Chinese PLA Air Force’s fleet of “20s” which includes stealth J-20 fighter jets, Y-20 transport aircraft and Z-20 helicopters are likely to be the main attraction at the upcoming Zhuhai Airshow 2021.
Senior Colonel Shen Jinke, the spokesperson of the PLA Air Force, said more J-20 and Y-20 aircraft have entered service and domestically developed new-type surface-to-air missiles are ready for combat.
With the steady increase in capabilities for strategic early warning, aerial strike, air defense, anti-missile, information countermeasures, airborne combat, strategic transport, and comprehensive support, the PLA Air Force is now capable of effectively carrying out duties and missions in the new era, he asserted.
According to US Department of Defense’s 2020 report on China’s Military, “The PLAAF is preparing upgrades for the J-20, which may include increasing the number of air-to-air missiles the fighter can carry in its low-observable configuration, installing thrust-vectoring engine nozzles, and adding supercruise capability by installing higher-thrust indigenous WS15 engines,”
The communist state takes pride in the “20”-series aircraft as they are indigenously built and unique in their class.
The J-20 Mighty Dragon
The stealth fighter jet which took its maiden flight on January 11, 2011, celebrated its 10th anniversary recently. Even its first flight was shrouded in mystery as then-US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, who was on an official to visit to China at the time, was unaware of the development.
This was revealed in a US intelligence report later, which admitted that Washington had underestimated China’s ability to develop a new-generation fighter.
The J-20, a single-seat, multirole stealth fighter aircraft, is manufactured by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group. China chose not to participate in the joint development of fifth-generation aircraft by Russia as it would have resulted in Moscow earning more profits.
Chengdu Aircraft then started the development of the J-20 in the late 1990s under the J-XX program.
Y-20 Transport Aircraft
China’s first and biggest indigenously developed airlifter, Y-20 was built by Xi’an Aircraft Industry (Group), a part of Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
The aircraft can be deployed in the transportation of personnel and heavy equipment during combat, humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping missions. It can also be used in airborne early warning and control (AEW&C), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and aerial refueling roles.
China’s state-owned Global Times reported that the Y-20 large transport aircraft is expected to switch to domestically developed engines with a high bypass ratio.
Military experts have claimed that compared with the Russian D-30 engine currently used on the Y-20, the Chinese engine is much larger in diameter and can provide more powerful thrust, uses less fuel, and enables the plane to take off and land in shorter runways.
Prakash Nanda, strategic analyst and consulting Editor of The EurAsian Times, wrote that China’s development of a new aerial refueler, known as the Y-20-U, would significantly boost the PLA Air Force’s capability to carry out long-range raids.
This could have ominous implications not only for India but also for the whole of the Indo-Pacific.
The Z-20 is the country’s first indigenously developed medium-lift helicopter. It is widely believed to have been designed on the basis of the US Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk. The Z-20 helicopter is identical to the Black Hawk in terms of shape, size, and layout.
Manufactured by Harbin Aircraft Industry Group, a subsidiary of China’s state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC), the helicopter performed its maiden flight in 2013. The Z-20 made its first public appearance during China’s 70th National Day military parade in Beijing in October 2019.
The rotorcraft also performed a static and close-formation demonstration flight at the fifth China Helicopter Exposition held in Tianjin in October 2019.
The Aircraft Nomenclature
Explaining the rationale behind China adding the “20” suffix to the planes’ names, Joseph P Chacko, naval and military aviation affairs analyst told The EurAsian Times – “The Chinese fighter aircraft are designated J – Jianjiji, which denotes fighter. The numbering ranges from 2,4 -13 to 20, representing the operational aircraft that entered service. J-2 was Mig-15, J-4 was Mig-17, J-6 was Mig-19, J-7 is MiG-21, etc.”
“J-12 and 13 are just projects and are likely to be reused for 4.5 gen planes if they are built and enter service. With J-20, they have represented a generational change in the fighter aircraft design,” Chacko told The EurAsian Times.
“The nomenclature Z is for Zhishengji, which is for the helicopters. The nomenclature Y is for Yunshuji, which is for Transport aircraft. The numbering rationale is predictably the same, with 20 being the beginning of a generational shift.”
The Zhuhai Airshow
Some of the most advanced warplanes in the fleet of the PLA Air Force will perform at the Zhuhai Airshow 2021. Over the years, the event has become a comprehensive arms exhibition that not only features aviation products but also land and maritime weapons and equipment, besides civilian-use products.
According to Global Times, China North Industries Group Corporation Limited and China South Industries Group will bring hundreds of equipment that cover mobile assault, fire assault, unmanned systems, all-terrain mobile synthetic battalion system, individual combat equipment, wheeled fire attack equipment, terminal defense combat system, precision ammunition and civilian firearms, with many being new exhibits.
More than 30 types of ground equipment, such as the combat tank VT4, the lightweight VT5, the 8×8 armored tank VN1, will perform a variety of tactical operations including slope climbing, water obstacles crossing, and snake-like maneuvers.