Last December China’s Chengdu Aircraft Company (CAC) inaugurated the production line for China’s J-20 5th Generation, stealth fighter, that has since entered Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP). Two LRIP aircraft have already rolled off the line; the first began flight testing in January.
The Chinese People’s Republic Army Air Force (PLAAF) is believed to have received four J-20 jets, which have been tested and completed acceptance tests recently. The first front-line regiment is supposed to activate and receive aircraft by June 2017 and is expected to be combat ready by 2019. That milestone could be pushed forward, given the budget priority. The final requirement could be between 500 to 700.
The configuration of those LRIP planes is similar to the latest prototypes, 2016 and 2017 that were the pre-production and technology demonstrator variants. Nomenclature identifies the aircraft – prototypes and pre-production aircraft are designated 20XX while production versions are designated 21XX.
Chengdu’s No.611 Institute developed the plane. This large interceptor made its first flight in 2011. Two Russian-made Saturn AL-31F power the prototypes and first production aircraft accelerating it to a maximum speed of Mach 1.7.
Two lateral bays accommodate highly maneuverable PL-9/PL-10 IR missile. The main weapon bay can carry longer weapons can accommodate four PL-15 medium-range AAMs or the new PL-21 ramjet powered, long Range Air/Air Missiles, similar to the MBDA Meteor. Additionally, large air/ground weapons can be carried in this bay.
[ismember]The primary sensor is an AESA radar. Diamond shaped windows around the fuselage suggest that a distributed aperture sensor system is in place. The latest prototypes and production versions are also equipped with an Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) and InfraRed Targeting System (IRST), providing the fighter with integral air/air and air/ground EO sensor encased in a conformal, low-observable casing. Although pilots are likely to use a helmet mounted cueing system for air combat, unlike the US F-35, J-21 relies on conventional, large HUD and color multi-function displays for piloting.
An important attribute of the J-20 is its low-observability. Analysts noted that the J-20’s nose and canopy use a similar stealth shaping design like the F-22, yielding similar signature performance in a mature design at the front, while the aircraft’s side and axisymmetrical engine nozzles may expose the aircraft to radar. Future adaptations of thrust vectoring to featured by the locally developed 44,000 pounds of thrust WS-15 afterburning turbofan engine could improve the plane stealthiness in the future. These powerful engines will also enable the J-20 to achieve supercruise conditions, similar to the F-22. The WS-15 is still in development and is expected to mature in 2022.
Another stealth element employed in the J-20 design is the diverter-less supersonic inlet (DSI) that enable the aircraft to reach high Mach number with a simpler intake than traditionally required while improving stealth performance (by eliminating radar reflections between the diverter and the plane’s skin). Analysts have noted that the J-20 DSI reduces the need for application of radar absorbent materials.[/ismember]