China Stealth fighter

A look at China’s new stealth plane.

The J-10

Let’s take the ”stealth” J-10 first. From the googled pictures it look to me as cross between a Swedish Viggen and an F-105 Thunderchief. It has the tail first (canard) configuration of the Viggen and the”inverted” air intakes of the ”Thud”.

Viggen had the carnard mainly because it should land on the Swedish emergency road system of airfields. Now that seems rather unlikely for the J-20 as it has no thrust reversers apparently and the tail seems to be rather prone to scraping against the concrete – Draken had an extra wheel at the extreme of the tail to cater for that posibility – due to the extreme angle of attack of on approach to these short runways.

To me it seems more likely it is to eliminate drag from the tail plane. In normal flight it presses down to balance the inherent nose heaviness of conventional configurations. This drag gets worse at supersonic speed as the centre of lift moves backwards. Normally it didn’t matter that much as supersonic flight due to fuel consumption was limited and for short burst of speed in connection with an interception. In a canard the “tail” contributes to lift, though the vortex from the “tails” wingtips dig into the centre wing lift. The positive dihedral – quite prominent could be to minimise that effect.

I think the Thunderchief angle is more relevant: It was a bomber originally made to deliver nuclear weapons against stationary targets deep inside the WAPA. The “Thud” had two speeds: Flat out and parked. Supersonic flight is clearly intended to be the province of the J-10 – as it is “coke-bottle” shaped the right place – very prominent on the Thunderchief: Another important consideration indicating a fight against supersonic drag. This makes the choice of a delta wing somewhat strange, though area distribution with the vertical stabiliser (and the exhaust in the middle) doesn’t appear to be too bad. Furthermore it will give a lot space to store fuel without  exceeding balance requirements.

I’ve never known the exact reason for the inverted intakes on the “Thud” – presumably a pressure recovery thing.

In general I think the mission of this plane is to deliver nuclear device against US aircraft carriers: Coming in on the deck (say 100’ over sea level – flat out burner ablaze – and overflying the carrier. Pulling sharply up in a half loop releasing the bomb “over the shoulder” and making a half roll on the top, getting down to sea level again – and get the hell out of there before the nuke goes off.

It think it was Bill Sweetman that pointed out that the stealth characteristics appeared only seen from the front. That supports my supposition: The trick is to gain a few extra seconds in the event the yanks put an anti-aircraft destroyer in front of the carrier. The horizon is 3 nm away at sea level (thus the 3 nm territorial limit). Travelling 10-12 nm a minute it gives the defence between 15 – 20 seconds to react (a bit less with the stealth features). That is not enough for at Goalkeeper to react with effect. The J-10 will just blaze mast top over the defence.

The technology is not overwhelming; but well within even rather conservative estimates of Chinese capability – nothing that wasn’t known thirty years ago is needed. It is a Chinese F-105 Thunderchief. Not a bad plane actually.

Evaluation: Will it keep US carriers out of Chinese waters? Yes!

The J-35

The J-35 is a different kettle of fish all together from the rather fuzzy pictures I’ve seen.

As with the J-20 we can reject carrier operation out of hand – for one thing I don’t see the stability augmentation system needed for vertical operations. The J-35 reminds me more of a scaled down F-15 Eagle. Not in the same class: The air intakes are not quite the barn doors of the F-15. This is – in my estimate a fighter and not a bomber.

Very few consider the Chinese air defence problem. They have built earlier a smaller F-16 look-alike with essentially F-4 Phantom II technology – which apparently wasn’t adequate. China needs something with range and speed to deal with a truly scary array of US offensive capabilities: From cruise missiles launched from submarines to B-2 stealth bombers.

I think the stubby look is due to the need for stuffing a hefty radar in the snout. Again the inverted air intakes – not optimal for dogfighting – are probably due to the engine and its limitations. The Achilles-heel of any military aircraft is the engine. When you have a configuration that works – you stick to it – and live with its limitations. But then again China will probably only to a limited extend have to deal with escort fighters. The stealth characteristics do not appear to me to be prominent – some consideration to stealth is a matter of course these days; but not the overwhelming one. Again the most perfect radar reflector in the sky (apart from the B-52) is the F-15 Eagle – and it has done all-right throughout its entire carrier – just ask the Syrians.

What is needed is a plane that can reach 60.000’ in a hurry and pick up cruise missile size targets. I would look for internal carriage of missiles. The western problem is that the Sparrow missile was so widespread that people started building aircraft around it and give the successor (AMRAAM) much the shame outward appearance. That is a limitation China does not have.

The most disconcerting thing about these aircraft are the “expert” comments on them. They all suppose that the Chinese are somewhat underdeveloped Americans that will repeat the American evolutionary mistakes. They are NOT.

China has defence needs as they see them and they design equipment as they see fit. They don’t design to what the USA fears and would like them to do. Both planes seem rather competent – bar the engine – and will probably be reasonably efficient doing the job they are designed for. There are not unnecessary frills, but modern technology is apparently used where it serves a purpose – seen from the Chinese perspective. That the US hardly wants a war with China – and do not want to invade China – is not something China is willing to bet its life on.