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J-20 Black Eagle [Black Silk?]
(Jianjiji-20 Fighter aircraft 20) / F-20

Most sources refer to the J-20 as the Black Eagle, but a non-trivial number use the nomenclature Black Silk, while some call it ‘Mighty Dragon’. It resembles neither the American Raptor F-22, nor the Russian T-50 PAK-FA.

In August 2008 it was reported that 611 Institute [Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute] was selected to be the main contractor for the development of the fifth-generation stealthy J-20, and that 601 Institute [Shenyang Aircraft Corporation [SAC] was the sub-contractor. It was rumored that 611 Institute has started to issue manufacturing drawings for constructing the first prototype, which was expected to fly by 2012, even though the full configuration one won't fly until a few years later. The latest rumor suggested that a full-scale mock-up had been built at CAC.

In August 2008, a RAND study raised questions about the ability of US tactical aircraft, including the F-22, to counter large numbers of Chinese aircraft in a Taiwan Strait scenario. Though at that time the F-22 was assumed to be able to shoot down 48 Chinese Flankers when outnumbered 12:1 without loss, this did not take into account less-than-perfect US beyond-visual-range performance, or possible deployment of a new Chinese stealth fighter around 2020 or 2025.

One of the most significant revelations coming out of the 8th China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition, held in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province between November 16 and 21, 2010 [also known as Airshow China 2010] was official confirmation of the existence of two parallel R&D programs aimed at fielding a fourth-generation multi-role combat aircraft [MRCA] - the Jian J-14 - by 2014, and the fifth-generation Jian J-20 air dominance combat aircraft by 2018. Both these new-generation combat aircraft are being developed by the PLA Air Force's Nos 601 and 611 Institute, with Chengdu Aircraft Corp's Plant No132 (CAC) acting as the prime industrial contractor. The J-20 will be powered by twin uprated WS-10Gs, each of which will offer a maximum thrust of 155kN. It was on November 9 that the PLA Air Force's Deputy Commander, General He Weirong, confirmed the existence of both the J-14 and J-20 by saying that the former will soon be rolled out, while the latter will begin entering service by 2018. The J-20's design will be characterised by three 'S' capabilities: stealth, super cruise, super manoeuvrability and short take-off.

In a speech delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates (Economic Club of Chicago, 16 July 2009), he stated "by 2020, the United States is projected to have nearly 2,500 manned combat aircraft of all kinds. Of those, nearly 1,100 will be the most advanced fifth generation F-35s and F-22s. China, by contrast, is projected to have no fifth generation aircraft by 2020. And by 2025, the gap only widens. The U.S. will have approximately 1,700 of the most advanced fifth generation fighters versus a handful of comparable aircraft for the Chinese..." In 2009, General He Weirong, Deputy Commander of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force estimated that the J-20 would be operational no earlier than in 2017-2019.

On 29 December 2010, the right estimable China Defense Blog published the first no-kidding photographs of the long rumored J-XX Chinese stealth fighter. Unambiguous confirmation of the existence of this program will require re-evaluation of aircraft modernization efforts in a number of countried, including Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and the United States. Chinese combat aviation has made remarkable strides in recent years, moving from a collection of obsolete aircraft that would have provided a target-rich environment to potential adversaries. Today China flies hundreds of first rate aircraft, and even flies more Sukhoi Flankers [the aircraft the American F-22 was designed to counter] than does Russia. The Chinese stealth fighter has arrived right on schedule. Chinese military technology is generally rated about two decades behind that of the United States. while the advent of a Chinese counterpart to the F-22 fighter might be disconcerting, the first flight of the prototype American F-22 stealth fighter came on September 29, 1990.

On January 11, 2011, President Hu Jintao confirmed that the prototype J-20 aircraft had made its maiden flight at around 1 p.m. that day. The flight coincided with a visit to China by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The flight was reported to have lasted 20 minutes; during which the aircraft was tailed by two J-10 fighters. Certain news accounts reported that the Chinese civilian leadership had been caught unaware by the timing of the flight.

The J-20 is a single-seat, twin-engine aircraft, bigger and heavier than the Sukhoi T-50 and the F-22. Comparison with ground-service vehicles points to an overall length of 75 ft. and a wingspan of 45 ft. or more, which would suggest a takeoff weight in the 75,000-80,000-lb. class with no external load. That in turn implies a generous internal fuel capacity. The overall length is close to that of the 1960s General Dynamics F-111, which carries 34,000 lb. of fuel.

The J-20 has a canard delta layout (like Chengdu's J-10) with two canted, all-moving vertical stabilizers (like the T-50) and smaller canted ventral fins. The stealth body shaping is similar to that of the F-22. The flat body sides are aligned with the canted tails, the wing-body junction is clean, and there is a sharp chine line around the forward fuselage. The cant angles are greater than they are on the Lockheed Martin F-35, and the frameless canopy is similar to that of the F-22.

Features at the rear of the aircraft-including underwing actuator fairings, axisymmetrical engine exhausts and the ventral fins-appear less compatible with stealth, so the J-20 may not match the all-aspect stealth of the F-22. There are two possible explanations for this: Either the aircraft seen here is the first step toward an operational design, or China's requirements do not place as much stress on rear-aspect signatures. It is considerably larger than the US's most advanced air superiority fighter, implying long range, a generous internal fuel capacity and heavy weapons loads.

The impression is of a big, long aircraft, over 70 feet from nose to tail, which would make sense for a number of reasons. The J-20 may have lower supercruise performance and agility than an F-22, but with larger weapon bays and more fuel, according to Bill Sweetman, editor of Aviation Week/DTI. Chinese sources have claimed that production aircraft will be powered by two 13,200kg, WS-10 class high thrust turbofan engines, coupled with Thrust Vector Controlled (TVC) nozzles both made in China.

Initially the J-20 flew with two Russian AL-31F jet engines it borrowed from the Russian Su-27 fighter jet that entered Chinese service in the mid-1980s. China also tried to put engines of their own on a second test J-20 vehicle, but the copycat of the Soviet AL-31F enginemade by China is not in the same league as the Russian analog for reliability and durability. And both AL-31F and Chinese version are engines of the previous generation.

The AL-41F1 / 117S [117C in Cyrilic] engine is used on the Russian T-50 PAK-FA 5th Generation fighter jet. These engines enable it to achieve supersonic speed without afterburner. Rob Hewson at Jane's reported that Russia supplied 32,000-pound thrust 117S engines for the J-20, which would be adequate for an aircraft in the 80,000 pound class. But Russian sources reported in March 2012 that in 2010, when Russia’s Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov was on visit to China, Beijing proposed to buy 117S [117C in Cyrilic] engines, but the offer was turned down.

In March 2012 there were reports that Moscow and Beijing were close to striking a deal on China buying 48 Su-35 multifunctional fighter jets for $4 billion. The main reason for this remarkable purchase could be Russia’s jet engines. The Su-35 flies with two next generation AL-41F1C engines that enable it to achieve hypersonic speed without afterburner, a feature attributed to 5G jets. And AL-41F1C actually is a de-rated version of the AL-41F1 (117C) engine used on the T-50 PAK-FA, Russian 5G fighter jet.

The Russians agreed to sell only assembled planes and in addition insist on signing a special anti-copycat agreement, designed to prevent the Chinese from copying the vehicle and its parts, as has happened before. This demand became a stumbling block in the negotiations. Russia has great doubts concerning the practicability of selling AL-41F1C engines to Beijing without the special replication clause. This does not suit China because in the end they need technology to organize a production line for such engines of their own.

Before President Xi Jinping’s March 2013 visit to Russia and Africa, China and Russia signed two major contracts on the sale of arms. According to the contract, the two countries will jointly produce four Lada Class air-independent propulsion submarines which will then be sold to China. China will also buy 24 Su-35 jet fighters from Russia. Experts said that the Su-35 will reduce the pressure on China’s air-defense before China’s stealth fighter is put into use. This was the first time China had bought important military equipment from Russia in ten years.

Vasily Kashin from the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies predicted in March 2012 that after long negotiations Moscow and Beijing would finally strike a separate jet engine deal and Russia would supply engines for the J-20 program, the way it already supplied engines to all four major types of Chinese fighter jets which are actually copycats of Soviet-made planes.

Beijing official news agency, Xinhua, published photos of the newest J-20 aircraft, coated in primer paint, in December 2015. An editorial published next to the photos proposed that the new stealth warplane has entered initial production. Xinhua noted that the serial number is an indication of that fact, as it has been changed from the 20XX designation of earlier iterations to 2101. But the news agency did not definitively state that the warplane has entered full production. The fighter, numbered 2101 on the fuselage, was painted a dull yellow primer coat. The low rate initial production (LRIP) fighters would go to People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) test pilots for flight testing.

The prototype’s appearance meant that most of the plane is likely frozen, design-wise, with no major changes anticipated. The plane has enjoyed visible improvements along the way. Prototype 3 featured redesigned air intakes, a less rounded, more angular nose, and an electro-optical targeting system. Prototypes 5 and 6 featured sharper “strakes”—small winglets trailing the wings that mask the engine exhausts from radar.

Wang Ya'nan, deputy editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said 16 January 2016 the newest J-20 prototype must be tested to inspect technical changes designers made to it based on test results from earlier prototypes. He expected that the first of the J-20s will be delivered to the military around 2017.

The J–20 could reach initial operational capability in 2017–2018, and China reportedly hoped to build 24 J–20s by 2020. The PLA Air Force views the J–20 as key to improving China’s ability to conduct offensive operations to deny an enemy’s chance to mobilize defensive forces. The J–20’s stealth features and electronic warfare capabilities would degrade the ability of U.S. forces within the first island chain to detect and engage it.

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