China Developing a 2nd Stealth Fighter?

China Developing a 2nd Stealth Fighter?


Video and screen shots of an aircraft fuselage covered in camouflage tarp seen in late June have fueled rumors that China may be developing a second fifth-generation aircraft, known as the J-21 “Snowy Owl.” Whether a new stealth aircraft is being developed, at a time when Chinese engineers are still struggling with the Chengdu J-20, remains to be seen, but military analysts are of the view that this is not impossible, especially if the aircraft are to play different roles.

Much speculation has surrounded Chengdu Aircraft Co.’s (CAC) J-20 stealth aircraft since it made its debut in January 2011, coinciding with then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ visit to Beijing. So far, the existence of two J-20 prototypes — the 2001 and 2002 — has been confirmed, and several test flights appear to have been held. China’s reliance on Russia for advanced engines, meanwhile, added to reports that Moscow has refused to export them to China, probably means we are unlikely to see a J-20 deployment with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) before 2017-2019.

What is known so far, though, is that given its size (an overall length of about 70 feet), the twin-engine J-20 will likely serve as a strike fighter, like the F-111 Aardvark, rather than as an air superiority fighter. We’ll need more than a scale model used in reports last year to counter the view that the J-20 will ultimately serve as a strike fighter, and how the bomb bay evolves on actual models should provide clues as to the aircraft’s future use.

Contemporary Chinese military doctrine, furthermore, supports the logic for the development of a long-range stealth bomber. In Shaking the Heavens and Splitting the Earth, a recent study by the RAND Corp Project Air Force, the authors conclude that the primary role of the PLAAF in a combat scenario will be to launch surprise attacks against vital ground points, such as airstrips and military bases, rather than directly engage an opponent in air-to-air combat. This holds especially true if the enemy has superior air capabilities, combat experience and training, as the U.S. does, but less so in other scenarios (such as in the South China Sea) where the capabilities of China’s opponents would be far less impressive.

Literature on Chinese military strategy, as well as recent military propaganda, focuses on an initial attack by ballistic missiles from the Second Artillery Corps against airfields, radar sites, command-and-control and air-defense systems. However, although Dong Feng 11 (DF-11) and longer-range DF-15s would likely be the primary weapons used in initial attacks against targets in Taiwan and Okinawa, more remote U.S. military bases in the Pacific that would conceivably come into play in a conflict in Northeast Asia, such as Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, remain beyond reach. At present, the only means by which China could seek to disable U.S. forces on Guam is with the use of H-6K and H-6M long-range bombers equipped with YJ-63 or DH-10/CJ-10 cruise missiles. As the H-6s do not have any radar-evading capabilities, the possibility of their successfully launching a surprise attack against Guam is minimal, which signifies that an operation would require the additional deployment of a large number of aircraft cover groups (e.g., Su-27 and Su-30), air-refueling tankers (e.g., Il-78), and jammers.

This makes the benefits of the stealthy J-20 for such long-range sorties against ground-based vital points difficult to ignore, especially if this occurred in conjunction with attacks from Chinese Navy vessels, which could help overwhelm or find blindspots in the limited number of PAC-3 and other air defense systems usually deployed in the area. According to recent reports, China appears to be developing a navalized version of the DH-10 land-attack cruise missile (LACM).

Roger Cliff, who co-authored the RAND monograph, told The Diplomat earlier this week that the development of the J-20 as a strike fighter dovetailed with the Chinese literature used for the study.

“That would actually fit with what we say in Shaking the Heavens, as the references we found to stealth aircraft were in the context of attacking enemy forces on the ground,” he said. In other words, the PLAAF could be on the brink of introducing something other than Cold War-era bombers to threaten U.S. bases that hitherto were beyond the reach of the Chinese military (barring the development of a conventional ballistic missile capable of reaching that far). This would also support the contention, again supported by the literature used in the RAND study, that the Chinese regard the H-6M as only an interim solution to a long-range strike capability.

If this is indeed the role reserved for the J-20, then China will lack a fifth-generation air superiority aircraft to compete with the F-22 and F-35. The rumored J-21, which is being developed by Shenyang Aircraft Industry Group (SAC), could plug that hole, especially as there are indications that it would be a medium-weight fighter comparable in size to the F-35.

Some experts claim the J-21 could be a carrier-based stealth aircraft complementing the SAC’s non-stealth J-15 Flying Shark, while others point to its role as an export item (known as the F-60) to compete with the F-35.

Another possibility is that the PLAAF would acquire both, and use competition between CAC and SAC to accelerate the process while encouraging invention, much as it does with missile development. Under such a scenario, the J-20 would perform the role of penetrating strike aircraft and the J-21 that of an air superiority fighter, Cliff said.

Gary Li, an intelligence analyst at the UK-based Exclusive Analysis, is of the same view.

“In terms of design, the J-21 as a lighter complement to the J-20 ‘heavy fighter’ does make sense,” he told The Diplomat. “In traditional PLA thinking, there has always been a necessity for ‘light’ plus ‘heavy’ in terms of equipment.”

“I don’t think the J-21 is necessarily an admission that the J-20 is not good enough, merely that it might be designed with different roles in mind,” he said, adding that the PLA is relatively shrewd in how it spends and rarely invests in two designs that do the same thing.

Of course there is always the possibility that the footage that emerged in late June was simply disinformation. After all, some commentators argue that the Chinese military would not parade an advanced stealth aircraft on the road with so little protection. Maybe. We might not have to wait for too long before we get an answer, though, as some reports claim a first test flight is due in September.

November 23, 2013 at 15:09

And Riech Goldstoch, all of the Western inventions were stolen from Ancient China, all of the American Jets and Technology were stolen and copied from Germany. So your point?

Think before you put in undiluted, biased BS that makes you look like an ignorant idiot.

January 20, 2013 at 01:09

here comes a indian only occupied wiith pakistan nothing else. do something better my friend.

January 13, 2013 at 20:50

Or…China is a sleeping giant.  When it awakens, let the world beware.

Riech Goldstoch
January 6, 2013 at 00:05

   China has nothing to brag about her  technology, all was stolen and copied from the west.

January 5, 2013 at 21:58

True, and most of what America has today (exept nuclear weaponry and computers) was gained from Operation Paper Clip post WW2.

Michael Guy
December 26, 2012 at 14:09

Why are the BRIC nations succeeding?  Nationalism, patriotism and economic soundness.  The BRIC national leadership are patriotic and not globalist. They may sign treaties that  are deleterious to their national interests but will not obey them. An example would be the environmental restrictions imposed on industries. Cap and trade fetterd and destroyed competitive American industries and cause unemployment in America.  Free trade treaties benefit China and the other BrIC nations while our imbalance of trade  causes our government to borrow from the BRIC plutocracy. Our nation borrows trillions of dollars, borrows the free trade profits of the BRIC nations at terms, conditions and wit pledges of physical assets as collateral in terms favorable to the lenders.  The collteral to be collected from our impoversihed nation with be the territories of the SEATO Treaty nations.   In short, any nation or union  like the EU that is led by liberals and progressives will decline into obscurity and poverty while any nation that repudiates global governance and acts with nationalism and patriotism will advance in power and prosperity.  Nations that believe in high taxes on the productive, environmental restrictiions, regulations ,Cap and Trade, or the UN will will decline.  Nations that advance the cause if the Saudi-financed Sunni Caliphate will be betrayed by the Sunnis. That is why China and Russia support the Shia of Syria and Iran.  They do not alow a Muslim brotherhood Trojan Horse to gain power in their nations.   Expect a revival of the empires of Khublai KKhan and Peter the Great.

Michael Guy
December 26, 2012 at 13:49

Russia and Cina are led by patriots who want to advance the prosperityof their own citizens and the power and hegemony of their own nations.  The leadership of Russia and China do not try an betray their nation to subservient vassal service in a neo-Holy Roman Empire called the UN.  They are not economic traotors, signing various trade treaties deleterious to the interset of theoit won nations.  They do not surrender their sovereignty to non-elected bureaucrats, the do not advance the cause of the Saudi-financed Sunni caliphate.  In fact they see the US-Israeli-Suadi allliance against the Shia nations, .  They would not ally with a nation that sent jihadist terrorits against them as we did at 9/11 . Rrather than seek retribution against the Saudi Sunni attackers, our leaders attacked the Shia leaders Hussein, Khadafy and Assad.  russian and chinese leaders would not allow their country to be a subservient puppet state to Riyadh, tel aviv or the UN.  And so they will build an empire that will rival Kublai Khan.

December 17, 2012 at 11:03

Its funny how some of these things have changed. I just read the latest article on Diplomat that suggests China might have an engine on par with the 3 bigs in the next 2.5 to 5 year period. As well since I wrote this China managed to field its aircraft carrier with arrester gear in order only 2 months since I wrote this. Cant even remember the source of my information on either of these two points. Its good to see the diplomat trying to clear up the Super Alloy issue but I think Ill keep my source a secret because its not open source. Where as the information I had regarding the arrester gear was found in public domain on the internet. 

December 10, 2012 at 07:49

So it seems that China has copied the F-35 North American design stealth figter  I bet.

amman amarillo
November 28, 2012 at 17:04

whatever it takes.. china's long period of time just to be on top of the world's economy will become ashes and start all over again f they escalates wars among neighboring countries across south-east asia.. remember that!! 

November 22, 2012 at 22:14

Almost everything Russia has today  was copied from Germany and America

November 19, 2012 at 06:09

Uh, Russia flew a prototype jet before Germany.

November 19, 2012 at 06:05

China must continue its expansion of military prowess simply to protect itself from America's policy of full spectrum dominance. It is the US that is encircling China remember, not the other way around.

November 18, 2012 at 20:51

this comment made my day! haters will be haters

November 9, 2012 at 18:38

Vow ! Not untill you clean up the world's largest open toilet then you deserve to be called " civilized".  BTW have'nt learned anything from the '62 war ?

November 8, 2012 at 15:14

Why does China need Stealth fighter jets?
Answer : to destroy the US Armed forces.
Where do they get the technology?
Answer: Free from Obama

November 4, 2012 at 07:45

It is hilarious to see how many people considering China to copy other countries technology. But dont forget, both Russia and Amercia copied jet from German. 
To protect their homeland, there is no dirty tricks. 

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