J-20 Black Eagle [Black Silk?]
(Jianjiji-20 Fighter aircraft 20) / F-20
China’s latest stealth fighter, the J-20, is serving in the People’s Liberation Army air force, according to state media. Military soucres said the appearance of J-20s in the air force was meant as a warning to Japan and South Korea, which are expected to buy US F-35 stealth fighters now that China has equally advanced warplanes. Video footage aired by CCTV 09 March 2017 showed J-20 fighters alongside PLA Y-20 transport planes and H-6K bombers. The broadcast did not say how many J-20s were operational.
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 had 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 pm that day. The flight coincided with a visit to China by US 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.
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.
In February 2018, the PLA Air Force announced the J-20 has been commissioned into its combat troops, but a photo of it had not been released. The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force for the first time released a photo of a J-20 stealth fighter jet 29 July 2019, showing the serial number of a combat unit, indicating that the warplane has ended trials and become a potent warplane protecting the country. A photo with the caption "An Air Force J-20 fighter conducts real combat training" was released by the PLA Air Force along with a statement introducing its increasing strategic capability.
Although the warplane has been seen in previously published photos and videos, these photo attracted attention as it showed a J-20 with the tail number 62001. This is the first time a J-20 has been seen with tail number beginning with a "6," Weihutang, a program on military affairs affiliated with China Central Television, reported on Friday, noting that the numbers on previously seen J-20s began with a "7." According to PLA Air Force's tradition, numbers starting with "7" indicate aircraft attached to a trial unit, while the "6" indicates the J-20 is affiliated with a combat unit under the PLA Eastern Theater Command, said Ordnance Industry Science Technology, a Xi'an-based periodical on the national defense industry, in an article published on its WeChat account on Friday. This suggests that the J-20 is already on combat duty, becoming an important new force in safeguarding China's skies, the magazine said. The release of the photo of a J-20 with a "6" on its tail also indicates combat troops have mastered the fighter jet, Chinese analysts said.
A promotional video released by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) on 03 September 2019 showcased the largest formation of Chengdu J-20s seen yet: seven of the stealthy jets can be spotted, illustrating the service’s growing fifth-generation air power. The occasion for the video, which aired on Chinese television, was the 74th anniversary of the victory in the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression in 1945, the Chinese name of the 14-year conflict that merged into World War II. The victory saw the Japanese Empire ejected from Chinese territory and set the stage for the Red Army’s eventual victory in the civil war in 1949, which led to the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The 70th anniversary of that event is October 1, and observers speculate the large J-20 formation was practice for those ceremonies, as the jet is anticipated to only operate in twos and threes under actual combat conditions.
The PLAAF has never disclosed how many of the jets it operates, but the South China Morning Post speculated that Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group had built around 20 of the jets so far. Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator, told the SCMP 04 September 2019, “This video is to say that a number of mass-produced J-20s have entered service and are ready to do battle.”
State-run Chinese media cited a statement released on 10 December 2021 by the Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Group Co Ltd, the fighter jet manufacturer, as saying that the company has ramped up the delivery of its military aircraft including the J-10 and the J-20 in the fourth quarter of 2021 due to high demand. By the end of 2021 it was estimated there were 50 to 60 J-20s in service and the switch from traditionally imported engines to indigenous ones would enable mass production of the fighter jet. The production volume, however, remained unclear. Scramble, a European aviation magazine, said that a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) J-20A was spotted on a test flight from Huantianba production facility in Chengdu, and the serial number 61162 on its tail indicated that the jet was assigned to the 5th Air Brigade of the Southern Theater Command. J-20A is one of the new variants of Chengdu J-20 fighter jet, also known as “Mighty Dragon.” The Southern Theater Command is one of PLA’s five regional commands and is responsible for the entire southern part of China and the South China Sea. “A J-20 Air Brigade based in the Southern Command area of responsibility would put some of China's most advanced fighters quite close to the South China Sea,” said David Cenciotti, a prominent military aviation blogger, told RFA. Another well-known aviation author specializing in Chinese aircraft development, Andreas Rupprecht, said it would be an unusual move to assign the J-20 to the 5th Air Brigade which just changed to Chengdu J-10C, an older but still capable multirole fighter, a few years ago. It may indicate that Chinese military planners seek to boost air defense capabilities in the South China Sea and the fighters will have combat roles rather than for training. “The creation of a J-20 unit in the Southern Theater Command, which is responsible for PLA ops in the South China Sea and Taiwan scenarios in recent years, isn’t surprising,” said Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “China has already started serial production of the J-20 with the aim of equipping more frontline units with the type as the PLA Air Force’s premier air superiority fighter,” Koh said, adding: “The J-20 was reported to be deployed close to the Indian border where there’s an ongoing flare up.”
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|