China is nearing mass production of its J-20 stealth fighter after its engine problems were ironed out.
The improved power train is designed to give the Chinese aircraft the ability to fly undetected at supersonic speeds, on par with United States’ F-35.
The J-20 is a single-seat, twinjet, all-weather, stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft developed by China's Chengdu Aerospace Corporation for the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The J-20 is designed as an air superiority fighter with precision strike capability. The J-20 made its maiden flight on 11 January 2011, and was officially revealed at the 2016 China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition. The aircraft was in military service by March 2017, with the aircraft officially entering combat training phase in September 2017. Combat units began inducting the aircraft in February 2018.
It the recent months it has been reported that China has invested significant funds in using AI technology to boost its military prowess. It is reportedly planning on making use of robots and robotics in an effort to increase its bomb and shell production capacity by threefold within a decade. It is using the technology of Artificial Intelligence in order to achieve this goal and boost the productivity of its ammunition factories.
A new and improved engine designed to make China’s J-20 stealth fighter a world-class combat jet should be ready for mass production by the end of the year, military sources have said. The WS-15 engine features cutting-edge single-crystal turbine blades and has been in development for several years, but Chinese technicians have struggled to get it into mass production.
However, many of the problems – which largely related to blades overheating at top speeds – have been ironed out in ground tests and trial flights, putting the goal of a consistently high-quality product in sight, sources told the South China Morning Post.
Beijing is keen to have a stealth aircraft capable of competing with the best in the world as tensions rise in the Asia-Pacific and the United States ramps up deployment of its F-22 and F-35 fighters in the region.
Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said that China expected the US to deploy between 200 and 300 F-35s – its most advanced stealth fighter – in the Asia-Pacific by 2025, which meant “China needs a similar number of J-20s, or at least 200”.
China has produced 8 prototypes and 20+ initial production fighters that using stop-gap engines.
The prototype is believed to be initially powered by WS-10 or the Russian AL-31F engines. The WS-15 will take the J-20 to a higher performance level and enable it to supercruise. The LRIP model is equipped with two WS-10B engines, an improved model based on the engine equipped on J-10.
The WS-15 thrust target was reported as 180 kilonewtons (40,000 lbf) in 2012. There are some claims that the WS-15 has reached a higher thrust level than the current F135.
The F119 engine derivative, the F135, produces 40,000 lbf (180 kN) of thrust for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
If the WS-15 meets design goals then J-20B’s cruise speed will be Mach 1.8 and maximum speed exceeds Mach 2.2. Those would equal the US F-22.
The People’s Liberation Army said that the J-20 entered combat service on February 9 and had been working alongside other fourth-generation aircraft, such as the J-16 and J-10 fighters and the H-6K strategic bomber. In May it took part in island encirclement drills around Taiwan.
One of the military sources said the public could get its first glimpse of the new stealth fighter, complete with its upgraded engine, at the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition later in the year.
An engine that can handle these functions is essential for fifth-generation aircraft. As the article notes, engines like the F-22’s Pratt & Whitney F119 allow fighters to reach supersonic speeds without using afterburners, which allows them to maintain their stealth. Without an engine like this, Beijing’s J-20 would lack stealthiness while travelling at supersonic speeds.
Our assessment is that China is finally stepping up its production in order to increase the induction of their most capable fighter aircraft into service as soon as possible. We believe that the US and Japan will actively consider deploying their respective F-35s around the South China Sea in response to aggressive Chinese forward deployments. However, we still believe that the American stealth fighters enjoy considerable advantages over China’s domestically-built fighters as they have been battle tested.