F-35 Controls Drones, Realistic instead of Stupid in Dealing with J-20

A J-20 doing vertical climbup. Photo taken from CCTV footage.

A J-20 doing vertical climbup. Photo taken from CCTV footage.

On October 31, Kris Osborn’s article on National Interest’s titled “The F-35’s Latest Trick Might Change Warfare As We Know It” was reblogged here. The article is proud of the combat trick being developed of an F-35 controlling drones in combat.

That will be much better than drones controlled by ground stations far away from the theater according to US Air Force Chief Scientist Greg Zacharias.

Immediately I got comments regarding that as stupid. How can an F-35 pilot conduct intense air combat with enemy fighter jets when he is busy controlling some drones.

The commentators fail to see Zacharias’ wisdom and understanding of the reality.

In Chinese media mil.huanqiu.com’s report on J-20 flight display yesterday, AVIC Deputy General Manager Zhang Xinguo is quoted as saying that the equipment and technological parameters of J-20 are not to be made public and the flight display in the airshow was given for people to analyze.

In Reuters report on J-20 today titled “China debuts J-20 stealth jet in show of strength at country’s biggest expo”, under the subtitle QUESTIONS UNANSWERED, Greg Waldron, Asia Managing Editor of FlightGlobal is quoted as saying, “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.” “Most importantly, we didn’t learn much about its radar cross-section.”

Reuters therefore says, “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.”

In fact, the footage of J-20’s flight display in mil.huanqiu.com’s report at http://mil.huanqiu.com/milmovie/2016-11/9618930.html shows J-20’s vertical climbup, and sharp U turns and looping, which clearly indicate how powerful J-20’s engines are.

Greg Zacharias leant that long ago as US intelligence has been watching J-20’s test flights very closely. He certainly knows that an AEW&C aircraft has much better equipment and bigger and better crew than an F-35 to control drones in combat, but US AEW&C aircrafts cannot go near enough to do so as the airspace will be controlled by J-20s superior to US stealth fighters.

He has a plan to turn F-35 into a stealth AEW&C aircraft for the job of controlling some drones in combat against an air force that will dominate the sky with better stealth fighters. The F-35 as a stealth warplane may go nearer to control stealth drone to go even nearer in the combat.

That is wise but sad for the best scientist in a superpower that lacks funds to make better stealth fighters.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on National Interest’s article “The F-35’s Latest Trick Might Change Warfare As We Know It” (full text of which was reblogged here on October 31), mil.huanqiu.com’s report in Chinese titled “First public display of HD J-20 flight footage” and Reuter’s report, full text of which can be viewed below:

China debuts J-20 stealth jet in show of strength at country’s biggest expo

By Tim Hepher and Brenda Goh | ZHUHAI, China Tue Nov 1, 2016 | 9:28am EDT

China showed its Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter in public for the first time on Tuesday, 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 growing capability in defense. China is set to overtake the U.S. as the world’s top aviation market in the next decade.

Two J-20 jets, Zhuhai’s headline act, swept over dignitaries, 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.

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.

State-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) was also bullish on China’s appetite for new civilian planes, estimating the market would need 6,865 new aircraft worth $930 billion over the next 20 years.

The COMAC forecast – similar to long-term outlooks from well-established rivals Boeing Co and Airbus Group – said China would make up almost a fifth of global demand for close to 40,000 planes over the next two decades.


After screeching onto the Zhuhai stage 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 sub-tropical haze.

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

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 radar-evading properties of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor air-to-air combat jet, or the latest strike jet in the U.S. arsenal, Lockheed’s F-35. The F-22, developed for the U.S. 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.”


Other aircraft on display on Tuesday alongside the latest Chinese weapon systems, radar and drones, included 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.

A model of a wide-body jet being developed by COMAC and Russia’s UAC was also on show, revealing design details such as wingspan and cruising speeds for the first time. Airbus and Boeing dominate the wide-body segment.

Notably absent from the airshow schedule, though, was the 150-seater COMAC C919 passenger jet, which has been beset by delays and 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 firm orders to 570.

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

8 Comments on “F-35 Controls Drones, Realistic instead of Stupid in Dealing with J-20”

  1. Joseph says:

    These Kris Osborne and his National Interest bunch watch too match of Japanese anime Gundam, where the pilots can control multiple objects such as multiple shooting drones and smart missiles. But even on anime, it is hundreds of years in the future. Obviously the National Interest has more anime movies than intelligence materials. Next time they will suggest that F-35 new ‘trick’ is to transform into robots.


  2. Simon says:

    Drone warfare aginst China will be absolutely useless because at the first sign of conflict the Chinese will unleash a massive disruption on American GPS satellite systems using ASATs and electronic jammings rendering them inoperable.


  3. johnleecan says:

    What’s wrong with American attitude is that they like everyone to fear and be afraid of them. You would always see and hear in American media saying things like, “The Iranians aren’t afraid of us anymore.”, “The Chinese don’t fear us. We should do more FONOP near the disputed islands.”

    Bottom line is, the Americans thinks they are the big boss and will do everything to instill fear on others. Unfortunately for them, many don’t fear them nowadays.


  4. Steve says:

    Sounds a bit like Reagan’s Star Wars, a strategic defence initiative intended to defend the US from attack from Soviet ICBMs. F35 controlling drones sounds realistic, but the fighter pilot will have his hands full. The Chinese are not stupid, but lets see how it works out in the future.


  5. Anonymous says:

    Greg Zacharias’, the so-called “chief air force scientist” – if there is such a position – logic that the control of war drones by F-35 pilots affords the Americans greater penetration in a theatre of war?!!

    Truly? If so, how does that square up with the fact that an operator of a drone can even at this point in time, fly a drone deep into enemy’s territory halfway across on the opposite side of the globe just by sitting in his control cabin in Nebraska for example? Of what benefit is a pilot of a F-35 controlling a drone from his cockpit compared to that guy in Nebraska?

    This questionable premise lays bare the viability of the entire hypothesis of Mr Greg Zacharias. It’s so easy to twist logic around people’s unsuspecting and unquestioning minds.


    • chankaiyee2 says:

      Have pity on him. It is not effective but that’s the best he can do with limited funds.


    • Joseph says:

      Maybe the American thinks that the drone pilots will be too bored in his dark room in Nebraska eating Doritos. So they decide to strap him on a useless jet so he can at least have a sightseeing, rather than pay his unaffordable holiday allowance.


  6. Counting Chickens says:

    A F-35 pilot controlling drones while he is flying is just a concept. And as any concept goes, it needs to be applied before it can be concluded that the concept is workable or realistic. Much like the concept of the F-35 and F-22 itself.

    Making a statement that it is realistic without any further clarification, leaves many questions unanswered. Much like how power is generated by fusion in a test tube was found to be a hoax or at best, a premature misconceived idea. Too many variables had not been considered before announcing publicly the “triumphant discovery”.

    But be that as it may, the timing of the US Air Force guy Greg Zacharias in making that announcement is for propaganda or public relations purpose to counter the impact of China’s public relations exercise in announcing the arrival of the Chengdu J-20. Rest assure, Washington’s intent is to manage China’s public and world image; to turn it into a negative image; to ensure all good news or achievements regarding China is diluted, downplayed, or diminished.

    It’s all part of the demonization, hate, and racist campaign of the neocon warmongering Obama, Bush, and now with trepid hope, the Hillary Clinton – if she has not yet lost total support from the oligarchs, media, M-I-C and Wall Street by now that is – presidencies.

    Rest assure too, there is also sour grapes and schadufreude involved as well. The white Americans are not gods.