China is apparently planning to develop its own ‘Super F-35’ fighter jet with the potential capability of collecting a significant amount of data and performing electronic warfare.
The Asian giant has made extraordinary progress in the aerospace sector in the past few years. It has already developed and deployed a stealth aircraft, the J-20 Mighty Dragon, in response to American fifth-generation fighters. The country’s defense industry is also working on the FC-31 stealth fighter and the H-20 long-range stealth bombers.
And there are indications that China’s upcoming fighter jet could be a “Super F-35”. In 2020, the state-owned Global Times cited a technical paper written by Yang Wei, an aircraft designer at Aviation Industry Corporation of China and the chief designer of the J-20 stealth fighter.
“China is eyeing to develop a next-generation fighter jet by 2035 or earlier, which could feature laser, adaptive engines, and the ability to command drones,” said Global Times.
Citing projects being undertaken by the west, Yang said a future fighter jet will need a greater combat range, better endurance, superior stealth, a larger load of air-to-air and air-to-surface weaponry, and the capacity to offer its pilot with easy-to-understand battlefield condition visuals and projections.
Modern fighter jets are focusing on gathering more information with the use of AESA radars and data chains, while simultaneously restricting the capacity of opponents to gain information, by deploying stealth technology and electronic countermeasures, he said.
AI (artificial intelligence) will also be critical in assisting manned fighter pilots, Yang said. Despite the assumption of some Western experts that unmanned warplanes are simply a matter of time, Yang made no mention of entirely autonomous fighters.
Similar To US Stealth Aircraft?
One thing is certain: the planes will not be like Su-27, Su-30, and Su-35 fighter jets or their made-in-China copies. Those are fundamentally Cold War concepts for highly nimble dog-fighters with no automation or data links.
The new fighter may be similar to China’s J-20 stealth fighter, which is built to launch long-range air-to-air missiles. A heavy aircraft, J-20 is said to have poor maneuverability. Besides, there is no information on its networking capability unlike the sophisticated Western aircraft, which allow fighters to constantly share location and targeting data with others.
Yang also suggests that with an integrated system, the new aircraft should be able to develop various attack routes, form a network, and broadcast target information across mission zones in real-time. Yang concluded in his paper that in older generations of fighter jets, emphasis was given on maneuverability, but this could drastically change with the advent of superior medium-range air-to-air missiles with beyond-visual-range assault capabilities.
The US Air Force’s F-22 stealth fighter has a lot of data link capabilities and can pick targets from a long distance with its new AIM-120D air-to-air missiles. At the same time, the F-22 Raptor is a highly maneuverable dogfighter and is known for its air superiority capabilities.
On the other hand, the US F-35 stealth fighter is neither very swift nor maneuverable. But it is a highly networked aircraft with substantial automation, including a sensor fusion system that gives the pilot 360-degree real-time information. Based upon the idea provided, this fighter aircraft appears to be a good fit for Yang’s concept of a next-generation fighter.
If China’s aerospace companies follow this model, they might produce an aircraft similar to the F-35. The F-35 does not excel in dogfights, but it is a stealth fighter that can reap the benefits of 360-degree situational awareness while deploying with limited weaponry.
For the time being, the F-35’s technology is still immature. The EurAsian Times has reported that a $14 billion software upgrade, which is being installed on US F-35 fighter jets, has been termed as “immature, deficient and insufficiently tested” by none other than the Pentagon’s testing agency.
China would have to address some of the faults with America’s fighter idea. The F-35 has two modes of operation: stealth with a limited weapons load within its internal bomb bay, or “beast mode” with a larger payload but with increased radar signature. Nonetheless, China is evolving toward a more Western style of warfare, focusing on advanced weapons to fight as part of a well-coordinated squad.