China is testing a new long-range, air-to-air missile that could thwart U.S. plans for air warfare


PL-xx The J-16 carries two VARAAM for a test firing

PL-xx
The J-16 carries two VARAAM for a test firing. Photo: lt.cjdby.net

In November 2016, a Chinese J-16 strike fighter test-fired a gigantic hypersonic missile, successfully destroying the target drone at a very long range.

Looking at takeoff photos, we estimate the missile is about 28 percent of the length of the J-16, which measures 22 meters (about 72 feet). The puts the missile at about 19 feet, and roughly 13 inches in diameter. The missile appears to have four tailfins. Reports are that the size would put into the category of a very long range air to air missile (VLRAAM) with ranges exceeding 300 km (roughly 186 miles), likely max out between 250 and 310 miles. (As a point of comparison, the smaller 13.8-foot, 15-inch-diameter Russian R-37 missile has a 249-mile range).

This is a big deal: this missile would easily outrange any American (or other NATO) air-to-air missile. Additionally, the VLRAAM’s powerful rocket engine will push it to Mach 6 speeds, which will increase the no escape zone (NEZ), that is the area where a target cannot outrun the missile, against even supersonic targets like stealth fighters.

VLRAAM The VLRAAM is one of the world's largest air to air missiles. Its other advanced features include an AESA radar, a infrared/electro-optical seeker (under the yellow-orange cover on the forward section above the nosecone), and satellite navigation midcourse correction. Photo: lt.cjdby.net

VLRAAM
The VLRAAM is one of the world’s largest air to air missiles. Its other advanced features include an AESA radar, a infrared/electro-optical seeker (under the yellow-orange cover on the forward section above the nosecone), and satellite navigation midcourse correction. Photo: lt.cjdby.net

The new, larger missile’s added value is not just in range. Another key feature: its large active electronically scanned (AESA) radar, which is used in the terminal phase of flight to lock onto the target. The AESA radar’s large size—about 300-400% larger than that of most long range air-to-air missiles—and digital adaptability makes it highly effective against distant and stealthy targets, and resilient against electronic countermeasures like jamming and spoofing.

The VLRAAM’s backup sensor is a infrared/electro-optical seeker that can identify and hone in on high-value targets like aerial tankers and airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) radar aircraft. The VLRAAM also uses lateral thrusters built into the rear for improving its terminal phase maneuverability when engaging agile targets like fighters.

Glide This 2015 study in a Chinese scientific journal discusses the flight path and performance of a VLRAAM, which flies 15 km upward of its launching fighter to a 30 km altitude, and is guided by a combination of long range radars (like Chinese AEWC planes) and satellite navigation, before divebombing at hypersonic speeds onto enemy aircraft, including stealth fighters, stealth bombers and AEWC aircraft. Picture: J8 at cjdby.net via Hongjian

Glide
This 2015 study in a Chinese scientific journal discusses the flight path and performance of a VLRAAM, which flies 15 km upward of its launching fighter to a 30 km altitude, and is guided by a combination of long range radars (like Chinese AEWC planes) and satellite navigation, before divebombing at hypersonic speeds onto enemy aircraft, including stealth fighters, stealth bombers and AEWC aircraft. Picture: J8 at cjdby.net via Hongjian

Interestingly, the ability to glide may be a key feature as well. A 2016 research paper by Zhang Hongyuan, Zheng Yuejing, and Shi Xiaorong of Beijing Institute of Control and Electronics Technology linked to the VLRAAM development suggests that the midcourse portion of the VLRAAM’s flight will occur at altitudes above 30 km (about 18.6 miles). Flying at such low pressure, low drag high altitudes would allow the VLRAAM to extend its range (similar to hypersonic gliders). The high altitude also makes it difficult for enemy aircraft and air defenses to shoot it down midflight. Finally, high altitude flight means that the VLRAAM would have a high angle of attack against lower flying targets, which reduces the response time for enemy evasive action.

Divine Eagle at war The Divine Eagle is shown here in both offensive operations (providing targeting for smart bombs to strike enemy SAM, communications, bunkers and ballistic ICBMs) as well as defensive operations (detecting American stealth aircraft before they enter China airspace). This HALE drone, with radars optimized to detect stealth aircraft, would be part of a wider Chinese air defense network that would guide VLRAAMs against enemy stealth aircraft. Picture: Hongjian and henri K

Divine Eagle at war
The Divine Eagle is shown here in both offensive operations (providing targeting for smart bombs to strike enemy SAM, communications, bunkers and ballistic ICBMs) as well as defensive operations (detecting American stealth aircraft before they enter China airspace). This HALE drone, with radars optimized to detect stealth aircraft, would be part of a wider Chinese air defense network that would guide VLRAAMs against enemy stealth aircraft. Picture: Hongjian and henri K

Another researched VLRAAM function is datalinking; the papers called for the VLRAAM to be embedded within a highly integrated combat networks. It is envisioned as just part of a larger wave of networked solutions aggregated through multiple Chinese systems. For example, a J-20 stealth fighter wouldn’t mount the missile (the VLRAAM is too large to fit in the J-20’s weapons bay), but could use its low observable features to fly relatively close in order to detect enemy assets like AEW&C aircraft (which are vital to gather battlespace data for manned and unmanned assets, but subsonic in speed and less able to evade missiles). Then before breaking off contact, the J-20 would signal a J-16 400 km (249 miles) away (outside the range of most air to air missiles) providing it the data needed to launch the VLRAAM at the target. This would offer China a longer range version of present U.S. tactics that involve using the fifth generation F-22 as a sensor for 4th generation fighters as the “shooters.”

The Future is Here In operation, the VLRAAM will provide J-20 stealth fighters with long range "aerial artillery" to even the odds against numerically superior air forces, while giving new life to J-11 and J-16 fighters. It can also give J-15 carrier fighters a long range interception capability to defend Chinese naval forces. Photo: Chinese Internet via WeChat

The Future is Here
In operation, the VLRAAM will provide J-20 stealth fighters with long range “aerial artillery” to even the odds against numerically superior air forces, while giving new life to J-11 and J-16 fighters. It can also give J-15 carrier fighters a long range interception capability to defend Chinese naval forces. Photo: Chinese Internet via WeChat

The gains in range and speed of the VLRAAM pose another significant risk to the concepts of the U.S. military’s “Third Offset.” U.S. operations are highly dependent on assets like aerial tankers, dedicated electronic warfare aircraft, and AEW&C. For example, without aerial tankers, the relatively short range of the F-35s would become even more of a liability in long range operations in the South China Seas and Taiwan Straits. Similarly, without AEW&C aircraft, F-22s would have to use onboard radars more, raising their risk of detection. Even for stealthy tanker platforms like the planned MQ-25 Stingray drone and proposed KC-Z tanker will be vulnerable to VLRAAMs if detected by emerging dedicated anti-stealth systems such as the Divine Eagle drone and Yuanmeng airship.

By pushing the Chinese air defense threat bubble hundreds of miles out further, they also offer to turn the long range tables on the putative U.S. “Arsenal” Plane concept, a Pentagon plan to launch missiles from non-stealthy planes from afar. In sum, VLRAAM is not just a big missile, but a potential big deal for the future of air warfare.

Source: Popular Science “China is testing a new long-range, air-to-air missile that could thwart U.S. plans for air warfare”

Note: This is Popular Science’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

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9 Comments on “China is testing a new long-range, air-to-air missile that could thwart U.S. plans for air warfare”

  1. […] By pushing the Chinese air defense threat bubble hundreds of miles out further, they also offer to turn the long range tables on the putative U.S. “Arsenal” Plane concept, a Pentagon plan to launch missiles from non-stealthy planes from afar. In sum, VLRAAM is not just a big missile, but a potential big deal for the future of air warfare. Source tiananmenstremendousachievements.wordpress.com […]

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  2. Fre Okin says:

    With this new VLRAAM missile, it is very likely US have to abort her mission for any fighter jets taking off from Okinawa heading to China.

    Assuming F35, F22 get aerial refuelling about 200-300 miles after takeoff from Kadena or Futenma airbases, this zone will be the killing field for J16’s to kill off the AWECs and aerial tankers. Okinawa about 500-600 miles from nearest Chinese airbases, so J16’s could be only about 200 miles from takeoff and will be able to fire VLRAAM missiles from this safe zone, roughly Chinese 200 NM EEZ outer limit is the best place to start unloading the VLRAAM. Chinese satellites, Yuanmeng, Divine Eagles will be able to guide the VRAAM towards the targets.

    China should build plenty of J16’s and VRAAM missiles. The Pentagon will look at the war game simulation and may have to conclude Okinawa is now a Useless location. It is no more an advantageous Forward Deploy position. Being Too Near to China now means it is impossible to complete her attack mission, even with stealth as the aerial tankers, AWECs will be very vulnerable to being taken out.

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    • Steve says:

      True – Okinawa will vaporise. Should a military confrontation occurs the US foot soldiers in Japan will be slaughtered. The only way for US to safeguard itself is to retreat beyond the A2/AD, but in reality there is no where to go because the Philippines will not turn it’s country into a cannon fodder under Duterte. The only possibility will be Sth Korea, but the Koreans will not allow its government to harbour the US at war with China.

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  3. Steve says:

    And All of a Sudden the US air supremacy is now a defunct technology. The F22 F35 is fast becoming obsolete. Countries worldwide especially Canada just recently wish to cancel orders of F35 instead buying the F18 super hornets. The reasons are due to continuing problems with the F35, too expensive, lacking stability, and unreliability of radar. The F22 stealth coating is entirely different to China’s J-20. The F22 coating is inferior. The plane must be stored in a special hanger with a huge humidifier to prevent the 3 layered coating from adverse effects. China’s J-20 can be stored in opened space – huge difference. The US can only boast of its high altitude bombers capable of carrying nuclear arms firing from a long distance.

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    • RSS says:

      “…And All of a Sudden the US air supremacy is now a defunct technology. The F22 F35 is fast becoming obsolete.”

      If China feels this way then surely they will challenge the F-22/F-35 combination and sweep the Americans from the sky. When will the Chinese challenge be realized? So far China has barely flown their J-20. When will the Chinese come out and play?

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  4. Allen Lau says:

    Has Chinese scientists solved the F22 problem? In combination with Divine Eagle, high altitude missile attacking from above may be able to defeat the F22, Stealth is no protection against missiles which can pin point and track it from high altitude. F22 RCS from above is probably no better than ordinary fighters and vulnerable to targeting radar.

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  5. Simon says:

    This shows Chinese innovation rendering F22 and F35 obselete.How is the American going to explain how China steal their technology when they themselves don’t have it?

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    • James says:

      It may come a time not too distance future American spooks will be stealing Chinese military technology. lol Americans seem to be living in an illusion that innovations is their sole domain and no others can do better than them. Won’t be long before the Americunts wake up to a nasty headache.

      It’s unravelling right in front of them first, economically with the demise of TPP and China’s RCEP
      in the ascendancy. The US seems to have gotten their priorities into a mess. Bread and butter will always comes first before bullets and guns.

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      • Simon says:

        America has been stealing Chinese technology and don’t know it. Rockets and cruise missiles first developed in China. The Nazi took the concept and applied it with modern engineering and the America stole it. The pioneer of American rocket technology was Qian Xuesen whome the Americans try hard to hide this fact and attribute it to Von Braunwho is a Nazi German scientist.

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