Connect with us

Americas

F-22 Raptor vs J-20 Chengdu: Does the Chinese J-20 Stand a Chance Against the F-22?

Published

on

F-22 vs J-20 Chengdu is a debate that many defence experts have been analysing. The American F-22 Raptor and F-35 (both stealth fighters) have proven operational capabilities while Chinese Chengdu J-20 entered operational service with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force quite recently.

How Kashmiri Bureaucrats Planned the Merger of Sikkim with India?

As radar-guided missiles from fighter jets and defence systems threaten aircraft, stealth capabilities are increasingly recognised as inevitable for keeping fighter jets safe in the battlefield.

But just how good is the J-20? And what is its intended role? After all, America’s first stealth fighter, the F-117 Nighthawk, was not even really a fighter and lacked any air-to-air capability whatsoever.

The PLA has, true to custom, kept its cards close to the chest, and has not shared performance specifications to the public. Thus, there are broad estimates of the J-20’s top speed (around Mach 2), and considerable-seeming range (1,200 to 2,000 miles), but those remain just that—estimates. For years, analysts even over-estimated the aircraft’s length by two meters. It’s broad but relatively shallow weapons bay can accommodate four to six long-range missiles or bombs, though not munitions with especially heavy warheads.

International observers generally concluded the large twin-engine jet possessed high speed and long operational range, but that the Mighty Dragon lacked the manoeuvrability necessary to prevail in close engagements with enemy fighters. Relatively modest aerobatic displays in the Zhuhai 2016 and 2018 airshows (you can see some of the latter here) reinforced the narrative in certain quarters that the J-20 isn’t optimized for gut-wrenching air combat manoeuvres.

Given the above premises, observers mostly speculate the J-20 would either serve as long-range supersonic strike plane, or a hit-and-run interceptor used to slip past fighter screens and take out vulnerable supporting tanker and AWACS planes.

However, Rick Joe of The Diplomat argues these theories of the J-20’s supposedly specialized role might be a case of group-think, ignoring both design features and statements by Chinese sources suggesting the J-20 was intended as a multi-role fighter with “competitive” dogfighting capability.

For example, a brochure distributed at Zhuhai 2018 explicitly stated the J-20 was capable of “seizing & maintain air superiority, medium & long range interception, escort and deep strike.” In other words, a multi-role fighter.

“A commonly insinuated premise is that the Chinese aerospace industry was not capable of producing a fifth generation air superiority fighter, and would have to “settle” for a less technically challenging interceptor or striker instead,” Joe argues.

He points out that the lengthy J-20 is still shorter than the Russian Su-35 Flanker-E, one of the most manoeuvrable jet fighters ever designed. He further cites a 2001 study by Song Wecong, mentor of the J-20 designer Yang Wei, which you can read translated here. Wecong wrote that stealth aircraft “must have the capability to supercruise and perform unconventional manoeuvres such as post-stall manoeuvres.”

Song concluded the ideal stealth fighter would incorporate canards (a second, small set of wings close to the nose of the plane), leading-edge root extensions (or “strakes,” a thin surface extending where the wing emerges from the fuselages), and S-shaped belly intakes, in order to balance stealth, speed and maneuverability. These are all design characteristics evident in the J-20.

While details on the J-20’s radar remains elusive (presumably a low-probability of intercept AESA radar), it also mounts arrays of electro-optical and infrared sensors with 360-degree coverage, reportedly designed to fuse sensor data to form a common “picture” and even share it with friendly forces via a datalink—technology seemingly modeled on the advanced sensors found on the American F-35. Such sensors could be particularly useful for detecting radar-eluding stealth aircraft.

J-20 pilots also are equipped with helmet-mounted sights that allow them to target high-off-boresight PL-10E heat-seeking missiles within a 90-degree angle of the plane’s nose simply by looking at the target. The short-range missiles are stored in small side-bays but can be cunningly rotated outside prior to launch, as depicted here.

These by no means unprecedented capabilities nonetheless suggest that the J-20 may be designed to hold its own in a close-range encounter, not just sling long-range hypersonic PL-15 missiles from its fuselage bay from dozens of miles away. Particularly when engaging agile fighters, short-range missiles (which might still threaten targets over a dozen miles away) have a much higher probability of a kill—by some estimates, up to 80 percent.

Chinese designers have also expressed interest in incorporating vector-thrust engines in the J-20. These have moving exhaust nozzles to assist in pulling off tight manoeuvres. The PLAAF recently acquired Su-35 fighters from Russia with vector-thrust engines, and also reportedly tested domestic vector-thrust turbofans on a J-10B two-seat fighter.

Despite the awesome manoeuvres enabled by vector-thrust engines, they are far from being automatically included in modern fighters. This is because they significantly add to weight, cost, and difficulty in minimizing radar cross section (RCS). Moreover, when vector-thrust engines are over-used in combat, they can bleed off energy rapidly, leaving the aircraft sluggish and vulnerable to enemy fighters (as occurred in one exercise in Nevada pitting U.S. F-15s against Indian Air Force Flankers). For this reason, few Western fighters incorporate vector-thrust technology, the F-22 being a notable exception. China’s interest in thrust-vectoring again suggests it sees the relevance in agility.

The J-20’s short-range capabilities naturally lead to the question—what exactly happens when two stealth fighters clash? If their stealth qualities are robust, both aircraft may only be able to detect each other within 50 miles or less—at which point air combat manoeuvres could prove important. As U.S. stealth aircraft is one of the chief military threats to China, it seems reasonable to assume the J-20 would be designed to have a fighting chance against them.

While the J-20 would likely remain outclassed by the F-22, it could potentially prove a dangerous adversary to the F-35, which is not as optimized for within-visual-range engagements. However, both the F-22 and F-35 are believed to have a significantly lower all-around RCS than the J-20, though the Chinese fighter still appears to be significantly stealthier than the Russian Su-57.

A 2011 analysis by Australian aviation expert Carlo Kopp concluded that J-20 probably had strong stealth from a frontal aspect, but a larger radar cross section (RCS) when scanned from the side or rear—a limitation also found in the Russian Su-57 stealth fighter.

But as the extent and type of the radar-absorbent materials used affect RCS, visual analysis alone cannot determine how stealthy an aircraft is. This has not dissuaded the U.S. Marine Corps from a building a full-scale mock-up of a J-20 in Georgia for study and training purposes. The Indian Air Force has boasted its Su-30 Flankers have tracked J-20s on radar, but as stealth fighters often employ emitters called “Luneburg Lens” to enlarge their RCS on routine flights, and thus conceal their true capabilities, it’s difficult to infer much from this either.

Another issue confusing analysis of the J-20 is that it doesn’t yet have the high-thrust WS-15 turbofans the PLAAF envisioned for them, and are making do with Russian AL-31F engines instead. Even China’s fourth-generation jets have been frustrated by deficient jet engines. The WS-15 generates 23 percent more thrust than the AL-31FN and would enable the J-20 to super-cruise, or sustain supersonic speeds without resorting to fuel-gulping afterburners. Thus, certain more aggressive projections of J-20 performance, such as a top speed of Mach 2.5, may be premised on engines that have yet to be fully developed.

As long as the PLAAF has only a few dozen J-20s in service, it may make sense to reserve them for hit-and-run tactics and special deep strikes. But as the article in the Diplomat points out, there’s ample evidence the J-20 may be intended to grow into a capable all-rounder that can hold its own in a dogfight.

The EurAsian Times is an English Language Digital News-Site, which specializes in reporting News and Editorials on South Asia, Asia Pacific, Middle East, and the Eurasian Region. EurAsian Times has a strong editorial presence in New Delhi, Dubai, Karachi, and Toronto and have expertise in penning editorials on Defence, Politics, Health, Education and International Relations. A team of highly trained journalists, activists, freelancers and artists contribute to the EurAsian Times, apart from the coverage by its staff writers. The views of the writer may not necessarily reflect the views of the EurAsian Times.

The article was originally published in the NationalInterest.

More News at EurAsian Times

Advertisement
Advertisement

Facebook

FEATURED

SU-30 SU-30
Featured35 mins ago

Rafale vs Su-30SM: Despite Rafale Jets, Why Su-30s Will Remain The Most Powerful Fighters In The Whole Of Asia?

Russia has won many hearts in India and China with its Sukhoi Su-30SM fighter jets, however, owing to the massive...

INDIA-CHINA INDIA-CHINA
Featured2 hours ago

Can PM Modi Correct The ‘Balochistan’ Mistake That India Committed In 1947?

As history suggests, India lost out when the Sultan of Oman offered Gwadar as a gift to India but the...

eurasian-times eurasian-times
Featured3 hours ago

After SU-30 Jet, Now MiG-21 Fighter Jet Crashes In Western District

A Serbian military aircraft crashed Friday in western Serbia, the Defense Ministry confirmed. The ministry said that the MiG-21 military aircraft...

putin-russia putin-russia
EurAsian Region3 hours ago

Watch How Russian BM-30 Smerch Rockets Use GLONASS Navigation System To Hit Its Target

Russia has reportedly made another major breakthrough in boosting its missile launching capabilities with modernised BM-30 Smerch or 9A53-S Tornado...

ARMY-INDIA ARMY-INDIA
Featured10 hours ago

Clear Message To China: India Army Will Fire If PLA Soldiers Come Forward

As India-China border tensions are yet to be completely diffused, according to a report by The Hindu, New Delhi has given...

s400-russia s400-russia
Featured20 hours ago

Third Batch Of Lethal S-400 Triumf Missile Defence Systems Delivered To Russia

Almaz-Antey Air and Space Defense Corporation JSC delivered the third batch S-400 Triumf missile defence system to the Russian Ministry...

Cold-War Cold-War
Americas20 hours ago

Who Is Winning The Race Between US, Russia & China To Develop World’s First Sixth-Gen Fighter Jet?

So far, the US is the only country to develop, operate and sell its fifth-generation fighter jets, while China and...

sukhoi-su-35 sukhoi-su-35
Featured1 day ago

Setback For Su-30 As Russian Su-35 Jet Shoots It Down After An Intense Dogfight

In a bizarre incident that happened over the Russian skies on Tuesday, a Russian Su-35S fighter jet reportedly shot-down Su-30SM...

Gangayaan-ISRO Gangayaan-ISRO
Featured1 day ago

ISRO’ Satellite Communications Attacked By Chinese Hackers – CASI Report

While concerns over China’s increasing space warfare capabilities have been highlighted in a recent Pentagon report, another U.S. think-tank has...

DRDO-INDIA DRDO-INDIA
Featured1 day ago

India Tests Powerful Short Range Prithvi-II Missile Amid Soaring Tensions With China, Pakistan

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) of India has successfully test-fired the indigenous Prithvi – II missile, the third...

Advertisement