F-22 or F-35 Killer?: Could China’s ‘Heavy’ J-20 Stealth Fighter Become the Ultimate Dogfighter?
In January 2011, the maiden flight of a large, dagger-like grey jet announced that China had developed its first stealth aircraft—the Chengdu J-20 “Mighty Dragon.” Six years later, after several substantial revisions, J-20s entered operational service with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force.
As radar-guided missiles from fighters and ground-based launchers threaten aircraft from dozens, or even hundreds of miles away, stealth capabilities are increasingly perceived as necessary for keeping fighter pilots alive on the modern battlefield.
But just how good is the J-20? And what is its intended role? After all, America’s first stealth fighter, the F-117 Nighthawk, was not even really a fighter and lacked any air-to-air capability whatsoever.
The PLA has, true to custom, kept its cards close to the chest, and has not shared performance specifications to the public. Thus, there are broad estimates of the J-20’s top speed (around Mach 2), and considerable-seeming range (1,200 to 2,000 miles), but those remain just that—estimates. For years, analysts even over-estimated the aircraft’s length by two meters. It’s broad but relatively shallow weapons bay can accommodate four to six long-range missiles or bombs, though not munitions with especially heavy warheads.
International observers generally concluded the large twin-engine jet possessed high speed and long operational range, but that the Mighty Dragon lacked the maneuverability necessary to prevail in close engagements with enemy fighters. Relatively modest aerobatic displays in the Zhuhai 2016 and 2018 airshows (you can see some of the latter here) reinforced the narrative in certain quarters that the J-20 isn’t optimized for gut-wrenching air combat maneuvers.
Given the above premises, observers mostly speculate the J-20 would either serve as long-range supersonic strike plane, or a hit-and-run interceptor used to slip past fighter screens and take out vulnerable supporting tanker and AWACS planes.
However, Rick Joe of The Diplomat argues these theories of the J-20’s supposedly specialized role might be a case of group-think, ignoring both design features and statements by Chinese sources suggesting the J-20 was intended as a multi-role fighter with “competitive” dogfighting capability.
For example, a brochure distributed at Zhuhai 2018 explicitly stated the J-20 was capable of “seizing & maintain air superiority, medium & long range interception, escort and deep strike.” In other words, a multi-role fighter.
“A commonly insinuated premise is that the Chinese aerospace industry was not capable of producing a fifth generation air superiority fighter, and would have to “settle” for a less technically challenging interceptor or striker instead,” Joe argues.
He points out that the lengthy J-20 is still shorter than the Russian Su-35 Flanker-E, one of the most maneuverable jet fighters ever designed. He further cites a 2001 study by Song Wecong, mentor of the J-20 designer Yang Wei, which you can read translated here. Wecong wrote that stealth aircraft “must have the capability to supercruise and perform unconventional maneuvers such as post-stall maneuvers.”
Song concluded the ideal stealth fighter would incorporate canards (a second, small set of wings close to the nose of the plane), leading-edge root extensions (or “strakes,” a thin surface extending where the wing emerges from the fuselages), and S-shaped belly intakes, in order to balance stealth, speed and maneuverability. These are all design characteristics evident in the J-20.
While details on the J-20’s radar remains elusive (presumably a low-probability of intercept AESA radar), it also mounts arrays of electro-optical and infrared sensors with 360-degree coverage, reportedly designed to fuse sensor data to form a common “picture” and even share it with friendly forces via a datalink—technology seemingly modeled on the advanced sensors found on the American F-35. Such sensors could be particularly useful for detecting radar-eluding stealth aircraft.
J-20 pilots also are equipped with helmet-mounted sights that allow them to target high-off-boresight PL-10E heat-seeking missiles within a 90-degree angle of the plane’s nose simply by looking at the target. The short-range missiles are stored in small side-bays but can be cunningly rotated outside prior to launch, as depicted here.
尽管歼- 20的雷达能力尚不为人知(应该不太可能拦截AESA雷达)，还全身安装了光电和红外传感器阵列，据报道，这是为了将传感器的数据融合成完整的“图片”，甚至还可以与友军通过数据链进行分享，该技术模仿了美国F- 35的先进传感器。这种传感器对于探测能躲避雷达的隐形飞机特别有用。
While the J-20 would likely remain outclassed by the F-22, it could potentially prove a dangerous adversary to the F-35, which is not as optimized for within-visual-range engagements. However, both the F-22 and F-35 are believed to have a significantly lower all-around RCS than the J-20, though the Chinese fighter still appears to be significantly stealthier than the Russian Su-57.
A 2011 analysis by Australian aviation expert Carlo Kopp concluded that J-20 probably had strong stealth from a frontal aspect, but a larger radar cross section (RCS) when scanned from the side or rear—a limitation also found in the Russian Su-57 stealth fighter.
But as the extent and type of the radar-absorbent materials used affect RCS, visual analysis alone cannot determine how stealthy an aircraft is. This has not dissuaded the U.S. Marine Corps from a building a full-scale mock-up of a J-20 in Georgia for study and training purposes. The Indian Air Force has boasted its Su-30 Flankers have tracked J-20s on radar, but as stealth fighters often employ emitters called “Luneburg Lens” to enlarge their RCS on routine flights, and thus conceal their true capabilities, it’s difficult to infer much from this either.
Another issue confusing analysis of the J-20 is that it doesn’t yet have the high-thrust WS-15 turbofans the PLAAF envisioned for them, and are making do with Russian AL-31F engines instead. Even China’s fourth-generation jets have been frustrated by deficient jet engines. The WS-15 generates 23 percent more thrust than the AL-31FN, and would enable the J-20 to super-cruise, or sustain supersonic speeds without resorting to fuel-gulping afterburners. Thus, certain more aggressive projections of J-20 performance, such as a top speed of Mach 2.5, may be premised on engines that have yet to be fully developed.
As long as the PLAAF has only a few dozen J-20s in service, it may make sense to reserve them for hit-and-run tactics and special deep strikes. But as the article in the Diplomat points out, there’s ample evidence the J-20 may be intended to grow into a capable all-rounder that can hold its own in a dogfight.
译文来源：三泰虎 http://www.santaihu.com/46776.html 译者：Joyceliu
Canards DO NOT lend themselves towards stealthiness. Unless China has made some serious breakthrough there, this "Song Wecong" doesn't know what he's talking about.
Just because it looks stealthy doesn't mean it is. The F22 would work it over while the F35 is a 'stand off' weapon. It will interlink with other systems and nail the J20 long before it sees the F35... That is if it every gets completed. Still, 11 prototypes/demonstrators are a long way from fielding and actual airforce.
Yes, the details of the J20 are sketchy,
For the love of... It's not about the actual aircraft, it's about the avionics and targeting systems. When these "arm chair pilots" do research, they'll find that out. As of right now, China's got nothing for us. Not saying they won't, just not right now.
GXY10 hours ago
If the airframe has Chinese bolts, if the landing gear has Chinese tires... we're good for a while.
michael7 hours ago
the aircraft comes into play - but wait until you encounter an american pilot.
Lijuan5 hours ago
China's only technological advancement occurs from what they steal.
bob5 hours ago
Why do you people at the National Interest write these articles? You know that the J-20 will be just as bad as everything else China makes because it's based on technology they stole 20 years ago that was at the time 30 years old. And, they don't have the engine technology to make a fourth generation, not to mention a fifth generation, fighter viable.
Ralf Walter7 hours ago
It'll work OK for about a week then utterly fall apart.
Big Time5 hours ago
Ancient Chinese : The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. - Lao Tzu
S.Roshan Babu2 days ago
China is growing much faster. At this pace soon they will overtake US in no time
Kenny D5 hours ago
For the last time, China does not have a Stealth fighter. It's design is inferior to Western Aircraft. It can be seen on radar easily and there seems to be engine issues with it too.
Bill7 hours ago
unlikely,.. we spend the combined next 10 nations military budget for ours,...
Kenneth L4 hours ago
The F22 and F35 are not only next generation in design, they are next generation in thinking of the battlefield. They have the ability to be interconnected. Now the enemy is not dealing one on one as in the conventional dogfights. They will face aircraft that will be able to determine who has the best shot and take that shot before the enemy has a chance to engage. All these military hardware writers must be from Vietnam era or something. These aircraft are not designed to dogfight! That is so 1980's!!
fredrick2 days ago
The plane is only as good as the pilot. They better bring it.
Koolmoedee5 hours ago
The Chinese J-20 is way under-powered do some research. It would not survive long in a dog-fight. To be honest it will probably get shot down long before a dog fight.
aaron7 hours ago
Ever since Trump was elected, the media openly cheers for our enemies. It’s disgusting.
Curtis C6 hours ago
Dog fighting is a dead art.. stealth and advanced radar makes it obsolete
TWMan5 hours ago
J-20 equipped with WS-15 thrust vectoring engines will be shown in public by Q3 2019.
chuck f6 hours ago
it can JUST AS SOON AS THEY FIND THE KICK STARTER
John4 hours ago
I can take a Ford pinto and wrap really cool sheet metal all around it, install Lazer lights and fancy digital guages in it. And..... It's still a Ford pinto!
Lee4 hours ago
Another quote: "A journey of 100 leagues is half-completed after traveling 90 leagues."
Diane J6 hours ago
With all the Countries beefing up their military, planes and nukes another World War will be inevitable. (They aren't making them for show)
John9 hours ago
I am sure that question will be raised come military budget time, and the answer will be oh yeah we are in eminent danger and need to increase spending to handle this threat.
m6 hours ago
The days of dog flight is over. One can even fly a WWII propeller plane but a very potent modern missile, they can make a kill over 20 miles away without even see the enemy.
n7 hours ago
It may or may not matter. If both aircraft are stealth and they work as well as the pilots described in the 5 v 1 air to air tests the 5 F15 Pilots couldn’t see them. Then the aircraft cannot see eachother when both are stealth, radar guided missiles won’t work, and the aim-9x missed in its one real engagement. They will have to visually identify enemy aircraft and use a gun. That is just sneaking up behind whoever sees the other first and shooting them in the engines.
TIM6 hours ago
Seriously you have bought things made in China before right? It cant turn cant climb its underpowered made from inferior materials about as stealthy as a brick. The f35 cant climb cant turn but its made from frontline materials by front line manufacturing. It will be surrounded by f22 f15 and the American Airforce. Not to mention piloted by American Pilots. Chinas biggest threat in the air is 100 thousand suicide drones! That is going to be the air war in 10 years AI controlled drone swarms...
Mr Bill2 days ago
What difference would it make, it’s never going to happen
FLOYD IN FLORIDA6 hours ago
More Fake news! Might, could, possibly, maybe? Just the Facts Jack!!