National Interest said in its outdated 2019-April-23 article “The Real Top Gun: Could China’s J-20 Fighter Beat An F-35 or F-22 in a Dogfight?” that China’s J-20 stealth fighter jet “lacked the maneuverability necessary to prevail in close engagements with enemy fighters. Relatively modest aerobatic displays in the Zhuhai 2016 and 2018 airshows” so that it concluded that China’s J-20 cannot beat F-35 or F-22 in a dogfight.
Sorry, its information is outdated, in mid October 2019, J-20 showed off its superb maneuverability with full load of weapons in a display to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of PLA Air Force. That was because it has been equipped with world most powerful fighter engine WS-15. I provided the information of China’s success in developing WS-15 in my post “At Least 3 Batches of World Most Powerful WS-15 Engine Delivered” on September 1, 2019.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on National Interest’s article, full text of which can be viewed at https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/real-top-gun-could-chinas-j-20-fighter-beat-f-35-or-f-22-dogfight-53847
In spite of the great progress China has achieved in catching up and surpassing Western powers, China is not satisfied with nor conceited about its successes as it has to fight for its own goals for its rejuvenation. If China has attained its goal for the next three decades, the US will fall far behind China. The US could not but remain enjoying the nostalgia of China’s failures in the past
It seems the US is helpless at China’s further rise as it has no national consensus to work hard to maintain its economic and technological leadership so that Americans have the mentality for nostalgia of the past.
To please them National Interest published an article dated October 14, 2018 more than one year ago to elaborate China’s problem in developing satisfactory engines for its warplanes especially WS-10 and WS-15 for China’s fighter jets. It chooses the date cleverly as three weeks later on November 6 China proves its success in developing a new version of WS-10 with vector thrust control (VTC) and showcased it in its airshow that day of a J-10B with VTC WS-10 engine that displayed its superb maneuverability in performing Pugachev’s Cobra and Falling Lease.
In Global Times report in Chinese on the event titled “When will J-20’s engines be replaced by vector engines? Yang Wei: How do you know they are not used” on November 7 says that when J-10B and J-20’s chief engineer Yang Wei was asked the question when J-20’s engines will be replaced by vector engines? “Yang Wei replied: your question is about when vector engines will be used on J-20, but how do you know that vector engines are not used on J-20 now?” (See my post “J-20 Uses Vector Engines and Has Superb Maneuverability” on November 7, 2018}
J-10B’s display of its super maneuverability proves China’s success in developing WS-10 engine with vector thrust. That is certainly based on its success in developing WS-10 without vector thrust.
Later on September 2019, there had been information that China had delivered at least three batches of WS-15 engines. I have a post about the information inferred from official news though information about WS-15 and J-20 remains China’s top secret. (See my post “At Least 3 Batches of World Most Powerful WS-15 Engine Delivered” on September 1, 2019.)
China is making progress so fast in developing technology while for decades the US has not been able to develop a powerful engine for F-35 to enable it to supercruise without boosting. It had better remain enjoying nostalgia of the news about China’s failures in the past.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on National Interest’s article, full text of which can be viewed at https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/chinas-air-force-has-one-big-problem-it-cant-seem-solve-34192
But can it take on America in a fight?
by Sebastien Roblin
Unlike the F-22 Raptor, designed to be the ultimate air superiority fighter, or the single-engine multirole F-35 Lightning, the J-20 is a huge twin-engine beast optimized for speed, range and heavy weapons loads at the expense of maneuverability. (This reblogger’s note as J-20 is installed with world most powerful fighter jet engine WS-15, its maneuverability is better than F-22 and F-35 now)
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force of China and its sister branch, the PLA Naval Air Force, operate a huge fleet of around 1,700 combat aircraft—defined here as fighters, bombers and attack planes. This force is exceeded only by the 3,400 active combat aircraft of the U.S. military. Moreover, China operates a lot of different aircraft types that are not well known in the West.
(This first appeared several years ago. (This reblogger’s note: The article is not updated so that it fails to include recent developments such as China’s success in developing world most advanced fighter jet engine WS-15 and improvements of its WS-10 engine by turning it into an engine with vector thrust.))
However, most Chinese military aircraft are inspired by or copied from Russian or American designs, so it’s not too hard to grasp their capabilities if you know their origins. (This reblogger’s note: China’s J-10 with most of China’s own intellectual property and China’s J-20 with canard design entirely not cloned from US or Russia prove that the above description is outdated. For the most advanced technology including vector-thrust WS-10 engine in J-10, please refer to my reblog of National Interest article “Could This 1 Chinese Fighter Jet Take on the Air Forces Best?” on December 15.)
The Soviet-Era Clones
The Soviet Union and Communist China were best buddies during the 1950s, so Moscow transferred plenty of technology including tanks and jet fighters. One of the early Chinese-manufactured types was the J-6, a clone of the supersonic MiG-19, which has a jet intake in the nose. Though China built thousands of J-6s, all but a few have been retired. However, about 150 of a pointy-nosed ground-attack version, the Nanchang Q-5, remain in service, upgraded to employ precision-guided munitions.
Recommended: Why North Korea’s Air Force is Total Junk
Sino-Soviet friendship ended in an ugly breakup around 1960. But in 1962, the Soviets offered China a dozen hot new MiG-21 fighters as part of a peace overture. Beijing rejected the overture but kept the fighters, which were reverse-engineered into the sturdier (but heavier) Chengdu J-7. Production began slowly due to the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, but between 1978 and 2013 Chinese factories turned out thousands of the pencil-fuselage jet fighters in dozens of variants. Nearly four hundred still serve in the PLAAF and PLANAF.
The J-7 is a 1950s-era hot rod in terms of maneuverability and speed—it can keep up with an F-16 at Mach 2—but it cannot carry much fuel or armament, and it has a weak radar in its tiny nose cone. Still, China has worked to keep the J-7 relevant. The J-7G introduced in 2004 includes an Israeli doppler radar (detection range: thirty-seven miles) and improved missiles for beyond-visual range capabilities, as well as a digital “glass cockpit.”
These aircraft would struggle against modern fourth-generation fighters that can detect and engage adversaries at much greater ranges, though hypothetically mass formations could attempt to overwhelm defenders with swarm attacks. Still, the J-7s allow China to maintain a larger force of trained pilots and support personnel until new designs come into service.
Another Soviet-era clone is the Xi’an H-6, a twin-engine strategic bomber based on the early-1950s era Tu-16 Badger. Though less capable than the U.S. B-52 or Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers, the air-refuelable H-6K remains relevant because it could lug heavy long-range cruise-missiles hit naval or ground targets as far as four thousand miles from China without entering the range of air defenses. The H-6 was originally tasked with dropping nuclear weapons, but the PLAAF no longer seems interested in this role. Xi’an is reportedly developing a new H-20 strategic bomber, though there’s little information available so far.
In the mid-1960s, China began working on genuinely home-designed combat jets, leading to the Shenyang J-8 debuting in 1979. A large twin-turbojet supersonic interceptor that could attain Mach 2.2 and resembled a cross between the MiG-21 and the larger Su-15, the J-8 lacked modern avionics and maneuverability. However, the succeeding J-8II variant (about 150 currently serving) improved on the former with an Israeli radar in a new pointy-nose cone, making it a fast but heavy weapons platform a bit like the F-4 Phantom. Around 150 are still operational.
The two-hundred-plus Xi’an JH-7 Flying Leopards, which entered service in 1992, are beefy two-seat naval-attack fighter-bombers that can lug up to twenty thousand pounds of missiles and have a top speed of Mach 1.75. Though they wouldn’t want to get in a dogfight with opposing contemporary fighters, they may not have to if they can capitalize on long-range antiship missiles.
The Chengdu J-10 Vigorous Dragon, by contrast, is basically China’s F-16 Fighting Falcon, a highly maneuverable, lightweight multirole fighter leaning on fly-by-wire avionics to compensate for its aerodynamically unstable airframe. Currently dependent on Russian AL-31F turbofans, and coming several decades after the F-16 debuted, the J-10 seems may not seem earthshaking, but the J-10B model comes out of the box with twenty-first-century avionics such as advanced infrared search-and-track systems and a cutting-edge Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, which cannot be said for all F-16 types. However, the fleet of 250 J-10s has suffered several deadly accidents possibly related to difficulties in the fly-by-wire system. (The article is ignorant of China latest version of J-10, the most advanced J-10C with China’s vector-thrust WS-10 engine as described in my reblog of National Interest article “Could This 1 Chinese Fighter Jet Take on the Air Forces Best?” on December 15.)
The Flanker Comes to China—And Stays There
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a Russia starved for cash and no longer concerned about ideological disputes was happy to oblige when Beijing came knocking at the door asking to buy then state-of-the-art Sukhoi Su-27 fighters, a highly maneuverable twin-engine jet comparable to the F-15 Eagle with excellent range and payload. This proved a fateful decision: today a sprawling family of aircraft derived from the Su-27 form the core of China’s modern fighter force.
After importing the initial batch of Su-27s, Beijing purchased a license to domestically build their own copy, the Shenyang J-11—but to Russia’s dismay, began independently building more advanced models, the J-11B and D.
Moscow felt burned, but still sold seventy-six modernized ground- and naval-attack variants of the Flanker, the Su-30MKK and Su-30MK2 respectively, which parallel the F-15E Strike Eagle. Chinese designers also churned out their own derivative of the Su-30: the Shenyang J-16 Red Eagle, boasting an AESA radar, and the Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark, a carrier-based fighter based on a Russian Su-33 acquired from Ukraine. Around twenty now serve on China’s Type 001 aircraft carrier Liaoning. There’s even the J-16D, a jamming pod-equipped electronic-warfare fighter styled after the U.S. Navy’s EA-18 Growler.
The Chinese Sukhoi derivatives are theoretically on par with the fourth-generation fighters like the F-15 and F-16. However, they are saddled with domestic WS-10 turbofan engines, which have had terrible maintenance problems and difficulty producing enough thrust. Jet-engine tech remains the chief limitation of Chinese combat aircraft today (This reblogger’s note: the description is outdated as China has successfully developed a new improved version of WS-10 with vector thrust and there has been reports in Chinese on impvoement of the quality of WS-10.). Indeed, in 2016 China purchased twenty-four Su-35s, the most sophisticated and maneuverable variant of the Flanker so far—likely to obtain their AL-41F turbofans engines.
The Stealth Fighters
In a remarkably short timeframe, China developed two distinct stealth fighter designs. Twenty Chengdu J-20s entered PLAAF service in 2017. Unlike the F-22 Raptor, designed to be the ultimate air superiority fighter, or the single-engine multirole F-35 Lightning, the J-20 is a huge twin-engine beast optimized for speed, range and heavy weapons loads at the expense of maneuverability. (This reblogger note: it has been pointed out above that this statement is outdated as China has successfully developed world best WS-15 engine for J-20.)
The J-20 might be suitable for surprise raids on land or sea targets—though its larger rear-aspect radar cross section could be problematic—or to sneak past enemy fighters to take out vulnerable support tankers or AWACs radar planes. Special-mission stealth fighters make sense for a country that is only just getting into the business of operating such technically demanding aircraft.
Meanwhile, the smaller, privately developed Shenyang J-31 Gyrfalcon (or FC-31) is basically a twin-engine remodeling of the F-35 Lightning—quite possibly using schematics hacked off Lockheed computers. Chinese designers may have developed an aerodynamically superior airframe by ditching elements supporting vertical-takeoff-or-landing engines. However, the J-31 probably won’t boast the fancy sensors and data fusion capabilities of the Lightning.
Currently, the J-31 appears intended for service on upcoming Type 002 aircraft carriers, and for export as a cut-price F-35 alternative (This reblogger’s note: Ignorant speculation: China will deploy a carrier-borne version of J-20. See my post “J-20 not FC-31 Chosen as China’s Carrier-Borne Stealth Fighter” on August 30). However, while there are flying Gyrfalcon prototypes with Russian engines, the type may only begin production when sufficiently reliable Chinese WS-13 turbofans are perfected.
Towards the Future
Roughly 33 percent of the PLAAF and PLANAF’s combat aircraft are old second-generation fighters of limited combat value against peer opponents, save perhaps in swarming attacks. Another 28 percent include strategic bombers and more capable but dated third-generation designs. Finally, 38 percent are fourth-generation fighters that can theoretically hold their own against peers like the F-15 and F-16. Stealth fighters account for 1 percent. (This reblogger’s note: The figures are sadly outdated as the article is quite old.)
However, the technical capabilities of aircraft are just half the story; at least as important are training, organizational doctrine and supporting assets ranging from satellite recon to air-refueling tankers, ground-based radars and airborne command posts.
For example, China has the intel resources, aircraft and missiles to hunt aircraft carriers. However, the doctrine and experience to link these elements together to form a kill chain is no simple matter. A 2016 Rand report alleges Chinese aviation units are scrambling to reverse a lack of training under realistic conditions and develop experience in joint operations with ground and naval forces.
At any rate, Beijing seems in no rush to replace all its older jets with new ones. Major new acquisitions may wait until the Chinese aviation industry has smoothed out the kinks in its fourth-generation and stealth aircraft.
Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.
Source: National Interest “HUGE: That’s the Only Word to Describe China’s Air Force”
Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views. This reblogger’s notes reflect some of my views on the article.
National Interest asks the question in its article “China Thinks Its Stealth Fighters Can Beat the F-35” on December 14 “Are they right” to think so?.
The article cannot deny J-20’s advantages over F-22 as described in an article in China’s Shipboard Weapons magazine in having greater fuel capacity and endurance and superiority in electronics, situational awareness and data networking as F-22 is an old fighter that has not incorporated the newest technology as F-35 and J-20 do.
As for F-35. though it is newer and not inferior in electronics, situational awareness and data networking, J-20 is superior in supersonic cruise an super maneuverability.
National Interest’s article cannot deny that but pointed out as China had not succeeded in developing WS-15 engines for J-20, J-20 lacked advanced engines to give full play to J-20’s functions.
Sorry, the article first appeared in September and failed to be aware of China’s fast development in technology.
As pointed out in my post “At Least 3 Batches of World Most Powerful WS-15 Engine Delivered” on September 1, the delivery of 3 batches of WS-15 proved that China had succeeded in developing WS-15 and had three batch of the engines delivered for installation in J-20s. As WS-15 is much better than US best fighter jet engine F-135, it make J-20 much superior to F-35 in speed and maneuverability.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on National Interest’s article, full text of which can be viewed at https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/china-thinks-its-stealth-fighters-can-beat-f-35-104977.
news.discuss.com.hk website’s report “[China’s J-20 fighter jet’] functions of WS-15 engine stronger than foreign ‘water-injected’ ones”
Not long ago a piece of news disclosed by official source excites lots of military fans.
A third batch of China’s WS-15 turbofans has been delivered with performance much better than US F-135 engine. The report claims that WS-15 is absolutely the most powerful in the world.
The news that a third batch of WS-15 has been delivered is based on the following award list.
The third item in the list reads “design and research of the structure of the base of the air inlet of batch 03 of XX-15 engine based on MBD”.
Source: news.discuss.com.hk “[China’s J-20 fighter jet] functions of WS-15 engine stronger than foreign ‘water-injected’ ones” (summary by Chan Kai Yee based on the report in Chinese).
China’s gifted strategist Sun Tzu’s teaching: Subduing the enemy without fighting is the best of the best (不戰而屈人之兵，善之善者也。)
Therefore, both Pentagon’s footage about F-22 and F-35 and PLA’s footage about J-20 described in mil.huanqiu.com’s report on March 8 aim at telling potential enemies how powerful its fighter jets are in order to subdue potential enemies without fighting.
The footage certainly entertains layman military fans but if the footage fails to show fighter jet experts of potential enemies the overwhelming strength of the fighter jet concerned, it is worthless.
On the contrary, if it shows weakness of the fighter jet, it will get precisely the opposite, i.e. making potential enemies bold instead of deterring them.
Recent footage about J-20 shows that it turns in a curve with larger radius than F-22. It seems to laymen that the footage shows J-20’s weakness compared with F-22.
Fighter jet experts explain that the turning maneuver in the footage shows J-20’s great spiral angular velocity in turning.
When an F-22 finds it is in danger of being attacked by an enemy fighter jet behind it, it has to take a sharp 180 degree turn to avoid the attack and go to the enemy fighter jet’s back to counterattack.
That is not the case with J-20. It only needs to turn its nose quickly to enable its pilot to look at the enemy fighter jet and fire a dogfight missile against it. In such case, great spiral angular velocity counts.
The footage about J-20’s superb maneuverability for both beyond visual range and visual range combat is quite enough to subdue F-22 without fighting.
J-20 designer Yang Wei is of the opinion that three factors determine the advantages of a fighter jet: its engine, pneumatic functions and its pilot’s flight skill.
We do not know what engines the four J-20s in the footage use as the report on the footage only gives experts’ view on its pneumatic advantages of relatively great sweep and small aspect ratio of wings and great fuselage fineness ratio.
I said in my post yesterday that it gave me the impression that WS-15s were not used in the four J-20s. That was but my impression. I really have no idea what engines are used in them. However, it is quite possible that my impression is correct because if WS-15 is mature enough to be installed on J-20, there must first be a prototype of J-20 installed with WS-15 to go through intensive tests. If the tests are successful and serial production of J-20 equipped with WS-15s has begun, it takes time to train enough pilots to fly the four J-20s installed with WS-15. I believe that there might not have been a footage of four J-20s installed with WS-15 not long after J-20 was commissioned.
It is clear that WS-15 is more powerful due to the use of new alloy so that it will greatly enhance the performance of J-20 that has already shown its superb maneuverability due to its pneumatic design and pilot skill though without ideal engines.
The footage tells expert viewers that J-20 without WS-15 is enough to subdue F-22 without fighting.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on mil.huanqiu.com’s report, full text of which in Chinese can be viewed at http://mil.huanqiu.com/gt/2019-03/2922249.html#p=11
I mentioned in my post “Advanced Helmet, PL-10 Missile Ensure J-20’s Killing of F-35, F-22” on March 10 that according to US well-know aviation website the Aviators’ article in July 2014, some F-22 pilots worry that F-22 will lose its superiority when J-20 is commissioned as they have learnt J-20’s dogfight capabilities with its advanced helmet and PL-10 dogfight missile.
However, they may find comfort in J-20’s engines. According to media’s report and information from other sources, WS-15, the very powerful engine that China has been developing, is not mature enough to be installed on J-20.
Modern air combat begins at beyond visual range. At such range, J-20’s superb dogfight capability with advanced helmet and dogfight missile is useless. It is believed that due to J-20’s inferior engines, its maneuverability must be inferior to F-22; therefore, F-22 can easily shoot down or damage a J-20 before the J-20 comes within visual range for dogfight.
True for combat at beyond visual range, a fighter jet must be fast in acceleration and climbing up so as to be able to take advantageous position earlier than the enemy. For that it shall have supersonic cruise capability. Such capabilities will enable its missile to have greater initial speed and height.
Mil.huanqiu.com says in its report “Two dragons raise heads in February! Four J-20 Mighty Dragons were showcased the same time with overbearing appearance” on March 8 that recently Chinese military shows footage of the drill of 4 J-20s. J-20’s various maneuvers displayed in the footage indicates J-20’s very strong accelerating ability especially in climbing perpendicular up full load with six missiles in its weapon bays. A fighter jet cannot do so if its thrust-weight ratio in air combat is not larger than 1. J-20 achieves such thrust to weight ratio as it is able to reduce the resistance when it breaks sound barrier due to the relatively sharp sweep and small aspect ratio of its wings and its relatively large fuselage fineness ratio.
Note: The article does not mention J-20’s engines. That gives the impression that WS-15 engines are not used in the J-20s shown in the footage.
It is clear that if WS-15s are used, J-20 will be even more superb in its maneuverability. That will certainly scare F-22’s pilots to death.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on mil.huanqiu.com’s report, full text of which in Chinese can be viewed at http://mil.huanqiu.com/gt/2019-03/2922249.html#p=11