China’s se­cre­tive stealth fighter un­veiled in flyby

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

China showed its Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter in pub­lic for the first time yes­ter­day, open­ing the coun­try’s big­gest meet­ing of air­craft mak­ers and buy­ers with a show of its mil­i­tary clout. Air­show China, in the south­ern city of Zhuhai, of­fers Bei­jing an op­por­tu­nity to demon­strate its am­bi­tions in civil aerospace and to un­der­line its de­fense am­bi­tions. China is set to over­take the US as the world’s top avi­a­tion mar­ket in the next decade.

Two J-20 jets, Zhuhai’s head­line act, swept over dig­ni­taries and hun­dreds of spec­ta­tors and in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives gath­ered at the show’s open­ing cer­e­mony in a fly­past that barely ex­ceeded a minute, gen­er­at­ing a deaf­en­ing roar that was met with gasps and ap­plause and set off car alarms in a park­ing lot at the site.

Ex­perts say China has been re­fin­ing de­signs for the J-20, first glimpsed by planespot­ters in 2010, in the hope of nar­row­ing a mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy gap with the United States. Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping has pushed to toughen the armed forces as China takes a more as­sertive stance in Asia, par­tic­u­larly in the South China and East China seas. “It is clearly a big step for­ward in Chi­nese com­bat ca­pa­bil­ity,” said Bradley Per­rett of Avi­a­tion Week, a vet­eran China watcher.

It was China’s sec­ond suc­ces­sive dis­play of a new stealth jet at the bi­en­nial Zhuhai show, fol­low­ing the 2014 de­but of the J-31.

Af­ter ar­riv­ing as a pair at low-level, one of the J-20s quickly dis­ap­peared over the hori­zon, leav­ing the other to per­form a series of turns, re­veal­ing its delta wing shape against bright sub­trop­i­cal haze. But an­a­lysts said the brief and rel­a­tively cau­tious J-20 rou­tine - the pi­lots did not open weapon bay doors, or per­form low-speed passes - an­swered few ques­tions. “I think we learned very lit­tle. We learned it is very loud. But we can’t tell what type of en­gine it has, or very much about the mo­bil­ity,” said Greg Wal­dron, Asia Man­ag­ing Edi­tor of FlightGlobal. “Most im­por­tantly, we didn’t learn much about its radar cross-sec­tion.”

A key ques­tion whether the new Chi­nese fighter can match the radare­vad­ing prop­er­ties of the Lock­heed Mar­tin F-22 Rap­tor air-to-air com­bat jet, or the lat­est strike jet in the US arse­nal, Lock­heed’s F-35. The F-22 Rap­tor, de­vel­oped for the US Air Force, is the J-20’s clos­est looka­like. But the mere dis­play of such a newly de­vel­oped air­craft was a re­veal­ing sig­nal, oth­ers said. “It’s a change of tac­tics for the Chi­nese to pub­licly show off weapons that aren’t in full squadron ser­vice yet,” said Sam Roggeveen, a se­nior fel­low at the Syd­ney-based Lowy In­sti­tute, “and demon­strates a lot of con­fi­dence in the ca­pa­bil­ity, and also a lot of pride.”

C919 Pas­sen­ger Jet Ab­sent

It re­mained un­clear whether or how the J-20 would be dis­played at the air­show af­ter the fly­past. Air­craft that are of­fi­cially sched­uled to be on dis­play along­side the lat­est Chi­nese weapon sys­tems, radar and drones in­clude the Xian Y-20 strate­gic air­lifter, and what or­ga­niz­ers say is the largest am­phibi­ous plane now in pro­duc­tion - the AG600.

The fly­ing boat is of­fi­cially pro­moted as a fire-fight­ing or search and res­cue plane. But an­a­lysts note the AG600 - first un­veiled 10 days af­ter a Hague tri­bunal ruled against China’s claim to parts of the South China Sea in July - is well suited to re­sup­ply­ing mil­i­tary out­posts in the dis­puted area. No­tably ab­sent from the air­show sched­ule is the 150-seater COMAC C919 pas­sen­ger jet. De­signed to com­pete with Europe’s Air­bus Group and Boe­ing Co of the United States, the ri­vals who dom­i­nate the global sup­ply of air­lin­ers, the much-de­layed C919 is now run­ning three years be­hind orig­i­nal plans. COMAC said at the show that China Eastern Air­lines will be the launch cus­tomer for the C919, which may take its first test flight later this year or early 2017, and that it had clinched 23 new or­ders for its C919, tak­ing to­tal or­ders to 570. — Reuters

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