Chengdu J-XX [J-20] Stealth Fighter Prototype

Chengdu J-XX [J-20] Stealth Fighter Prototype
A Preliminary Assessment

Technical Report APA-TR-2011-0101

by Dr Carlo Kopp, SMAIAA, SMIEEE, PEng,
Peter Goon, BE (Mech), FTE (USNTPS)

3rd January
, 2011
Text © 2011 Carlo Kopp, Peter Goon

Elevated head on view of Chengdu prototype, December, 2010 (Chinese Internet).


In late December, 2010, imagery of what is claimed to be China's new stealth fighter has emerged on a range of Chinese Internet sites.

There have been no official Chinese disclosures as yet, so many of the claims about the aircraft appearing in the media may only be speculation presented as fact.

The aircraft may be a technology demonstrator or a prototype for a mass production fighter aircraft. The latter is however much more likely, given that the Deputy Chief of Air Staff PLA-AF Gen. He Weirong claimed an IOC between 2017 and 2019, in a November, 2009, public disclosurei.

The following is a preliminary assessment only and subject to revision. APA will produce a more complete assessment at a future date, once more technical material and the detailed analysis of same becomes available.

Technical Observations on the Prototype Design

  1. The J-XX/J-20 is a large fighter, similar in size to an F-111. This first-of-type aircraft presents with a large dihedral canard-delta wing configuration; with a pair of outward/rearward canted all moving combined vertical/horizontal tails; and, similarly large, outward canted ventral fins/strakes which, if all moving like the tails and retained on any production version, will make for some quite advanced capability options in the areas of controllability and manoeuvrability. There is little doubt this configuration is intended to provide good sustained supersonic cruise performance with a suitable engine type, and good manoeuvre performance in transonic and supersonic regimes.
  1. The stealth shaping is without doubt considerably better than that seen in the Russian T-50 PAK-FA prototypes and, even more so, than that seen in the intended production configuration of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
  1. The J-XX/J-20 design appears to be largely built around the stealth shaping design rules employed in the F-22A Raptor:
  1. The chined J-XX/J-20 nose section and canopy are close in appearance to the F-22, yielding similar signature performance in a mature design.
  1. The J-XX/J-20 trapezoidal edge aligned engine inlets are closest to the F-22, though appear to be larger and employ an F-35 style DSI (Diverterless Supersonic Inlet) design, obviously intended to improve on F-22 inlet edge signature.
  1. The J-XX/J-20 wing fuselage join, critical for beam and all aspect stealth, is in shaping and angle very similar to the F-22, and clearly superior to both the Russian T-50 PAK-FA prototypes and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
  1. The J-XX/J-20 flat lower fuselage is optimal for all aspect wideband stealth, and emulates the F-22 design closely.
  1. Planform alignment of the J-XX/J-20 is impossible to fully assess until in-flight imagery becomes available.
  1. The J-XX/J-20 nose and main undercarriage doors employ X-band optimised edge serration technology, based on F-117A and F-22 design rules.
  1. The aft fuselage, tailbooms, fins/strakes and axi-symmetric nozzles are not compatible with high stealth performance, but may only be stop-gap measures to expedite flight testing of a prototype.
  1. The airframe configuration and aft fuselage shape would be compatible with an F-22A style 2D TVC nozzle design, or a non-TVC rectangular nozzle designed for controlled infrared emission patterns and radio-frequency stealth.
  1. The airframe configuration is compatible with ventral and side opening internal weapon bays, and large enough to match or exceed, by some degree, the internal weapons payload of the F-22A Raptor.
  1. Internal fuel fraction is also likely to be high, given the fuselage configuration and large internal volume of the big delta wing. This indicates an intent to provide a sustained supersonic cruise capability, in the manner of the proposed FB-22.
  1. The PLA have not disclosed the engine type. There are claims that the Russians supplied supercruise capable 117S series engines, though, subject to the overall efficiency of the aircraft’s aerodynamics, these would likely not be sufficient to extract the full performance potential of this advanced airframe.
  1. The intended sensor suite remains unknown. China has yet to demonstrate an AESA radar, or an advanced indigenous Emitter Locating System (ELS). However, these could become available by the time this airframe enters production. Suitable Russian hardware is currently in late development and/or test.

The J-XX/J-20 is a large fighter, similar in size to an F-111 (Chinese Internet).

(US DoD)

Above, below: Histograms of distances between PLA-AF and PLA-N fixed basing along the eastern seaboard of mainland China and US airfields at Kadena AFB on Okinawa and Andersen AFB on Guam. The J-XX/J-20 is well sized to hold both of these bases at risk (Kopp, 2005).

General Conclusions

The size of the J-XX/J-20 airframe, and the self evident focus on supersonic persistence, suggests, at a minimum, an intention to provide a long range interceptor for anti-access operations in the Second Island Chain geography. It is likely any production design J-XX/J-20 will incorporate an aerial refuelling probe to further extend its large operating radius.

A stealthy, supercruising, long range interceptor would provide the PLA-AF with the capability to penetrate an opposing IADS to destroy assets like E-3 AWACS, RC-135V/W Rivet Joint, other ISR systems, and importantly, Air Force and Navy tankers. This would significantly complicate if not close down air operations from Andersen AFB and fixed basing in the Ryukyu chain, Japanese main islands, and Korean peninsula, during the opening phase of any contingency.

Naval task forces structured around CVBGs and operating within the 1,000 NMI plus radius of the J-XX/J-20 would be at significant risk of rapidly losing their E-2C/D AEW&C and EA-18G Growler Electronic Attack coverage during the opening phase of any contingency.

Any notion that an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or F/A-18E/F Super Hornet will be capable of competing against this Chengdu design in air combat, let alone penetrate airspace defended by this fighter, would be simply absurd. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet are both aerodynamically and kinematically quite inferior to the as presented J-XX/J-20 design, and even the shape based VLO capability in the J-XX/J-20, as presented, will effectively neutralise any sensor advantage either type might possess against earlier Russian and Chinese fighter designs.

Multi-Role Options and Production Numbers

The J-XX/J-20 design could be employed as a penetrating strike aircraft, in the combat radius class of the F-111 or Su-34 Fullback, if equipped with internal guided bombs, such as the Luoyang/CASC LT-3 Laser / Satellite Aided Inertially Guided Bomb, the FT-1, FT-2, FT-3, FT-4, FT-5 and LS-6 series Satellite Aided Inertially Guided Bombs. These are Chinese analogues to the US JDAM, some including glide wing kits modelled on the JDAM-ER. CASC displayed compact 250 lb and 125 lb variants of the LS-6 at Zhuhai in 2010, these derivative weapons being direct analogues to the US GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb, currently being integrated on the F-22A Raptorii.

A mature J-XX/J-20, with a full strike capability, would be a direct one-for-one equivalent to the proposed dual role FB-22A, which was championed by Dr. James G. Roche during his tenure as SecAF, until 2005iii.

The PLA-AF has not disclosed as yet intended production quantities. The stated IOC of the J-XX/J-20 directly aligns with the retirement date of the second tranche of Su-27SK Flanker B and first tranche of Su-30MKK Flanker G currently in operational service. It is a reasonable conclusion that the J-XX/J-20 is intended as an eventual replacement for PLA-AF Flanker B/G and later PLA-N shore based Su-30MK2 Flanker G long range multirole fighters. If the J-XX/J-20 is intended to directly replace PLA Flankers, numbers in the order of 400 – 500 aircraft are credible.

CASC displayed compact 250 lb and 125 lb variants of the LS-6 at Zhuhai in 2010, these derivative weapons being direct analogues to the US GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb (© 2011 Air Power Australia).



ii Kopp C., PLA Guided Bombs, Technical Report APA-TR-2009-0808, Air Power Australia, URI:

iii Christopher Bolkcom, Air Force FB-22 Bomber Concept, RS21848, March 21, 2005, Congressional Research Service, URI:

iv Bill Sweetman, China's Stealth Striker, Defence Technology International, 27th December, 2010, URI:

v Bill Sweetman, J-20 - Denial Is Not An Option, Defence Technology International, 28th December, 2010, URI:

vi Kopp C., People's Liberation Army Air Force and Naval Air Arm Air Base Infrastructure, Technical Report APA-TR-2007-0103, URI:

vii Kopp C.,
Guam - Tip of the Spear, Defence Today, March 2009, URI:

viii Mills C.L., What China's New J-20 Stealth Fighter Means for the F-35 JSF and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, APA NOTAM #69, 31/12/2010, URI:

Prototype Imagery and Multimedia

(All imagery via Chinese Internet)

[APA does not endorse or necessarily agree with the content of third party multimedia items embedded in this page]

Chinas J-20 Stealth Fighter In Taxi Tests

China’s first known stealth aircraft just emerged from a secret development program and was undergoing high-speed taxi tests late last week at Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute’s airfield. Said to be designated J-20, it is larger than most observers expected—pointing to long range and heavy weapon loads.

Its timing, Chengdu’s development record and official statements cast doubt on U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s 2009 prediction (in support of his decision to stop production of the Lockheed Martin F-22) that China would not have an operational stealth aircraft before 2020.

The debut of the J-20 was announced in a November 2009 interview on Chinese TV by Gen. He Weirong, deputy commander of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. The general said a “fourth-generation” fighter (Chinese terminology for a stealth fighter) would be flown in 2010-11 and be operational in 2017-19.

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.

The engines are most likely members of the Russian Saturn AL-31F family, also used on the J-10. The production version will require yet-to-mature indigenous engines. The inlets use diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI) technology, first adopted for the F-35 but also used by Chengdu on the J-10B—the newest version of the J-10—and the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder.

The main landing gears retract into body-side bays, indicating the likely presence of F-22-style side weapon bays ahead of them. The ground clearance is higher than on the F-22, which would facilitate loading larger weapons including air-to-surface munitions. Chinese engineers at the Zhuhai air show in November disclosed that newly developed air-to-ground weapons are now required to be compatible with the J-20.

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.

The major open question at this point is whether the J-20 is a true prototype, like the T-50, or a technology demonstrator, with a status similar to the YF-22 flown in 1990. That question will be answered by whether, and how many, further J-20s enter flight testing in the next 12-24 months.

Developing an effective multi-mission stealthy aircraft presents challenges beyond the airframe, because it requires a sensor suite that uses automated data fusion, emission control and low-probability-of-intercept data links to build an operational picture for the pilot without giving away the aircraft’s own location.

A rapid development program would be a challenge for China’s combat aircraft industry, which is currently busy: The J-10B, FC-17 and Shenyang’s J-11B and carrier-based J-15 are all under development. However, the progress of China’s military aviation technology has been rapid since the first flight of the J-10 in 1996, owing to the nation’s growing economy and the push by the People’s Liberation Army for a modernized military force in all domains. Before the J-10, China’s only indigenous production combat aircraft were the Shenyang J-8 and Xian JH-7, reflecting early-1960s technology from Russia and Europe.

Engine development has lagged airframe development, with reports that the Shenyang WS-10 engine, slated to replace Russian engines in the J-11B, has been slow to reach acceptable reliability and durability levels. That may not be surprising, given that high-performance engine technology is founded on specialized alloys and processes that often have no other uses. (The existence of the J-11B, essentially a “bootleg” version of the Su-27, has been a strain on relationships between the Russian and Chinese industries.)

Progress with avionics may be indicated by the advent of the J-10B, with new features that include a canted radar bulkhead (normally associated with an active, electronically scanned array antenna), an infrared search-and-track system, and housings for new electronic warfare antennas.

One question that may go unanswered for a long time concerns the degree to which cyberespionage has aided the development of the J-20. U.S. defense industry cybersecurity experts have cited 2006—close to the date when the J-20 program would have started—as the point at which they became aware of what was later named the advanced persistent threat (APT), a campaign of cyberintrusion aimed primarily at military and defense industries and characterized by sophisticated infiltration and exfiltration techniques.

Dale Meyerrose, information security vice president for the Harris Corp. and former chief information officer for the director of national intelligence, told an Aviation Week cybersecurity conference in April 2010 that the APT had been little discussed outside the classified realm, up to that point, because “the vast majority of APT attacks are believed to come from a single country.”

Between 2009 and early 2010, Lockheed Martin found that “six to eight companies” among its subcontractors “had been totally compromised—e-mails, their networks, everything,” according to Chief Information Security Officer Anne Mullins.

The way in which the J-20 was unveiled also reflects China’s use and control of information technology to support national interests. The test airfield is located in the city of Chengdu and is not secure, with many public viewing points. Photography is technically forbidden, but reports suggest that patrols have been permitting the use of cell phone cameras. From Dec. 25‑29, these images were placed on Chinese Internet discussion boards, and after an early intervention by censors—which served to draw attention to the activity—they appeared with steadily increasing quality. Substantial international attention was thereby achieved without any official disclosures.

Photo Credit: Via Chinese Internet


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