The fourth low production rate copy of the Chinese J-20 stealth fighter has been spotted
The J-20 will fly at up to 1305 mph
The appearance of LRIP aircraft suggests that the type is nearing introduction into service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. A number of J-20s have been seen on satellite imagery at the China Flight Test Establishment base at Xi’an-Yanliang. The latest report to Congress on Chinese defense developments by the U.S. Department of Defense suggests that the J-20 could become operational in 2018.
The J-20 appears to be designed for long-range interception with an emphasis on frontal-aspect low-observability. It has an infrared search and track sensor and possibly also an electro-optical distributed aperture system (EODAS), the latter a Chinese-designed system similar to that on the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter. The weapons are carried internally, with a central bay expected to contain four beyond visual range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAMs). There is also provision for two short-range AAMs in two separate weapons bays on each side of the fuselage.
The main question that is left for the design is the powerplant, with all J-20s built so far being powered by two Russian Saturn AL-31 engines. China hopes eventually to install 180-kN (40,000-pound-thrust)-rated WS-15 turbofans. But China’s jet engine development program has been stymied by manufacturing and reliability issues. Even the less ambitious WS-10 turbofan is yet to fully enter service with the single-engine Chengdu J-10 fighter, although it has been flying on the twin-engine Shenyang J-11 Flanker since 2010.