China begins mass production of its J-20 stealth fighter

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Symbol of the progress made by the Chinese aeronautical industry in recent decades, the J-20 stealth fighter, from the manufacturer Chengdu Aircraft Corporation, should soon pass in series production, making it possible to increase the rate of deliveries of the aircraft, which is currently low. It will then be able to replace the oldest aircraft in service in the PLA, and in particular the J-8 interceptor from Shenyang, which entered service in 1984, and of which nearly 250 examples remain in service to this day within the Chinese air forces.

The J-20 made its first flight in 2011, and entered service in 2017, with pre-production aircraft that were used for both operational missions and advanced testing in real conditions. 20 m long and 13 m wide, it is an imposing 36-ton Mach 2+ class aircraft, with a combat radius of 2000 km, a ceiling of 20.000 m, and two large bays for internal weapons, able to accommodate different types of air-to-air missiles, including the recent PL15 and PL21 long-range, as well as bombs and guided missiles, and two small side bays intended to accommodate self-defense missiles like the PL10. It is powered by two Russian AL-31 FM2 reactors with 145 KN of unit thrust, which will be replaced by Chinese-made Xian WS-15 vectored thrust engines, producing a thrust of 180 KN with PC, and whose dry thrust is sufficient to open super-cruise to D20, as soon as the engine is available and reliable.

PL15 and PL10 on J20 Defense News | Fighter aircraft | Military aircraft construction
This photo highlights the two large ammunition bunkers containing long-range PL15 missiles, as well as one of the side bunkers, from which a PL10 close-range self-defense missile emerges.

The J20 has advanced avionics, although precise information on the subject is difficult to validate. It would carry, thus, an AESA radar, perhaps the KLJ-5, having between 1800 and 2200 receivers, an optronic suite covering the entire 360° surrounding the device, in visible and infrared spectrum, 'a fusion of data and a cockpit organized around two large multifunction screens, 3 specialized screens, a holographic head-up collimator and an aiming helmet.

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The stealth of the J20 is debated by experts, although Chinese authorities maintain that the device has stealth comparable to that of the American F22 Raptor. Thus, Indian Su30 MKIs would have managed to detect the J20 at “several tens of kilometers”, without us knowing whether, at that time, the Chinese plane was or not equipped with a Luneburg lens intended to increase its reflection. radar for flight safety.

The J-20 program would have cost, according to the Chinese authorities, only $4,4 billion in research and development, an amount which is impressive by its lowness, considering that Chengdu was designing a device of this generation for the first time, stealthy at that. The estimated unit price of the aircraft, in Fly Away Condition configuration, is estimated between $30 million and $50 million, a price comparable to that announced for the Russian Su-57, but much lower than Western production. Thus, each F22, an aircraft comparable to the J20, will have cost the US Air Force a whopping $360 million, and the majority of Western multipurpose aircraft, from the F15 to the F18 including the Rafale, Typhoon, and the F35, today cost between $70 and $100 million.

j 8f Defense News | Fighter aircraft | Military aircraft construction
Derived from the Mig21 and the Mig23, the Shenyang J8 is an interceptor that entered service in the early 80s, 250 of which are still used in second-tier units of the PLA

At this price, and considering the needs of the APL in terms of replacing its 300 J-7 and 250 J-8 still in service, it is probable that the annual production of J20 will come into line with that of the J16 and the J10, or between 20 and 25 aircraft per year, the equivalent of a squadron. Like Russia, China will not stop producing previous generation devices, in particular the J10C light fighter and J16 multipurpose fighter, so as to align a large number of devices with different characteristics. According to the latest speculations from aeronautical experts, the priority mission of the J20s could be the elimination of support aircraft, such as Awacs, tankers, electronic intelligence planes as well as maritime patrol planes. As such, the new long-range PL15 missile which equips the J20 could prove to be a formidable threat to Western aircraft.

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Remember that, according to several informed sources, China should soon reveal, in addition to the future HH-20 strategic bomber intended to take over from the H6 currently in service, a new attack aircraft, which will replace the JH7 dating from the end of the 80s, and which will also be 5th generation and stealthy. It is far away now, the time or China was only good at copying Russian or Western equipment… very far!

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