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China's J-20 Stealth Fighter: New Pictures Confirm Something Pretty Awful

June 17, 2019 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: ChinaJ-20Stealth FighterStealthPLAAF

China's J-20 Stealth Fighter: New Pictures Confirm Something Pretty Awful

It truly does have American DNA. 

Some interesting details...

On August 1st of last year, China celebrated the founding of the People's Liberation Army by allowing some high-resolution photos of the next-generation J-20 stealth fighter to leak, complete with a tasteful photoshopped-on patriotic dragon painting just below the canopy which just screams "Happy Birthday, PLA."

The new photos of the J-20 provide an up close and personal look at the fuselage of the new interceptor. But the photos also appear to show a sensor system that looks awfully similar to the Lockheed Martin Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) on the front of the F-35 Lighting II.

There’s a reason for this: In 2007, Lockheed Martin dealt with something of a cyber Ocean’s 11 when Chinese hackers stole technical documents related to the development of the F-35. The details on the hack, eventually revealed in documents leaked by Edward Snowden, are just one example of Chinese attempts to steal foreign aviation technology; as recently as 2017, Chinese hackers went after Australian F-35 defense contractors, nabbing even more info on the cutting-edge fighter.

Although the two electro-optical systems pictured above are not identical, they share quite a few similarities in shape and placement: compared to the Eurofighter or Su-57’s electro-optical systems and Infrared Tracking Systems (IRTS), respectively, which are also mounted on top of the fuselage, the differences between the Lockheed Martin and J-20’s Systems ate relatively minor. The system’s positioning under the nose of the aircraft also reinforces that the J-20 is probably designed for both long-range strike missions against ground targets and interceptor duties. However, the J-20 EOTS appears to be less capable than the F-35 equivalent, judging by the size and layout of the J-20 EOTS enclosure.

Much about the J-20 is shrouded in secrecy, but the plane is most likely powered by the same two AL-31F engines which are used in the Su-27, a Russian fighter that is capable of a top speed of Mach 2.3. But the J-20 could also be flying with indigenous (but less reliable) WS-10B engines, due to a lack of Russian engines or as a stopgap until the more powerful WS-15 jet engines are ready for operational use. And while parts of the design of the J-20 appear to resemble the F-22 and it’s stealthy curves, these similarities could be skin deep as the angularity on the jet inlets and wings remain quite different, and the J-20 lacks all-aspect stealth. Recently the Indian Air Force claimed they could track the J-20 using the Su-30MKIs electronically scanned ‘Phazotron Zhuk-AE’ radar.

Although the J-20 has been pushed into service, recent problems with the J-15 carrier-based fighter suggest that the Chinese answer to the F-22 isn’t quite ready for prime-time despite propaganda from Chinese-owned media outlets that portray the J-20 as a fully-armed and operational battle station. That certainly sounds familiar …

This first appeared in Task and Purpose here

Image: Chinese Internet.