China confirms J-20 fighter jet’s role in Taiwan encirclement

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The Chinese stealth fighter jet J-20 showcased its prowess during the recent Joint Sword-2024A exercise, which simulated an invasion of Taiwan. On its X account, Global Times posted a video of the jet’s involvement in the exercise held last Friday. 

“The J-20 stealth fighter jet, termed ‘cross-Straits lethality’ by the PLA Eastern Theater Command, demonstrated high stealth, supersonic cruise, and enhanced situational awareness during the drills,” the social media post stated. 

The PLA’s Eastern Theater Command officially released the 55-second video, which highlights their aggressive military exercises around Taiwan. The footage, now viral on social media, includes various angles, including in-cockpit shots.

Photo credit: ADN

One clip captures two J-20s taking off simultaneously. Another shows a pilot poised for action within the cockpit. At the 0:21 mark, four fighters are seen flying in formation with dramatic audio playing in the background. 

Although the video captions are in Mandarin, the first caption translates to “deadly across the strait” in English. The video underscores the J-20 Mighty Dragon’s key attributes: stealth, supercruise, and situational awareness. It emphasized, “The J-20 excels with its high degree of stealth, supersonic cruising capabilities, and superior situational awareness.” 

The video’s release coincided with the PLA’s massive military exercises, which followed Taiwan’s new president Lai Ching-te’s inaugural speech on May 20, reaffirming Taiwan’s independence and sovereignty. China has frequently labeled President Lai as a “separatist.” 

Photo credit: eng.chinamil.com.cn

The J-20, also known as the Chengdu J-20, is a fifth-generation stealth fighter aircraft developed by China’s Chengdu Aerospace Corporation for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force [PLAAF]. It is designed to compete with other advanced fighters like the American F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. The J-20 made its first flight in 2011 and was officially introduced into service in 2017. 

The J-20 has an overall length of approximately 20.4 meters [66.9 feet], a wingspan of around 13.5 meters [44.3 feet], and a height of about 4.45 meters [14.6 feet]. These dimensions contribute to its stealth and aerodynamic capabilities, allowing it to perform a variety of roles, including air superiority and ground attack missions. 

The propulsion system of the J-20 has been a subject of much discussion and development. Initially, the aircraft was powered by Russian-made AL-31F engines. However, China has been working on indigenous engines, such as the WS-10 and the more advanced WS-15, to enhance the aircraft’s performance, including its speed, range, and maneuverability.

Photo credit: Pinterest

The J-20 is equipped with a sophisticated suite of avionics designed to enhance its combat effectiveness. This includes an advanced radar system, likely an Active Electronically Scanned Array [AESA] radar, which provides superior tracking and targeting capabilities. The aircraft also features an Electro-Optical Targeting System [EOTS] and advanced communication systems for network-centric warfare.

In terms of equipment, the J-20 is outfitted with state-of-the-art stealth technology, including radar-absorbent materials and an airframe designed to minimize its radar cross-section. The aircraft also employs advanced electronic warfare systems to disrupt enemy radar and communication systems, enhancing its survivability in contested environments.

The J-20 is capable of carrying a variety of weapons, both internally and externally. Its internal weapons bays can house air-to-air missiles such as the PL-10 and PL-15, which are designed for short and long-range engagements, respectively. The aircraft can also be equipped with air-to-ground munitions, including precision-guided bombs and anti-ship missiles, making it a versatile platform for multiple combat scenarios.

Photo credit: Chinese Internet

Rumor has it that the Chinese Shenyang WS-15 engine, along with the superlatives that go with its reputation, also faces some pretty serious problems that are not being talked about in China. One of the primary issues with the Chinese Shenyang WS-15 engine is its reliability. Reports suggest that the engine has not yet achieved the necessary operational stability, leading to frequent breakdowns and maintenance challenges. This unreliability hampers the J-20’s ability to perform consistently in various operational conditions. 

Another significant problem is the engine’s thrust performance. The WS-15 is designed to provide high thrust to enable the J-20 to achieve supercruise capabilities, which means flying at supersonic speeds without afterburners. However, the engine has struggled to meet these performance benchmarks, limiting the aircraft’s overall effectiveness in combat scenarios. 

Thermal management is also a critical concern with the WS-15 engine. The engine tends to overheat, which not only affects its performance but also poses a risk of damage to the aircraft. Effective thermal management is essential for maintaining the engine’s longevity and ensuring the safety of the aircraft and its pilot.

Photo credit: EurAsian Times

Fuel efficiency is another area where the WS-15 engine falls short. The engine’s current design leads to higher fuel consumption, which reduces the J-20’s operational range and endurance. This limitation affects the strategic deployment of the aircraft, particularly in missions requiring long-range capabilities. 

The WS-15 engine also faces challenges with its stealth capabilities. The engine’s design and materials have not yet achieved the low observable characteristics necessary to minimize the aircraft’s radar signature. This shortcoming undermines one of the key advantages of the J-20 as a stealth fighter, making it more detectable to enemy radar systems.

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