The 5 Most Powerful Chinese Weapons of War in the Sky

September 6, 2014 Topic: State of the MilitaryDefense Region: ChinaUnited States

The 5 Most Powerful Chinese Weapons of War in the Sky

Beijing's forces in the air have made the great aeronautical leap forward. Should Washington be worried?

Although many nations own cruise missiles, the uneven state of China’s military development means cruise missiles occupy a unique place in China’s arsenal. Like China’s large inventory of short and medium range conventional ballistic missiles, the DH-10 could be used as a substitute for manned strike aircraft, attacking targets at long ranges. Unlike China’s conventional ballistic missiles, cruise missiles can evade enemy radars and are capable of precision strikes. Coordinated strikes of both ballistic and cruise missiles to overwhelm enemy defenses would seem the ideal deployment scenario.

Chengdu J-20 Fighter:

China’s entry into the fifth generation fighter race, the J-20 is a large, twin-engine combat aircraft currently in development. The J-20 is China’s most ambitious aircraft project ever, and though still in development it’s an impressive achievement for a country with a relatively youthful aerospace industry.

The J-20 is a large, delta-winged aircraft with a long, broad fuselage ending in two turbofan engines. The fuselage is accentuated by large forward canards adjacent to the air intakes and a twin tail. The prototypes are believed to be powered by either domestically produced Shenyang WS-10 or Russian NPO Saturn AL-31F engines, although those are almost certainly temporary until more powerful engines can be found.

The biggest unsolved question regarding the J-20 is exactly what it is meant to do. The two large internal weapons bays could conceivably carry a payload of air-to-air, land attack or anti-ship missiles. A large aircraft, twin engine aircraft similar to the American F-111 or Russian Su-30, it will have the range and internal weapons bay that supports it becoming either an air superiority fighter or penetration bomber, capable of using its range and stealthy characteristics to overcome air defenses. It could even, like the F-15E Strike Eagle, be a little bit of both.

First flight by a prototype was in January 2011. In March a revised J-20 prototype reportedly flew for two hours. Changes to the newer aircraft included more slender air intakes, an even larger internal weapons bay, changes to the wing, and an electro-optical tracker for air to air engagements.

The aircraft is projected to enter service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force some time around 2020. That having been said, given China’s relative inexperience designing fighters and the difficulty in general in fielding fifth generation designs, predictions of an operational aircraft in six years’ time may prove to be overly optimistic.

Kyle Mizokami is a writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and The Daily Beast. In 2009 he co founded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Li Pang/CC by-sa 3.0