People's Liberation Army Air Force : News & Discussions


Staff member
Nov 30, 2017
Does China’s J-20 rival other stealth fighters?

The Chengdu J-20 marks the first entry of a multirole stealth fighter into China’s armed forces. According to the Department of Defense (DOD), China views stealth technology as a core component in the transformation of its air force from “a predominantly territorial air force to one capable of conducting both offensive and defensive operations.Designed for enhanced stealth and maneuverability, the J-20 has the potential to provide China with a variety of previously unavailable air combat options and enhance its capability to project power.

Explore a 3D model of the J-20

Development of the J-20
As an advanced multirole stealth fighter, it is speculated that the J-20 can fulfill both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat roles for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the aviation branch of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (referred to as either Naval Aviation or the PLAN-AF). According to PLAAF Senior Colonel Shen Jinke, the J-20 will enhance the overall combat capability of China’s air force. A 2016 report by the DOD states that the J-20 represents a critical step in China’s efforts to develop “advanced aircraft to improve its regional power projection capabilities and to strengthen its ability to strike regional airbases and facilities.” In 2014, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission described the J-20 as “more advanced than any other fighter currently deployed by Asia Pacific countries.”

The J-20 is believed to be equipped with subsystems and field signature reduction technology that collectively meet the internationally-accepted classification of a “fifth-generation” aircraft. This refers to military aircraft featuring the general requirements of stealth technology, supersonic cruising speed, and highly integrated avionics. The J-20 is the first Chinese aircraft to fit this description, and it may serve as a critical asset for both the air force and the navy. As these branches have different areas of responsibility, how the J-20 is ultimately utilized is likely to vary. In broad terms, the PLAAF is China’s mainstay for air operations and is responsible for homeland air defense, while Naval Aviation is tasked with fleet air defense and defending the territorial waters and coastline of China.

It is worth noting, however, that China’s criteria for defining aircraft generations differs from accepted international standards. China defines aircraft generations based upon when an aircraft was integrated into the air force. Per China’s criteria, the J-20 is considered a fourth-generation aircraft.


Currently, the United States is the only country with a fully operational fifth-generation fighter. Several other countries including Russia, India, and Japan are currently in the process of developing their own advanced stealth fighters that fit this classification.

The J-20 is one of two stealth fighters being simultaneously developed in China. The other aircraft is the Shenyang FC-31, a smaller multirole stealth fighter that is being developed by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation and could potentially be commercially exported to other countries. The two Chinese stealth fighters may have been designed to complement each other in a similar manner to the planned deployment of the F-22 and F-35 by the United States. At present, China and the U.S. are the only two countries that have concurrent stealth fighter programs.

According to General David L. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, information-age fighters like the J-20 are designed to link into national defense networks, which enables these cutting-edge fighters to access real-time information supplied by satellites and unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). As a result, the J-20, like the F-35, should be assessed as part of a “family of systems” instead of a standalone aircraft.

On September 28, 2017, it was announced that the J-20 has been officially commissioned into service, but the aircraft is unlikely to be fully operational until 2018 or 2019.

Comparing the J-20 to other stealth fighters
The J-20 is part of a small but elite group of advanced fighters either currently in service or under development, including the F-22 Raptor and the T-50 PAK-FA. Early reports over-estimated the J-20’s length at approximately 23 meters (m), but satellite imagery has reliably shown the J-20 to be between 20.3 and 20.5 meters long – making it comparable in size to both its American and Russian counterparts.

It has been reported that the J-20 is expected to feature a Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) of 34,000 – 37,000 kilograms. By comparison, the F-22 has an MTOW of 38,000 kilograms, and the T-50 has an MTOW between 35,000 – 37,000 kilograms. Some analysts have suggested, however, that it is unlikely for the J-20 to have a lower MTOW than the F-22. Both aircraft are similar in size, and it is likely that the more rearward placement of the J-20’s engines in its fuselage relative to F-22 offer the Chinese fighter a substantially greater internal volume.


In terms of armaments, the J-20 contains two lateral bays for small air-to-air missiles and a larger bay under the fuselage for a variety of missiles and surface attack weapons. This is similar to the weapons bay configuration of the F-22, but different from the Russian T-50, which instead holds two small and two large weapons bays.

The J-20 is also slated to carry a variety of advanced electronic systems. This technology includes an active electronically scanned array, a chin mounted infrared/electro-optic search and track sensor, and a passive electro-optical detection system that will provide 360° spherical coverage around the aircraft. These systems are expected to be comparable to those found inside the F-35. Additionally, the J-20 is likely to field an advanced communications suite that will enable it to datalink with friendly platforms in service and platforms under development, such as the Divine Eagle airborne early warning drone.

Prototype and early production models of the J-20 were equipped with the Russian AL-31 engines, but China is developing a new, more powerful powerplant. Chen Xiangbao, an Aero Engine Corporation official, announced on March 13, 2017 that the J-20 will soon feature next-generation engines. Reports indicate that China plans to upgrade the J-20 in the coming years with the Chinese-made WS-15 engine, which would provide the J-20 with sustained supersonic travel (supercruise). This new engine may rival the cutting-edge Pratt & Whitney F119 engine currently used by the F-22. Compared to the older engines, the WS-15 would enable the J-20 to travel further while consuming less fuel and fly faster for longer periods of time. It is unknown when the WS-15 will be put online; in the interim, it has been reported that China has outfitted the newer models of the J-20 with the WS-10 engine. The domestically built WS-10 is less powerful than the WS-15, but advanced versions of the WS-10 are capable of achieving low supercruise. Other countries with advanced militaries, such as the U.S., Russia, and many European countries, all have fighter aircraft with supercruise capability.

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Using a Physical Optics simulation algorithm, co-founders of the Air Power Australia think-tank Dr. Michael Pelosi and Dr. Carlos Kopp determined that the J-20, like the F-22, has also achieved some Low Observable design goals for enhanced stealth. Such a design allows the J-20 to bypass radar and electronic countermeasures with low to zero visibility. However, some aspects of the aircraft, such as the round nozzle of earlier models (the WS-15 may have a stealthier design) may work against its stealth capabilities. The T-50 may share a similar rear aspect signature reduction, but it is worth noting that both aircraft likely boast superior signature reductions when compared to fourth generation fighters. China may be working to incrementally improve the J-20’s stealth capabilities. Advanced versions of the WS-10 engine are reported to feature sawtooth serrations around its edges that are designed to redirect radar away from the nozzles. In contrast, the F-22’s Pratt & Whitney F119 engines have square nozzles, which greatly improves stealth.

Many details regarding the J-20 remain unknown. Based on observed serial numbers and the recent unveiling of two J-20’s at the Zhuhai Air Show in November 2016, at least eleven J-20s may have already been produced. This number may suggest that the J-20 has now entered low-rate initial production (LRIP), the small-quantity testing phase prior to mass production. Experts differ on the J-20’s flyaway cost – the marginal per-unit production cost, with estimates ranging from $30 million to up to $120 million. By comparison, the F-22 has a per-unit cost of $143 million while the T-50 is estimated to cost less than $100 million. Peter Singer notes that China is likely capable of mass-producing the J-20, but it remains unclear how many J-20s will be produced. Higher-end estimates indicate that several hundred J-20s will be produced to replace older fighters.

How might China utilize the J-20
The J-20 has the potential to considerably enhance China’s regional military strength. According to a 2014 U.S. Naval War College report, an operational stealth fighter would “immediately become the most advanced aircraft deployed by any East Asian Power,” surpassing the aircraft fielded in India, Japan, Australia, Indonesia, or Taiwan. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission advances a similar assessment, noting that the arrival of the J-20 will enhance China’s military leverage against opposing forces in the region. With the J-20 expected become fully operational in the next couple of years, the PLAAF has a considerable head start over the Indian, Japanese, and Korean air forces, which are not slated to put their locally-made advanced fighter counterparts into service until the 2020s.

Opinions vary about the J-20’s comparative strengths as an air superiority (air-to-air) fighter or a strike (air-to-ground) aircraft. Some analysts believe that the J-20’s emphasis on frontal stealth makes it an effective long-range interceptor, meant for mid-air engagements. Others see the J-20 as a long-range strike aircraft, best suited for penetrating enemy air defenses and damaging critical infrastructure on the ground. Such high-value targets would include airfields, command bases, and other military installations. A 2015 RAND report noted the J-20’s “combination of forward stealth and long range could hold U.S. Navy surface assets at risk, and that a long-range maritime strike capability may be a cause for greater concern than a short-range air-superiority fighter like the F-22.” The J-20’s size and weapons configuration may, however, preclude it from functioning as an effective strike fighter in either context. Importantly, the mission types Chinese pilots are trained for may determine how the J-20 is eventually utilized.


Reports differ regarding the J-20’s range, which is expected to fall between 1,200 and 2,700 kilometers. Regardless of this uncertainty, the J-20’s combat radius is likely to extend well-beyond the Chinese mainland. The U.S. Naval War College suggests that the J-20 could be an “effective surface-attack platform for out to several hundred nautical miles at sea.” Air Power Australia notes that the J-20 would be a suitable choice of aircraft for operating within China’s “first island chain” and “second island chain.” Should China integrate aerial refueling aircraft with the J-20, the stealth fighter’s operational range would extend even further across the Asia-Pacific.

Increased range offers China considerable flexibility in terms of basing options. Basing the J-20 further inland means the J-20 can conduct distant missions before returning to the relative safety of China’s Integrated Air Defense System. This modernized aerial defense net – composed of early warning sensors, long-range surface-to-air missiles, and air interceptors – may deter opposing air forces from pursuing J-20s into the mainland


Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
New Delhi
China starts vector thrust tests on a J-10C

After several research and development projects carried out over the past 30 years, China has finally started flying tests of a vector thrust nozzle recently, on a prototype that seems to be that of the J-10C mono-reactor .

A first low-resolution photo leaked on a Weibo account (equivalent to Twitter in China) shortly before Christmas, showing the back of a J-10C with a jet engine with a nozzle very different from that of Chinese WS-10 or AL-31F Series 3 of Russian origin, whose shape is similar to that of a vector thrust nozzle known as J916, revealed in a university presentation and tested for at least five years on a test bench. ground test. The lower part of the vertical drift has adopted a different shape compared to normal versions, probably to avoid the flame jet.

We also learn that the same aircraft conducted its first flight with this engine in Chengdu, Monday, December 25, according to several spotters and local amateurs.

Note that the presence of anti-spinning parachute bindings on the J-10C in question suggests that it is one of the prototypes of the program. It is therefore believed that the aircraft is being used as a flying test bed to check the technical condition of the new vector thrust nozzle and to fine-tune the associated flight control, similar to the American F-16 MATV , used in the 90 'to test the engine AVEN F110-EG-129 .

A motor with AVEN vector thrust nozzle is being tested on a J-10C prototype

The analysis of the first elements, in particular the academic and research publications, seems to indicate that this vector thrust nozzle would have been developed by Shenyang Liming Airline Engine , one of the main Chinese aeronautical engine manufacturers and now a subsidiary of the national group Aero Engine Corporation of China(AECC).

It would be a vector thrust nozzle of axisymmetric type three-dimensional, that is to say that the nozzle is orientable about the longitudinal axis, of the order of about 20 ° maximum. The technical choice is similar to that of General Electric's Axisymmetric Vectoring Exhaust Nozzle (AVEN) and Pratt & Whitney's Pitch / Yaw Balance Beam Nozzle (P / Y BBN), and appears to be different from that of AL-31FP , equipping the Su-30MKI and Su-30MKM for example, whose expansion section (secondary nozzle) remained "frozen" and pivotable around a semi-spherical transition.

The vector thrust in the case of an AVEN nozzle is obtained thanks to the asymmetrical modification of the positions of the ring A9, on which the secondary flaps are connected and actuated by hydraulic cylinders, which changes the orientation of the nozzle and therefore of the jet.

Chinese TVC control system exhibited in one corner at last Zhuhai Airshow
The cylinders of the A9 ring of a Chinese TVC
It is a control device of the vector nozzle

It should be noted that Shenyang Liming and several entities in China, such as Beihang University, NWPU, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the CARDC center for example, have started studies of vectorial thrust at least since the 8th Five-Year Plan ( 1991-1995).

Various types of nozzle have been studied in laboratories, ranging from the most basic, such as three-panel deflectors to three-dimensional axisymmetric, via 2D-CD (Two-Dimensional Convergent-Divergent) rectangular section or the SCFN (Spherical Convergent Flap Nozzle) ... etc.

A 2D-CD Chinese nozzle on a ground test bench J-8B wind tunnel model with baffle panels
An old J-10 model with a steerable nozzle Chinese university study on a "3 rings" AVEN used by the European EJ200 engine

Knowing that a vector thrust nozzle system adds substantial structural mass of a few hundred kilos for an aircraft, and can reduce thrust by up to 15%, the Chinese seem to have adopted a very conservative approach so far on the implementation of this device yet beneficial to air combat. The priority was first placed on increasing the power of Chinese engines and also their reliability.

But after having acquired enough experience and reached a certain maturity, thanks in particular to the WS-10 program over the last 20 years, they finally decided to take the plunge.

The aim would be to equip the last Chinese stealth fighter with the same type of three-dimensional vector thrust nozzle, while the flight tests of a new variant of WS-10 on the J-20 have been completed. already started .
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Staff member
Nov 30, 2017
Given the relatively long cycle, between 7 and 12 years minimum, the development of a fighter jet, and the fact that the arrival of the 3rd Chinese aircraft carrier CATOBAR version is no longer a sweet dream but a certainty , who will be tomorrow's embarked plane for the Chinese navy?

Is it realistic to transform the J-20 , which is being delivered to the Chinese Air Force , in an on-board version?

To try to answer these questions, there are specific parameters around a carrier battle group and data to take into account. But they are so numerous that it is simply impossible to be apprehended by one person or to consider them all in an article, and some data are not yet accessible today.

I will therefore give some of my ideas based solely on the following points, with some figures collected from my sources or found in Chinese academic documents:

  • The basic needs to be fulfilled by an onboard airplane
  • Related summary constraints
  • The size of the aircraft carrier and its hangar
  • Price and budget capacity
  • The timing
The MTOW and the size of the aircraft
Let's start with the maximum take-off weight of an airplane that gives a very good indication of how long the plane can stay in flight.

How long should a boarded airplane remain in flight in normal times?

In a study conducted by a doctor of the Naval Academy of the Chinese Navy in September 2013, fighter planes should patrol at least 200km from the aircraft carrier. Another study by a group of military researchers from the National University of Defense Technology considers that the outer layer of air defense should be between 185km to 400km from a carrier group.



The duration of each flight patrol mission in these two studies is estimated at 2h, and the flying aircraft at a speed varying between 1,100km / h and 1,200km / h, a range of 2,600km to 3,200km.

If it is estimated that 4kg of kerosene would be required to cover 1km, then between 10,400kg and 12,800kg of fuel (internal + external) will be needed, plus about 2,000kg of safety reserve.

The empty weight of such an aircraft can not be less than 16 000 kg. If we now add the weapon and the pylons, the fluids needed for the flight and the pilot (s) ... etc, the MTOW should have a minimum of 30,000kg, if not more.

Today's J-20, even without the structural mass that should be weighed down by the constraints of an on-board aircraft - such as the reinforced structure and trains, the specific materials to deal with the conditions at sea, the lacrosse stop ... etc - should already weigh in this weight category.


Excerpt from a hangar design study (Harbin Engineering University)

By way of comparison, the MTOW of the main fighter planes nowadays is -

  • 21 400kg for the Rafale M with catapult
  • 29 937kg for the F / A-18E with catapult
  • 31 800kg for the F-35C with catapult
  • 30,000kg for the Su-33 (7kn aircraft carrier, 195m runway length)
  • 32 800kg for the Su-33 (the aircraft carrier at 15kn, runway length 195m)
  • 33 724kg for the F-14A with catapult
A mass of more than 30t always generates a larger size of the device.

In the design of the aircraft and the aircraft carrier, the dimensions of the first and the size of the hangar are closely related, the two influence each other. The size of the hangar itself is also limited by the displacement of the aircraft carrier.

And all these are part of the parameters that impact the SGR (Output Generation Rate) of the aircraft carrier, so the effectiveness of a carrier battle group. This point can be the subject of another article later.

For information, the hangar of the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning 16 is approximately 26.4m wide for a displacement around 50 000t. It can carry a total of 36 aircraft including 24 J-15 fighter jets. Although there is no linear relationship between the carrier's movement and the size of its hangar, the two remain naturally linked.

At the level of the dimension, the Su-33 for example measures 21.94m long for a span of 14.70m, or 8.4m once the wings folded (the J-15 has the same figure, it is normal seen that they are both from the same T-10K prototypes). The size of F / A-18E is 9.94m (or 9.32m according to some sources) with the wings folded.

No official data on its dimensions is available today for the J-20, but according to the very approximate measurements which one can realize in Google Earth, its length approaches the 21m and its wingspan in 13,7m.


The difference in size between J-7, J-10 and J-20 - CFTE, Yanliang.

For an aircraft like the J-20 that would be designed to reconcile transonic resistance and supersonic resistance as well as post-stall maneuverability (过失 速 机动), so with wing optimized for these effects, go from a wingspan of 13 , 7m to 9m including the mechanisms to fold the wings, while taking into account the stealth of the whole, could pose a lot of technical difficulties to the engineers of the 611 Institute in Chengdu.

We can see this in the picture below, imagining that it will be necessary to bend the wing at the place where there is the red star of the badge of the air force, that is, that is to say about 2.65m from the wingtip, knowing that the wing of J-20 is quite thin in thickness.


Last prototype of J-20 registered 2017

It should also improve its performance at low speed, essential for an onboard aircraft whose decking speed is very controlled, and the maximum mass at the landing depends greatly.

But from an engineering point of view, it is always easier to try to optimize a large platform, like the J-20, than having to enlarge and weigh down a small one, if for example we have to transform the FC-31 from today. to a machine over 30t.

If we take into account the fact that the number of Chinese naval aviation groups should be lower than that of the Americans, and the Chinese navy has much less experience in the operation of naval air forces, then heavier and therefore more autonomous aircraft would allow also to relieve the pressure on the efficiency of operations on the sending deck.

Price and schedule
We do not know the exact price of J-20 today, but we know for example that its coating costs more than 2 million Yuan (268 k €) per m², or its AESA antenna radar is worth more than 100 million Yuan (~ € 13 million).

Some rumors speak of no less than 800 million Yuan, more than 107 million euros, for a turnkey J-20. Although these are just rumors, but the amount seems consistent.

The acquisition of the arm is a balance between "what we want to do with" and "what we can afford financially." Now let's see how much it will cost the Chinese navy if it had to choose the J-20 as its future onboard aircraft.

I do not know what proportion of the purchase price of a fighter jet compared to its LCC (Lifecycle Cost). My experience in civil aviation tells me that the initial acquisition represents about 25% of LCC, in the case of an A320 for an airline for example.

If we extrapolate this ratio by applying an inflation rate of 3% per year, it will be necessary to add € 576 million in service fees for a 25-year lifecycle of the machine, in addition to the € 107 million purchase. approximately € 583 million in total for a non-naval J-20.

Assuming that China will have 3 CATOBAR aircraft carriers in the end, and each will have at least 40 fighter jets (70 000t of displacement), this will mathematically cost nearly 70 billion euros if the 120 aircraft are all J-20.

We will say that it is a straw considering the size of China and its economy, but if we see that the LCC of a 25-year-old J-20 returns the same price to buy a Type 055 destroyer of 12 000t, we will probably have another vision of things.

My sources in China like to tell me that "For every Yuan of budget, we are obliged to spend it in 2 times 50 cents". An expression I took a long time to understand - This is tense in terms of the budget for the Chinese navy, even though the Chinese government seems to be tilting the budget a little closer to them today.

It is for this reason that it seems improbable to me to have a fleet "all J-20" or "any heavy stealth aircraft", at least not at first.

If the J-20 variant is chosen as the next-generation onboard aircraft, it will certainly be accompanied by a low-end aircraft, which is cheaper to buy and operate, but of comparable size - by example the J-15T (??) catapult version which is currently under development.

We always have another alternative that is the FC-31, but no indication of its price is available today. It is therefore difficult to make any comparison, especially if we assume that it will have to be expanded to meet the needs of the navy.

At the timing level, we know that Chengdu is currently preparing the delivery of its first J-20s to the Chinese Air Force, a sign that the program has reached a certain maturity and that the design office could be released in part. .

If Chengdu is chosen to supply the future embedded aircraft to the navy, it would still be necessary to add 5 to 7 years, in my opinion, to transform and then deliver the first modified J-20 so it will not be available until 2021 at the earliest . The date on which the first CATOBAR Type 003aircraft carrier could be delivered to the Chinese Navy.

On the other hand, if the Shenyang FC-31 is chosen, it will most likely take 7 to 12 years to see the product completed, because expanding such a platform means designing a new aircraft.

Moreover, neither the Air Force nor the Chinese Navy had been involved in the definition and specification of FC-31 from the beginning, so there are many things to be taken over entirely.

While in the case of J-20, the Chinese navy and the naval industry had already initiated exchanges with the 611 Chengdu Institute since 2008, according to one of my sources.

Moreover, the reading of some recent publications suggests that Chengdu has already started the design of the embedded variant of J-20.

In the article published on August 9 in the China Aviation News of the AVIC group for example, we learn that a team from Chengdu is working on a structural part that must meet the requirement to "support a "heavy load", which is more "light", and which must operate in "a confined space".

The work required a "cross-functional and trans-specialty collaboration".

I personally think that it is the development of landing gear, which must be redesigned and reinforced in the case of embedded version. This remains to be confirmed, of course.

Objectively, the Shenyang Institute 601 has more experience in designing heavy aircraft aircraft. Apart from the J-15 and its variants (tandem and electronic warfare), it is also the first design office in China to have initiated the associated pre-studies in the 80's.

But if the product they are offering in the Future Airplane Competition is an enlarged FC-31, then I will very much doubt that it can be achieved on time in relation to the demands of the country and the navy. Chinese.


J-15S, the two-seater on-board version of the J-15

Although the 611 Institute in Chengdu has never designed an embedded aircraft, the J-20 is a more mature platform that is easier to transform today than the FC-31. And the onboard "specificity" could be "transferred" by Shenyang - the two institutes being managed by the same parent company AVIC - for a possible co-production of the aircraft later to balance the interests of each.

With the start of the construction of the first Chinese CATOBAR aircraft carrier by 2017, it should not be long before we know the final choice of the future aircraft, knowing that the Chinese navy had already expressed this need since 2003, in its submitted file. to the government.

And you what do you think ?

Henri K.

Le J-20 embarqué est-il envisageable ? | East Pendulum

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Staff member
Nov 30, 2017
China strengthening air defenses with eye on India, says state media

New Delhi (CNN)Border tensions between China and India could again flare-up, say analysts, following a report in Chinese state media detailing the country's build-up of air defense capabilities close to its western frontier.

According to a Global Times report, reposted on the English version of the People's Liberation Army's website Tuesday, China is upgrading air defenses in its Western Theater Command -- the strategic area covering security along the country's mountainous far western border -- "in order to confront any threat from India."

The article notes that images of Chinese J-10 fighter jet and J-11 fighter jets conducting aerial combat training exercises in western China were released by the People's Liberation Army (PLA), on February 13, two days before the traditional Lunar New Year holiday.

"With India importing new jets, China will continue strengthening its fighter jets in the Western Theater Command," military expert Zhongping Song was quoted as saying.


Staff member
Nov 30, 2017

A senior Russian missile designer reputedly quipped that without weapons, combat aircraft were fit really only for air shows. China, previously one of Russia’s biggest customers, has taken this sentiment to heart. For more than a decade, Beijing has worked to transform its inventory of air-to-air missiles (AAMs), as part of its broader military-modernization strategy.

Traditionally, China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has relied on buying or making licensed (or un-licensed) copies of other countries’ air-to-air weapons. Today, this is no longer the case, with a variety of China’s own designs now entering service or in development. These weapons are considerably more capable than the ones they are replacing.

China aims to provide its modern combat aircraft with an array of missiles that can deny any opponent — starting with the United States — the luxury of air supremacy. Given the obvious geographical friction points between China and the United States, the air and naval domains are of particular importance. If China were to deny the United States air superiority in this way, America could only win it back with the commitment of a level of blood and treasure not seriously contemplated by the Pentagon for decades. The ability to contest the air domain is of course dependent on far more than an array of missiles, however impressive the technical performance of any particular weapon. Alongside China’s combat aircraft and missiles, tactics, techniques, training and procedures are also important, especially against a peer adversary. These remain an area of comparative weakness for the PLAAF, but one that the service is aware of and attempting to address. Since 2011, China’s air force has held the “Golden Helmet” air combat competition, intended to help develop the skills required. The event includes one-versus-one to formation-on-formation air engagements, with aircrew drawn from all of the military’s five theatre commands. The engagements include short, medium, and long-range air combat. The PLAAF has also established a unit intended act as an opposing force in exercises to further attempt to increase the value of its air combat training.

The PLAAF’s multirole fighter inventory now includes the single-seat Chengdu J-10 Firebird and Shenyang J-11B Flanker L (a locally produced version of the Russian Su-27 Flanker which the air force also operates). It has also bought a small number of the Su-35 along while also increasing production of the two-seat J-16 (again a locally produced two-seat Flanker variant) and Su-30MKK Flanker. Its first stealthy fighter aircraft, the Chengdu J-20, is now in operational test and evaluation, with a wider entry into service likely to begin before 2020.

The aircraft China acquired from Moscow have also come with Russian air-to-air missiles. But, for its own versions of Russian aircraft, as well as for its own designs, China is developing a number of its own increasingly capable air-to-air missiles. These span from imaging infrared short-range “dogfight” missiles to medium, long, and very long-range weapons that rely on radar guidance to close with the target.

The weapons now being introduced, or in the latter stages of development, seem broadly equal to their Western counterparts in terms of performance. In one case, that of a very-long-range AAM, there is no Western equivalent.

Visual Acquisition

Air-to-air missiles are categorized as “within-visual-range” and “beyond-visual-range.” China’s intent is to contest the air domain from close-range to medium range and beyond, to disadvantage any opponent. The within-visual-range, or “dogfight,” missile describes a weapon traditionally dependent on infrared guidance. For the early generations of this class of missiles this effectively meant the pilot closing to within sight of the target aircraft to allow the infrared seeker to acquire the target. The first generation of infrared-missiles, developed in the 1950s, required the target aircraft be approached from the rear as the main source of infrared energy was the jet-engine and seeker sensitivity was limited. In contrast, the “dogfight” missiles now in service are capable of being fired at a target from any aspect within range, and at considerably extended ranges, and with far greater missile maneuverability. China now has in operation a missile in this class, called the PL-10 (Pi Li is Chinese for thunderbolt).

The PL-10 entered service in 2015 and provides the PLAAF with highly maneuverable imaging infrared guided missile comparable in performance terms to other weapons in this class possessed by the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, South Africa, and Israel. The missile is replacing the PL-8 (based on the Israeli Python 3) and the Russian R-73 (AA-11A Archer) as China’s most capable short-range missile. The PL-10 uses an imaging infrared seeker rather than the less capable IR seeker fitted to the PL-8 or R-73. More resistant to counter-measures, imaging seekers also provide the potential to pick where to strike against a target, thereby improving the chances of a successful engagement.

The arena of within visual range air combat becomes an increasingly demanding environment when faced with a fourth-generation missile such as the PL-10, compared to the PL-8 or the R-73. The combination of an imaging infrared seeker, target detection range, high agility, and the capacity to fire at the opponent from all aspects is provides the Chinese air force with a formidable weapon. There is also the greater risk of a “mutual kill” in short-range air-to-air engagements where in a one-versus-one combat both aircraft are liable to be able to launch short-range missiles with a high chance of success. Fourth-generation missiles become more lethal when used in combination with a helmet-mounted sight, where the missile seeker follows where the pilot is looking. China presently lags the West in this area, but is working to fix that.

Out of Sight

As the close-in fight has become increasingly lethal, then the ability to engage at target at medium-range grows increasingly more attractive. In a full-blown peer-on-peer war, most of the air combat would begin at such ranges. Beyond visual-range weapons are normally associated with either semi-active or active radar guidance. In the former, the missile seeker is dependent on the aircraft’s radar illuminating the target throughout the course of the engagement, while in the latter the missile seeker operates independently, emitting and receiving during the final stage of the engagement. The advantage of an active-radar guided missile is that the launch aircraft is not limited by the need to illuminate the target until the engagement is over.

China’s air force was dependent for these types of weapons on Russia from the mid-1990s and into the early 2000s with the semi-active R-27R (AA-10A Alamo) and the active-radar guided R-77 (AA-12A Adder) supplied as part of combat aircraft deals. Beginning in the mid-1990s, however, China also began to work on the development of an active-radar guided missile, with considerable Russian support, known as the PL-12. This missile entered Chinese service in 2006–07, giving the air force its first domestically produced active-radar-guided AAM. The PL-12 is broadly comparable to a number of Western medium-range missiles in this class, while the PL-12 is also the subject of an ongoing upgrade.

The PL-12, however, was only the start of China’s quest for increasingly capable radar-guided AAMs. Up to four other radar-guided beyond-visual-range missiles are in varying stages of design or development.

One of these, the PL-15, could enter service during the course of 2018, and has already been cited by senior U.S. Air Force personnel as a significant concern, including remarks by Gen. Hawk Carlisle, then head of U.S. Air Combat Command, in 2015. The PL-15 may have a maximum range in the order of 200 kilometres and is thought to be fitted with an advanced seeker using an active electronically scanned radar. The maximum range describes how far the missile could reach with an optimized trajectory requiring no maneuvering and with little energy left at the end of the flight. But given that a missile in the class of the PL-15 would often be used to engage a combat aircraft of a similar class, its actual maximum engagement range against a maneuvering target would be considerably less, though likely still in excess of the present Western generation of solid-rocket medium-range missiles. One of the limitations of several of the current generation of beyond-visual- range AAMs is that the probability of a successful engagement is reduced significantly against a maneuvering target. This is because the missile rapidly bleeds off energy as it turns to try to close with the threat aircraft.

The Chinese guided-weapons sector is also exploring the application of a rocket/ramjet combination for propulsion as means of improving the probability of a “kill” at medium and extended ranges. This class of missile uses a ramjet sustainer engine rather than a solid-propellant rocket motor. Ramjet engines use atmospheric oxygen mixed with fuel for missile propulsion. Although using a ramjet sustainer engine does not deliver the maximum speed of a solid-rocket motor, it provides a higher average speed, with the ramjet motor providing power for a far greater time than the shorter burn-time of a solid-fuel rocket. The European Meteor missile was the first rocket/ramjet-powered AAM to enter service, when in 2016 the Swedish Air Force became the first of the six partner nations in the British-led project to field the missile.

An even longer-range AAM is also in the later stages of development. In late 2016, images appeared on the Internet of a Shenyang J-16 Flanker carrying two large missiles. The missile configuration suggested the design was intended to provide a very-long-range air-to-air capability, at up to around 400 kilometers, and intended to be used against tankers, airborne early warning and control aircraft, and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, at extended engagement ranges.

The Implications for the West

The air domain, whether at close, medium, or long-range, is becoming an increasingly contested environment. The United States of course still retains advantages, not least of all in the development and the operation of stealthy combat aircraft, but the absolute gap in technology — and capabilities is narrowing. Continuing to develop aircraft designs and systems that minimize the range at which you can be detected while maximizing the range at which you can find and fire at the target will only grow in importance. This would suggest that America’s emphasis should be placed on developing a missile, or missiles, capable of engagement ranges beyond that of the latest model of the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile, the AIM-120D.

For the notional Western combat aircraft pilot, there is no obvious respite to be found in attempting to avoid within visual range threat of the PL-10 by keeping to beyond visual range. In this environment also the PLAAF will be able to mount an increasingly credible challenge, and at engagement ranges against some targets that would previously have been considered safe. As one former U.S. Air Force tanker pilot drily noted to this author when discussing China’s yet-to-be-named, and yet-to-enter service, very long-range AAM, “That’s aimed right at me.”

Douglas Barrie joined the IISS in 2010 after nearly a quarter of a century as a defense aerospace journalist. He is the institute’s subject matter specialist on airpower. Prior to his current post he was the London bureau chief for Aviation Week & Space Technology. He holds an MA Hons. in English Literature from Edinburgh University and is a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
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Lion of Rajputana
Dec 2, 2017
PLAAF releases video on J-16
China has released the first official video of the Shenyang J-16 fighter. In the introduction, the jet has been dubbed as a partner of the J-20 stealth fighter.

Read more at PLAAF releases video on J-16

It's clear that they've been able to steal/crack the designs for a lot of aircrafts, but I wonder how good those aircrafts actually are. For example, is their stealth fighter any good? How do their copied Sukhois stack up against our 30's? How would their fleet stack up against Rafales? Would LCA's be good enough for the Air Defense role against swarms of these reverse engineered Chinese fighters?


Senior member
Dec 26, 2017
It's clear that they've been able to steal/crack the designs for a lot of aircrafts, but I wonder how good those aircrafts actually are. For example, is their stealth fighter any good? How do their copied Sukhois stack up against our 30's? How would their fleet stack up against Rafales? Would LCA's be good enough for the Air Defense role against swarms of these reverse engineered Chinese fighters?
They have not copied Sukhois. They bought the designs during early 1990s when Russia was under severe economic stress. I would assume their latest J-16s are better than Su-30 MKI, since they have been continuously upgrading their sensor suite and avionics, whereas super Sukhoi plan is still stuck in red tape. One thing I have observed is their initial products are quite inferior compared to their US counterparts, but they catch up really fast.
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Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
New Delhi
Chinese air force declares J-10C combat-ready

According to an official statement issued on Monday , the new J-10C fighter jet has begun to engage in operational combat missions in the Chinese Air Force since April 16 this year.

Designed by the 611 Chengdu Institute of the Chinese aircraft manufacturer AVIC, the J-10C essentially takes the design of its predecessor, the J-10B, but has a more advanced avionics suite, including a new radar scan antenna (AESA) of a brick architecture at approximately 1200 T / R, new trans-armored data links, and an armament system that supports a wider range of Air-Air and Air-Surface ammunition precision.

In 2016, the single-engine multi-role fighter entered into active service after three years of flight testing in Chengdu. Five PLAAF front-line units are believed to have started receiving new aircraft since then, some of which are mixed with the older J-10Bs.

The photos released this Monday by the Chinese army show two hunters bearing the registration 68x3x, which corresponds to the 72nd Brigade, formerly the 24th Division. It is a unit based in Tianjin Yangcun, close to Beijing, capital of China.

We can also see on one of the photos that a J-10C is flying at a very low altitude with a K / JDC01A designation pod under its DSI air inlet, and a new generation 500 GB500 laser guided bomb. kg under his left wing. These images indirectly illustrate the gradual transformation of the Chinese air force from a very territorial defense-oriented position to a much more interventionist role than before.

With this announcement on the commitment of the aircraft to operational missions, this new variant of J-10 should then reach the equivalent maturity level TRL 8 or FOC (Full Operational Capability).

Since being admitted to active service, the J-10C has already participated in at least two major exercises of the Chinese Air Force, the 2016 and 2017 Red Flag, in which the aircraft has evolved alongside the new fighter jet. J-16 bomber of one, and of the VLO J-20 fighter on the other. The statement also indicates that more and more pilots of PLAAF are trained to fly on all three types of aircraft at a time, a sign of a certain compatibility of the embedded systems of these new Chinese fighters.

Our estimate made a year ago suggests that the production rate of the J-10C in Chengdu would be 26 per year in 2016, against more than 40 for earlier variants of J-10 in 2014. But an article on the account Weixin of the AVIC group in early April mentions an increase in the delivery of components by CAC (Chengdu Aircraft Corporation) - entity responsible for the production of FC-1, J-10, J-20 as well as Wing Loong drones for example - from the 4.6% for the first quarter of 2018 compared to last year, and "customers (military) have expressed new requirements for the rapid staffing of devices." It is therefore plausible that the production of J-10C is distributed on the rise

The Spotteur photos show that no less than 58 J-10C (the first prototype # 2.01 excluded) left the assembly line at Usine 132 between September 2015 and October 2017. We should therefore be close to the three regiments full of produced to date.


A J-10C with new Air-Air PL-10 and PL-15 missiles.


The 13th J-10C (serial number 0213) appeared in a film of the Chinese Air Force


One of the two MFD screens in the cockpit of a J-10C

It should be noted that the development of the J-10 program does not stop at the J-10C variant. Indeed, apart from the near-certainty of a new J-10D being studied to further improve the stealth, battery life and multi-role capability of the aircraft, a J-10C prototype was recently photographed in Chengdu with a new WS-10 Chinese motor, with a three-dimensional vector nozzle with serrated side flaps .

There is no doubt that the J-10 family, a mono-reactor tailored to the needs of the Chinese army, still has a bright future.
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Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
New Delhi
These new variants of the Chinese embedded fighter J-15

Who would have thought that these old prototypes of Sukhoi, especially the T-10K-7, abandoned in Ukraine and bought by China in August 2004, would engender, outside of Russia, a new lineage in the already very large family tree of T -10, designed 40 years ago by Mikhail Simonov?
And yet, this pile of scrap T-10K-7 which is one of the prototypes of the Soviet Su-33 onboard hunter, suffering from a failure on the flight system PNK-10K and abandoned at the base of Saki since 1991 , not only allowed the engineers of the 601 Shenyang design office to design the J-15 on board aircraft, but also many variants that far and near have virtually nothing to do with their distant Russian ancestors.
Originally designed to operate on a stembar-type aircraft carrier, the most logical modification on the J-15 is the one that is capable of being catapulted from the future Chinese Navy CATOBAR aircraft carriers. . We had already mentioned it in September 2016 in the file " The catapultable J-15 for CATOBAR is in flight ", before returning to him twice in " The Chinese Navy starts the catapulting tests " and " The Chinese army confirms the successful catapulting of a J-15 on EMALS ".
Interpretation of the latest institutional publications suggests that the first catapultable J-15s have already joined the Xincheng-based Chinese naval air force regiment.
But the first major variant of J-15 came out much sooner, around 2012, and is derived from much more urgent operational requirements for the Chinese navy, namely a two-seater platform that should allow Chinese on-board forces to lead not just missions of air superiority or anti-ship single, but assume roles of training and projection lfément more varied.
Thus, the J-15S, a two-seater version of J-15, was designed and conducted its first test flight in late 2012. And unlike the two-seater version of Su-33 where pilots sit side-to-side -cost, the J-15S cockpit stays in tandem like most two-seater hunters nowadays.
The progress of this program remains very little known however, it seems that the Chinese navy has received no device of this version to date, apart from the appearance of a device in livery of the navy, and it appears It is very likely that a deck has not been done so far.
Recent spotting photos show that a new (?) Prototype, registered 561 and equipped with several camera markings, continues its test flights to Shenyang. This might suggest that testing is finally moving up a gear.

It should be noted that this latest J-15S prototype is equipped with two Chinese WS-10 engines, and the color of its radome indicates that it could host a new AESA antenna radar above, but this remains to be confirmed.
And this two-seater version of J-15 would also have been used for Shenyang to develop a variant dedicated to electronic warfare, especially for escort scrambling missions during an air raid offensive, or paralyzing anti-aircraft forces opponents, just like the EA-18G Growler for the US Navy.
Thanks to the photos made public by several Chinese spotteurs, we will notice first that this new version of J-15 is easily distinguishable by a pod of a look very close to that of AN-ALQ-218 of EA-18G installed at the wingtip, but it differs slightly to that of the EW version of J-16.
According to Northrop Grumman data , the AN-ALQ-218 system consists of multiple sensors and transmitters distributed over the EA-18G cell, and is used to provide RWR, ESM and ELINT capabilities to mission and control systems. weapons on board. Examples of pods at the wing tip are antennas for short-base TDOA, a technique for geolocating targets and providing coordinates of the targets within the network, as well as those of the interferometer.
We can also cite other visual differences of this J-15 electronic war compared to the others - the use of Russian engines AL-31F as for all J-15 operational, the absence of the frontal OST to release of space and mass for other equipment, and the further use of composite materials to further lighten the empty weight of the aircraft.

The new prototype of the electronic warfare version of J-15 made its first flight last week.

It is not known for the moment whether this new variant of J-15 is compatible with Chinese steam catapults and EMALS, but the photos available to date do not show any device on the train of the aircraft that demonstrates this.
At this stage, when naval air forces of the Chinese navy are still in full construction with several aircraft carriers in anticipation, the program J-15, this direct descendant of a Russian prototype, will still have long days in front of him.
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