Monday, August 06, 2012

Is China Developing a 2nd Stealth Fighter?

A Chengdu J-20 on the tarmac 
China may be developing a second stealth aircraft. This is not implausible, as the two platforms could perform different tasks 

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.

The alleged J-21
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.

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

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