J-20’s endurance now is notably greater than any Western fighter

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China’s heavyweight air superiority fighter, the Chengdu J-20, just took to the skies in a historic first flight. But this wasn’t just any flight – it was the first time the fifth generation fighter was powered by not one, but two new WS-15 afterburning turbofan engines. The momentous event took place at the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation’s test airfield, nestled near its primary aircraft plant – the only one of its kind outside the United States to have churned out multiple squadrons of fifth-generation fighters.

Photo credit: Chinese Internet

Despite the inability to visually confirm the engines as WS-15, an informative banner next to the runway served as a herald of the event. Moreover, the engines emitted a unique auditory signature, a sound that was noticeably different from the familiar hum of the WS-10C that had previously powered the aircraft. This distinct sound made its public debut, allowing everyone within hearing range to witness history. 

The first glimpse of the WS-15 in action was seen in January 2022 when it was integrated into the J-20 for a test flight. Fast forward 18 months, and the engines are now powering flights in a twin configuration. This rapid progression is a testament to the accelerated pace at which the program is moving, indicating a promising future for the project.

Stealth will improve

The twin configuration of the engine points to increased confidence in its performance. This setup allows the option of relying on a tried-and-true secondary engine, the WS-10C, which currently powers most J-20 units. This safety net means the fighter can still land using the WS-10 if the cutting-edge WS-15 encounters any performance hiccups. 

Designed with dimensions akin to the American F-22 Raptor, the J-20 was created to be powered by two engines. This is a stark contrast to the lighter, single-engine F-35 fighter of the U.S. Air Force. The F-35’s single engine was a cost-cutting measure, but it sacrifices superior flight performance in every aspect. 

An upgraded model, the J-20B, has been fitted with the new engines. It was first spotted in December 2022, sporting a sleeker, low-profile canopy. This design tweak is expected to considerably enhance the stealth capabilities and aerodynamics of the airframe. It also allows for more seamless integration with the fighter’s elevated spine, reflecting similar enhancements seen in China’s other fifth-generation fighter program, the FC-31.

WS-15 is an engineering marvel

Imagine the roar of the engines as China’s J-20B stealth fighter aircraft, now powered by twin next-gen WS-15 engines, took to the skies on its first flight in July 2020. The WS-15, a marvel of engineering, began full serial production just a few years later in March 2023. The sighting of these sleek engines in flight, captured in crystal clear images on April 5, 2023, was a sight to behold. The J-20 is already a formidable force, boasting an endurance that surpasses any Western fighter class. With the WS-15 on board, it’s poised to push those limits even further, thanks to its superior fuel efficiency. 

Photo credit: Reddit

The advent of the WS-15 opens up a world of strategic possibilities for J-20 units. Their enhanced range could mean longer patrols, more time to linger during air defense duties, and the ability to strike targets on Taiwan from its less well-defended eastern coast. It’s not out of the question that these stealth fighters could carry out missions against Western facilities in Japan, drastically reducing the need for aerial refueling. 

The most powerful engine

There’s a buzz in the air, a sense of anticipation. The WS-15 is widely predicted to be the most potent engine ever integrated into a twin-engine fighter. It outshines its peers, such as the Soviet AL-41F for the MiG 1.42 fighter and the D-30F-6 for the MiG-31M interceptor, both of which were scrapped following the state’s disintegration. Presently, the F-22’s F119 engine leads the pack with 17.5 tons of thrust. Yet, the WS-15 is projected to achieve an astounding 19-20 tons, boasting a thrust-to-weight ratio on par with the F135 that empowers the F-35.

Photo credit: eng.chinamil.com.cn

Imagine a jet roaring through the sky, outperforming its predecessors in every aspect – that’s the J-20 stealth fighter with the next-gen WS-15 engines. Not only does it promise to elevate the J-20’s flight performance, but it’s also expected to cut operational costs and overall lifetime expenses, thanks to reduced maintenance needs compared to the WS-10C. While the WS-10C already gifted the fighter with supercruise ability – hitting supersonic speeds sans afterburners – the WS-15 is set to push the boundaries even further. 

Cutting-edge systems

Photo credit: ADN

Currently, the J-20 and the F-35 hold the unique distinction of being the only fifth-generation fighters in production and fielded at squadron-level strength. The F-22, which once shared this status, saw its production orders terminated just under four years after its introduction and is now on the verge of early retirement. The J-20 and F-35 crossed paths for the first time in March 2022, a meeting that led to Pacific Air Forces General Kenneth Wilsbach lauding the J-20’s operations and command and control systems. 

This fighter is a marvel of engineering, blending the high flight performance and extensive weapons carriage of the F-22 with advanced avionics features seen on the F-35. It comes equipped with cutting-edge distributed aperture systems and helmet-mounted sights, enabling it to outshine both American platforms in areas they’ve previously struggled. The J-20 isn’t just a stealth fighter, it’s a game-changer.


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