS name, the AN/AAQ37 DAS is a very spe­cific prod­uct with spe­cific ca­pa­bil­i­ties for the F-35, and it is un­known if the J-20’s EO PDS will boast sim­i­lar ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

There are indi­ca­tions that this Chi­nese jet car­ries an AESA radar, pos­si­bly the Type 1475 (KLJ-5), which is sup­pos­edly be­ing tested on a China Test Flight Es­tab­lish­ment (CETE) owned Tupolev Tu-204C air­liner. Re­ports sug­gest that ei­ther the NPO Saturn 117S se­ries en­gine (used on the Rus­sian Su35) or its pre­de­ces­sor, the AL-31FN se­ries3 vari­ant, will power the J-20. How­ever, as seen on the present pro­to­types, the AL31FN (se­ries 3) can­not gen­er­ate suf­fi­cient

thrust for the J-20 to reach su­per cruise. Hence the Chi­nese were keen to get their hands on the Su-35 with its Saturn 117S (AL-41F1S) engines, un­til the in­dige­nously de­vel­oped WS- 15 ‘ Emei’ en­ters ser­vice (which is be­ing flight tested on an Il-76 plat­form). There may also be is­sues with RCS re­duc­tion due to use of ca­nards, which in­di­cates that the Chi­nese may be fac­ing sta­bil­ity is­sues on the J-20.

With at least 10 air­craft hav­ing been built by late 2016 and a va­ri­ety of test pro­files and cer­ti­fi­ca­tions be­ing un­der­taken (in­clud­ing high alti­tude op­er­a­tional test­ing in Ti­bet in Septem­ber 2016), it ap­pears that the J-20 is on its way for low rate ini­tial pro­duc­tion (LRIP), with all older pro­to­types be­ing de­liv­ered to the Flight Test and Train­ing Cen­tre ( FTTC) for de­vel­op­ment of tac­tics, weapon test­ing (PL10 and PL-15 fir­ings) and test­ing of the full flight en­ve­lope.

The J-20 was pub­li­cally shown for the first time at the Zhuhai Air­show in early Novem­ber 2016. Two J-20s flew a rather se­date fly­past in front of dis­ap­pointed on­look­ers at the show, clearly in­di­cat­ing that the de­vel­op­ment chal­lenges on the J-20 were far from over and beyond the reg­u­la­tion chest thump­ing, the pro­gramme was still work in progress, await­ing a ‘wor­thy’ en­gine for the plat­form.

In Novem­ber 2016, the ap­pear­ance of four J-20s with se­rial num­bers from 78271 to 78274 was dis­closed on the In­ter­net, such se­rial num­bers be­ing PLA air force num­bers. All th­ese J-20s have low vis­i­bil­ity coat­ing. In ad­di­tion, a satel­lite photo showed two J-20s at Dingxin Air Force Base in Ji­uquan City, Gansu Province. The J-20s were ob­vi­ously tak­ing part in the an­nual large-scale ‘Red Sword’ com­bined drill in Novem­ber. Dingxin may well be the first J-20 base of the PLAAF.

On 9 March 2017, Chi­nese state tele­vi­sion re­ported that the J-20 ‘Mighty Dragon’, China’s first pur­port­edly stealth com­bat air­craft, was op­er­a­tional, with­out giv­ing fur­ther de­tails. Still, what China de­fines as “op­er­a­tional” is a mat­ter of con­jec­ture, how­ever Pen­tagon of­fi­cials say the an­nounce­ment means the J-20 has en­tered for­mal op­er­a­tional test and will be flown in conjunction with a va­ri­ety of other Chi­nese mil­i­tary air­craft to fa­mil­iarise the ser­vice with the jet’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties and ex­per­i­ment with con­cepts of oper­a­tion. Op­er­a­tionally, the J-20 in its present pro­file, will have lim­ited stealth char­ac­ter­is­tics, with abil­i­ties tweaked to­wards a BVR com­bat sce­nario. Given the pro­duc­tion rate of 12- 15 air­craft an­nu­ally, the PLAAF may not re­ceive its first op­er­a­tional J- 20A reg­i­ment be­fore 2019. Still, and when­ever this hap­pens, with­out doubt, the J-20 will have sig­nif­i­cant im­pact in the bal­ance of power in Asia and the Pa­cific re­gion.

Shenyang J-31/ FC-31

Dur­ing Zhuhai 2014, the Avi­a­tion In­dus­try Cor­po­ra­tion of China (AVIC) and Shenyang Cor­po­ra­tion show­cased the J-31 (ex­port ver­sion des­ig­nated FC-31), at a very early stage of its de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme, es­pe­cially when one con­sid­ers that the project was started in 2012. Project 310, as it is known in China, is re­port­edly also in­spired from ‘stolen’ F-35 de­signs.

The J-31 is be­ing de­signed as a multi role tac­ti­cal fighter, to serve along­side the more fo­cused J- 20 as a pri­vate AVIC ven­ture through the SAC. It was of­fi­cially named ‘Fal­con Ea­gle’ at Zhuhai with a strong in­cli­na­tion to mar­ket this fighter as a stealth plat­form for ex­port to “friendly al­lies”, notably Pak­istan. The Pak­istan Air Force is re­port­edly “very in­ter­ested” in this fifth gen­er­a­tion fighter but Ob­servers point out that the air­craft is still un­der de­vel­op­ment and “im­ma­ture”, although the pro­duc­tion ver­sion will be con­sid­er­ably im­proved from the present pro­to­type (No. 31001), with bet­ter per­for­mance and en­hanced op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The changes will in­clude bet­ter RCS re­duc­tion with clipped tail­fin and wing trail­ing edge cor­ners for ‘edge align­ment’, com­pletely re­designed ver­ti­cal fins and a sin­gle piece cockpit canopy. Presently fly­ing with the Rus­sian RD-93 en­gine, it is to be fit­ted with the un­der de­vel­op­ment WS-13A tur­bo­fan, which will help the J-31 achieve su­per cruise ca­pa­bil­ity. As with the J-20 the big­gest ques­tion con­cerns avail­abil­ity of a mod­ern medium sized high thrust

tur­bo­fan, which fac­tor will prob­a­bly de­cide whether the project suc­ceeds or fails. With such woes plagu­ing var­i­ous air­craft pro­grammes, China has re­cently es­tab­lished a new com­pany, the Aero En­gine Corp of China ( AECC), tasked to re­search, de­velop, and man­u­fac­ture air­craft engines for Chi­nese avi­a­tion pro­grammes. The J-31 sen­sors in­clude the EOTS/IRST and an AESA radar. Western re­ports in­di­cate that the J-31 will be a fourth gen­er­a­tion + fighter. Hence in the­ory, it will be a strong con­tender to re­place PLAAF’s J-7/8 fighters and com­ple­ment the J-10 and J-11s in the com­ing years. A less re­ported sin­gle en­gine VTOL ver­sion of the J-31, pos­si­bly the J-18 is be­lieved to be in ex­is­tence, the fu­ture of which may be se­verely im­pacted be­cause of the lack of a suit­able en­gine.

The Ru­moured ‘Sixth Gen­er­a­tion’ J-28

In line with sixth gen­er­a­tion air com­bat fighter de­vel­op­ments in the US, Rus­sia and Ja­pan, there have been ru­mours of a Chi­nese sixth-gen­er­a­tion fighter air­craft for some years now and this was of­fi­cially con­firmed in an award cer­e­mony for win­ners of ‘Feng Ru Avi­a­tion Tech Elite Award’ held on 16 Septem­ber 2015. Ac­cord­ing to Shenyang Air­craft In­sti­tute’s gen­eral de­signer Wang Yongqing, who has been work­ing on ‘special mis­sion air­craft, the next would be sixth- gen­er­a­tion, fol­low­ing the J-20 and J-31 fifth gen­er­a­tion types. China’s Avi­a­tion Re­search In­sti­tute No. 611 is work­ing on the J-28, re­port­edly a sixth-gen­er­a­tion multi-func­tion stealth fighter jet. This is to be a hy­per­sonic plat­form, ca­pa­ble of sub space op­er­a­tions, nu­clear ca­pa­ble, have stealth tech­nol­ogy, height­ened aware­ness and au­ton­o­mous char­ac­ter­is­tics with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, pre­pared for ad­vanced elec­tronic/ cy­ber war­fare of the fu­tures and coated in ‘smart skin.’ It is as­sumed that the J-28 would be armed with high yield laser weapons, to en­gage tar­gets from sur­face to Low Earth Or­bit (LEO) level. Helped by test­ing of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion hy­per­sonic ve­hi­cles like the DF-ZF (WU-14), the first pro­to­type is likely to ap­pear around 2030 – ready to take part in the next gen­er­a­tion ‘Star Wars’ air com­bat !

Lo­ca­tions of the J-20’s six Elec­tro Op­tic Pas­sive De­tec­tion Sys­tem aper­tures

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