An unusual ad campaign gives a first glimpse of Russia’s new stealthy fighter jet

Rostec ad for new Russian stealth fighter jet
A photo posted on social media by Russian state-owned firm Rostec hinting at the company’s new fifth-generation fighter jet.

  • Rostec published some photos of a new design (or mock up) of a 5th-generation fighter jet ahead of MAKS 2021 airshow next week.
  • Not much is known about the new jet, but the media campaign seems to indicate that it will be oriented toward the export market.
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Photos started circulating on Twitter on July 15, 2021, of an aircraft believed to be a new Russian 5th-generation design.

The jet, covered by black canvas, was rolled to the static display at the MAKS 2021 show, that starts next week.

The appearance of the mysterious aircraft did not come completely unexpected. On July 11, Rostec posted a mysterious tweet that teased an announcement.

On July 13, TASS did a short report on what is expected to be the new Russian aircraft. TASS directly stated that the new jet would compete with the F-35, quoting Executive Director of Aviaport Aviation News Agency Oleg Panteleyev.

Panteleyev said that this is also the main reason why the teaser of the new design, released by Rostec, has been published in English. Rosoboronexport, as Panteleyev said, has invited over 120 delegations from 65 countries of the world to the aerospace show.

This suggests that this year’s edition of MAKS may be export-focused, with a significant emphasis placed on the promotion of the new aircraft.

It remains unclear whether the airframe is a prototype or just a mock-up.

The characteristics of the jet are also somewhat cryptic. TASS claims the jet would feature low RCS, high thrust-to-weight ratio, advanced weapons and significant payload – these are somewhat generic descriptors, usually assigned to most of the 5th-generation, or wannabe-5th-generation multirole combat aircraft.

The premiere is scheduled to take place on the first day of the MAKS show in Zhukovskiy – July 20, 2021. The Aviationist will have two correspondents on site and will probably be able to provide additional details on the new stealthy aircraft.

The shape seems to be (loosely) similar to the one of the YF-23.

According to some analysts, the new aircraft has been developed by the Sukhoi bureau. Based on the hashtags used on social media and images released so far the new type could be named “Checkmate.”

As noted Stephen Trimble on his Twitter account.

We may be dealing with an export product, modeled after the Su-57 Felon, but made cheaper to operate than the first of the Russian stealthy fighter aircraft.

Yesterday Rostec released an ad teasing the jet, also pointing to the export profile of the design, suggesting UAE, India, Vietnam and Argentina might be potential customers.

We have also noted that one of the pilots, in the last shot of the video, is wearing an American flight suit.

Still, for now, we know little about the jet, hence everybody needs to wait for it to be officially unveiled during MAKS 2021.

It is symptomatic, however, that Russia follows the footsteps of the US, creating a tandem of fifth-generation platforms. This may be viewed as an analogy of the US F-22/F-35 duo, with the Raptor being a counterpart of the Su-57, and Lighting being a counterpart of the new, lighter, single-engine design.

Panteleyev seemingly confirmed this, saying that the new, lighter design would be an answer to tactical problems.

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China deploys stealth fighter jets to units monitoring Taiwan Strait in possible warning to US allies

China J 20 Stealth Fighter
A Chinese J-20 stealth fighter at an air show in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, November 1, 2016.

  • A new brigade of upgraded J-20s deployed during a ceremony forming part of the Communist Party’s centenary.
  • The deployment is aimed at telling South Korea and Japan that China is strengthening its air defence, one observer said.
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China has deployed its most advanced stealth fighter jet to air force units monitoring the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea, state media said, in a move Chinese observers saw as a warning to South Korea and Japan, the US’s allies in the region.

The deployment indicated China had delivered at least four aviation brigades with a total of 150 J-20 fighter jets, including two training bases in Inner Mongolia and Hebei and two aviation brigades in the eastern and northern theatre commands, a military insider said.

“China will accelerate the deployment of the upgraded version J-20C, with probably at least one or two brigades in every theatre command to defend the country’s five strategic directions in the next five years,” the insider, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity, told the South China Morning Post.

The five directions referred to the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) five theatre commands, in the north, south, west, east and central.

“As one brigade needs at least 36 aircraft, it means the PLA Air Force will need more than 300 J-20s in the future,” they said. “But the progress will rely on the delivery of the home-built WS-10C engine and the latest development of the tailor-made WS-15 engine for the J-20s.”

J-20 stealth fighter china

China has stopped using Russian AL-31F engines originally fitted on the J-20s, replacing them with the upgraded home-built WS-10C, a stopgap choice, with development of the more powerful WS-15 engine affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new aviation brigade, Military Development Vanguard Air Group, based in Anshan, Liaoning province, has been equipped with the upgraded J-20C jets in a ceremony, state broadcaster China Central Television reported last Friday.

That air group, under the Northern Theatre Command, became the second J-20 aviation brigade, after the Wuhu-based Wang Hai Flight Group under the Eastern Theatre Command in Anhui province, CCTV said.

The two brigades originated from the air force units of the People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) during the Korean war (1950-53).

“The J-20’s new deployment, announced ahead of the Communist Party’s 100th anniversary on July 1, is aimed at telling South Korea and Japan that China is strengthening its air defence along the coastal areas, warning them not to join Washington and intervene in the Taiwan issue,” Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, said.

A ceremony for the deployment of J-20s was held on Friday at the former site of the air force’s cradle, the original Northeast China Democratic United Army Aviation School in Jilin province in the northeast, as part of the events marking the party centenary, CCTV said.

The PVA’s early pilots and engineers were trained at the school by Japanese pilots who surrendered to China after World War II. The Chinese pilots were trained for only dozens of hours before being sent to the Korean war to fight American counterparts, CCTV said.

Shanghai-based military expert Ni Lexiong said the deployment of J-20s to Wuhu and Anshan, respectively 800km (500 miles) and 1,700km from Taiwan, was aimed at preventing the bases there becoming targets for Taipei’s new home-built Hsiung Feng-2E (Brave Wing) cruise missile.

“The Hsiung Feng missile has a firing range of 600km, and its extended version could hit targets more than 1,000km away,” Ni said.

“The J-20 is the PLA’s most powerful and sophisticated weapon, and may become the first bombing target for Taipei if a war between mainland China and Taiwan were to happen.”

J-20 stealth fighter china

Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province, to be brought under its control by force if necessary, and is opposed to other countries intervening in its “reunification mission,” planned for decades.

Li said the J-20s would not be the spearhead in a possible cross-strait war, with the mainland’s short and medium-range DF-11, DF-15 and DF-17 missiles expected to be deployed on the front line.

“None of the J-20s will be deployed near the coasts, because of their 2,000km-plus combat range, which is more than enough to cover the mainland coastal provinces and Taiwan,” Li said.

The upgraded version of the J-20C entered mass production last June, although Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science institute in Beijing, said J-20s were currently believed to be in short supply.

“Once a war happens, the PLA needs to deal with all US allies in the region, meaning it needs at least 200 J-20s, given that Beijing expects Washington to deploy between 200 and 300 F-35s to Japan and South Korea by 2025,” Zhou said.

Beijing rushed the J-20, its first stealth fighter jet, into service ahead of schedule in 2017, when the US started deploying the F-35, its fifth-generation all-weather stealth multi-role fighter, to the Asia-Pacific region.

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China’s J-20 stealth fighter jet could get engines that put it ‘on a par’ with the F-22 in next 2 years

China J 20 Stealth Fighter
China’s J-20 stealth fighter at an air show in Guangdong Province, November 1, 2016.

  • China’s fifth-generation J-20 jets were designed to compete with US F-22s but use stopgap engines that limit their speed and combat capabilities.
  • China has spent two decades trying to master the technology behind the WS-15 engine, which a military source says is now almost ready to enter service.
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China’s “Mighty Dragon” J-20 stealth fighter jet is expected to get purpose-built new engines within the next two years, according to a military source.

The WS-15 engine has been specially designed for the J-20 and is designed to improve its manoeuvrability and combat capabilities.

“The development of WS-15 is nearly complete … or may be finished within one or two years,” said the source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic.

The source added that the project had fallen behind schedule and had taken more than 10 years but the upgrade means “it will be on a par with the American Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.”

On Monday, Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television broadcast an interview with Li Gang, the pilot who made the J-2o’s maiden flight, in which he said the new engines would maximise the fifth-generation fighter’s capabilities.

At the time of the plane’s debut in 2011 – which was timed to coincide with a visit to Beijing by then-US defence secretary Robert Gates – it was fitted with Russian Saturn Al-31 engines.

These were designed for fourth-generation fighters, which meant the new fighter was less agile than the US planes it was supposed to compete with.

J-20 stealth fighter china
China’s J-20 stealth fighter.

The American Raptors are fitted with engines that use two-dimensional thrust-vectoring nozzles – a technology China has been trying to master for two decades and which will be used in the new engines.

These nozzles allow the direction of the engine thrust to be controlled, which means the plane can perform sudden manoeuvres that conventional aircraft cannot – for example avoiding missiles.

China has made some progress in this field and in 2018 it unveiled the WS-10C Taihang engine, which offers greater manoeuvrability but less power than the WS-15.

But the WS-15 engine failed its final evaluation in 2019 and the WS-10C, first tested on a single-engine fighter, has been used as a stopgap for the twin-engined J-20.

The J-20 was designed to be a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet on par with Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning multirole strike fighters.

The fighters were rushed into service by the People’s Liberation Army in 2017 after the Pentagon started deploying its F-35s in the Asia-Pacific region.

The PLA currently has 50 J-20s in service and the military source said the Chengdu Aerospace Corporation (CAC) is expected to produce another 50 by the end of this year.

“But compared with the Lockheed Martin production line, which is able to deliver more than 100 F-35s every year, each of the CAC’s [four] production lines only has the capacity to make about one J-20 a month,” the source said.

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