China redefining air power with huge stealth fighter rollout – Asia Times

With the rapid deployment of advanced fifth-generation soldiers, China could possibly transform its airpower in the face of adversaries like the US and India.

This month, Nikkei reported that China’s new cunning fight plane, the J-31B, is expected to be deployed on its second aircraft ship, the Fujian. Nikkei mentions that the fifth-generation fighter jet, revealed by Shenyang Aircraft Industry Group in late June, is designed for aircraft carrier use and will enhance the People’s Liberation Army’s ( PLA ) air and sea strategies.

According to the report, the J-31B represents a significant improvement over the latest fourth-generation Shenyang J-15 because it is more difficult to detect by transponders and worthy of coordinating with drones.

It says that the Fujian, China’s largest aviation ship, is equipped with an electric rocket, allowing jets to have more energy and weapons, so expanding their functional area and combat capabilities.

Nikkei points out that the J-31B is seen as a knock-off of the US F-35 Lightning II and is a component of China’s continued efforts to increase its use of fifth-generation warrior jets, including the Chengdu J-20.

Janes reported last month that the PLA Air Force ( PLA-AF ) has significantly bolstered its fleet with the advanced Chengdu J-20″ Mighty Dragon” fifth-generation stealth fighters. Janes says that over 11 months leading up to July 2023, the PLA-AF incorporated over 70 J-20s, bringing the total to around 195 airplane.

It points out that this development has made it possible to switch between different air divisions and replace older fourth-generation soldiers like the Shenyang J-11s and Sukhoi Su-27SK/UKBs. Additionally, according to the report, the PLA-AF was in charge of 12 heat brigades with J-20s in May 2024, with three having the cunning fighter fully operational.

Jane’s notes that the J-20’s enhanced features, such as airborne early warning and control ( AEW&amp, C), underscore its growing importance within the PLA-AF.

The Janes review makes it clear that China’s proper use of the J-20s is in line with its goal of strengthening both its five drama commands. According to the report, current satellite imagery indicates that J-20s are stationed in Eastern, Western, and Southern Theater Commands, with Eastern Theater Commands carrying out aerial maneuvers around Taiwan and projecting heat authority over the East China Sea.

The Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon at the 2018 Zhuhai Airshow. Credit: File pictures.

Janes also points out that the increasing number of J-20s close to India, as seen at Tibet’s Shigatse Peace Airport, suggests a tactical change in China’s military posture.

The J-31B perhaps remove China’s carrier aviation mainstay, the J-15. Asia Times reported in November 2022 that the aircraft’s low variety and weapons cargo have mocked its use of the term “flopping fish” in Chinese media.

The J-15 you only go 120 kilometers away from the ski-ramp ship when carrying heavy weapons, according to the flight tests on the Liaoning ski-ramp. Also, if the J-15 is loaded with energy, it can only take up to 2 loads of weapons, even though its potential is 12 tons.

Without the use of more powerful engines, the design of the Targets and Shandong aircraft carriers ‘ mountain ramps poses a significant problem for launching plane weighing over 26 tons. Implementing the electromagnetic aircraft launch system ( EMALS ) on China’s third aircraft carrier, the Fujian, may allow it to use newer aircraft types such as the J-31B.

On capability, the South China Morning Post (SCMP ) mentioned this month that in addition to stealth, the J-31B features weapons bays on both sides, noting that such a feature could significantly increase its combat capabilities.

SCMP says that each weapons sea can take two missiles, distinguishing the J-31B from the US F-22 and China’s J-20, which have area tool bays but can have just one missile in each. It points out that the J-31B’s expanded weapons payload can improve its close-range combat capabilities.

As for armaments, Brandon Weichert notes in an article this month for The National Interest ( TNI ) that the J-31B has an active electronically scanned array ( AESA ) radar, an electro-optical targeting system and a helmet-mounted display system.

Weichert mentions that the J-31B can carry an assortment of munitions, such as the PL-10 and PL-15 air-to-air missiles ( AAM ), various guided bombs, and air-to-ground missiles ( AGM ). He claims that the aircraft may be a passable replacement for the US F-35 despite many disputing China’s claims regarding the J-31B.

Regarding the J-20, a February 2017 China Power report states that opinions differ between the aircraft’s role, from long-range interceptors for aerial engagements to long-range strike aircraft designed to penetrate enemy air defenses and destroy critical infrastructure.

The report says that the J-20 could target intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance ( ISR ) aircraft and aerial tankers with long-range AAMs in an interceptor role. In a strike role, it says that possible targets could include airfields, command centers, and other military installations.

Additionally, the report notes that the J-20’s stealth and range could pose a threat to US warships and that maritime strike J-20s may pose a greater threat than short-range air superiority fighters.

In an article published last month, Newsweek noted that China’s use of J-20 fighters and H-6 bombers at Shigatse and Hotan in the Taklamakan Desert raises a threat to India in its Sikkim-Arunachal Pradesh region.

While the Newsweek report says that India’s S-400 surface-to-air missiles ( SAM ) and Rafale fighters can challenge China’s J-20, the J-20’s stealth capabilities must be factored into its air threat wargames.

A transport and launching unit of the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system that India is purchasing from Russia. Photo: AFP/ Vitaliy Ankov / Sputnik
A transport and launch unit for the Russian-built S-400 anti-aircraft missile system. Photo: Vitaliy Ankov / Sputnik

Despite China’s advancements in fifth-generation fighters, these advancements may be overrated and China may still face significant difficulties in developing such cutting-edge aircraft.

In a 2020 Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs article, Owen Sirrs claims that China is not the only country that can flaunt sophisticated military equipment for prestige reasons and that alarmist conclusions about the J-31B should n’t be based on sporadic observations.

According to Sirrs, China has made significant advances in the design of fighter jets, but it is still insufficiently advanced in crucial technologies like jet engines.

In line with that analysis, Alex Hollings says in a February 2024 TNI article that a stealth fighter’s performance relies heavily on its engine’s power, and only the US can build high-end jet engines in quantities enough to equip a high-end fighter fleet.

Hollings points out that while China and Russia are producing new jet engines like the WS-15 and AL-51, new US innovations like adaptive cycle engines made of advanced composites and ceramics may maintain the country’s lead in jet engine production.

Sirrs also points out that a modern fighter integrates avionics, weapons systems, electronic countermeasures, radar, and other systems, not just one piece of cutting-edge technology.

Finally, Sirrs claims that the J-20 and J-31B in China may have obsolescence issues because of US technology that was developed more than 20 years ago. He adds that advances in aviation technology, such as sensors and combat drones, could render China’s stealth fighters obsolete in a war scenario.