Could China Turn Is Old Fighters into ‘Stealth’ Killers?
A Chinese magazine on defense technologies has spelled out information about recent radar cross-section (RCS) tests for new warplanes conducted by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC).
RCS is a measure of how detectable an object is by radar: A larger RCS indicates that an object is more easily detected. The RCS index largely depends on the object’s size, configuration and materials.
Integral to the development of radar stealth technology, particularly in applications involving aircraft and ballistic missiles, RCS data of current military aircraft are highly classified.
It’s said that only a handful of countries have the capabilities for stealth tests, such as the United States, Russia and a few European Union members.
Ordnance Industry Science Technology, a Chinese periodical on national defense industries and technologies, recently reported on its WeChat page that the Shenyang subsidiary of the powerful state-owned industrial-defense conglomerate had been making headway in testing new, state-of-the-art stealth features designed for the next-generation warplanes, which could potentially “supplant” the current stealth materials and coating on J-20 fighters, now the ace of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) Air Force.
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Posts that appeared on a forum administered by People’s Daily this week also claimed that China had been testing the stealth capabilities of its aircraft as well as destroyers, submarines and even tanks.
An undated photo of a warplane that appeared to be a J-11 air superiority fighter jet covered with “scaffolding” is also circulating online, prompting speculations among Chinese military buffs that maybe the new stealth coating could be applied to that jet, which is not known for its anti-radar capability.
“If the RCS test can be used extensively by the Chinese military as well as contracted plane makers, that means the fourth-generation fighters such as J-11 and J-16 that form the backbone of the Chinese air force and are produced by AVIC’s Shenyang plant can also get a boost to their stealth capabilities,” Beijing-based military expert Song Zhongping said in an interview with the Global Times.
He added that though these older fighter jets already in service cannot change their airframes or aerodynamic configurations, they could reduce their RCS exposure with an extra layer of stealth coating.
AVIC’s Shenyang plant is also a bastion for the development of another fifth-generation multirole fighter, the J-31, also known as FC-31, which reportedly incorporates certain stealth characteristics such as forward-swept intake ramps with diverterless supersonic inlet bumps and a two-piece canopy, on top of the use of stealth coatings instead of “baked-in” fiber-mat stealth.
AVIC has claimed the new aircraft to be stealthy against L-band and Ku-band radars, and that it would be low-observable against a number of multi-spectrum sensors. Its engine nozzles are apparently being redesigned to reduce radar and infrared signatures.
The J-31’s introduction to the PLAAF is expected by next year.
This article originally appeared on Asia Times.