SOURCE: GIRISH LINGANNA / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG.
China is working on several futuristic projects to develop a modern and highly effective air force. The PLA Air Force received the first 5th generation fighter of Chinese design a few years ago.
Data indicates that China started developing its fifth generation of fighters in the late 1990s. The initial experiments and theoretical research took several years. A full-fledged project began to develop the 5th Generation fighter in the middle of the following decade.
The project was undertaken by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG) and was given the codename J-20 (after the 20th century).
In January 2011, the J-20 prototype made its maiden flight. It helped China become the third nation in the world to design and operate a new breed of fighters. The following few years were devoted to testing, other tasks, and getting ready for mass production. According to various sources, the fighter has reportedly undergone several different changes at this point. The engines were changed, various onboard equipment components were added and tested, etc.
Mass production began in 2016, and the first production planes were handed over to the air force’s training wing at the end of the year.
The PLA Air Force formally inducted the new J-20 in March 2017. A full-scale deployment of the fighter in combat units started a year later.
Data available indicates that CAIG has produced 50–70 J-20 aircraft. New aircraft are frequently delivered to the units as production continues.
They currently serve in the eastern theatre, protecting the nation’s coast and resolving issues at sea. Reports from the US indicate that the J-20 have met the US F-35s in the South China Sea.
The J-20 fighter has given not only China new military capabilities but also something to be proud of. It demonstrated the Chinese industry’s capacity to produce the newest aircraft models. The PLA lags behind the US and Russia in the fifth generation technologies but has managed to create and deploy the aircraft ahead of the Russians.
Data currently available indicate that CAIG continues to develop the J-20 project. Chinese media sources have previously mentioned efforts to replace the avionics and install new engines.
Removing “teething troubles” is probably one of these improvements, but an entire aircraft upgrade aimed at enhancing its performance and potential is also conceivable.
CAIG has now produced a two-seat version of the J-20. The J-20B prototype aircraft was constructed and put through testing last fall. It was first observed at the airport in October, and the first flight happened in November. The second prototype began participating in the flight tests in February 2022.
A two-seat version J-20B is a fighter modified for combat training and probably ground attack. This aircraft might have more developed and advanced avionics and unique operational and combat capabilities. J-20B is expected to be better equipped to coordinate with other combat units, such as aircraft and UAVs, and to gather and process information. It can be made as a tactical air command post.
The duration of the tests on the two J-20Bs currently in operation is unknown. The updated J-20 has also become a source of pride, much like the original model.
The new J-20B is the only example of its kind and is the first fifth-generation fighter in the world to feature a two-seat cockpit.
FC-31 or J-31
The first information on creating a second Chinese next-generation fighter surfaced in 2010–2011. The new project’s specifications were displayed at exhibitions. The project, which went by the working names FC-31 or J-31, is being developed by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC). SAC constructed the first prototype aircraft in the fall of 2012 and made its first flight at the end of October.
The aircraft was repeatedly observed in the sky, indicating an extensive test campaign. Different flight modes were used, and equipment and weapon usage training was conducted. However, the aircraft did not go into production after years of testing.
FC-31 nevertheless assisted the Chinese industry in analysing the new technological model and testing various solutions for this undertaking.
In addition, it helped China develop and fly two fifth-generation fighters, making it the second nation in the world to do so. Naturally, it is a factor when rejecting mass production and use.
It was revealed in 2020 that the Chinese were creating a deck upgrade for the FC-31, which was given the moniker J-35. A prototype or prototype of the aircraft was spotted at one of the PLA Navy’s experimental sites about a year ago, and flight tests started in the fall.
In late October, the J-35 made its first known flight from an airfield.
It appears that J-35 will undergo comprehensive testing for some time. The aircraft must first demonstrate its capabilities at a land airfield before going through checks on one of the active aircraft carriers. The new fighter will be able to join the Navy’s fleet no earlier than the middle of the decade if there are no major obstacles. It will initially replace and supplement the J-15 aircraft currently in service.
There are currently two aircraft carriers in the PLA fleet. The fourth is scheduled to begin construction; the third, called Fujian, was just recently launched. Fujian, which is currently being finished, may serve as the foundation for the J-35 fighter, according to various estimates.
This aircraft carrier can launch various aircraft types thanks to its flat flight deck and three launch positions with electromagnetic catapults.
The J-35 project is of great importance for developing the fleet and prestige. If this project is successful, China will become the second country in the world to create its 5th generation carrier-based fighter – and again close the gap with the United States.
J-20 and AMCA
India, too, has taken up the development of the 5th generation fighter aircraft given the Chinese fielding J-20. Unlike J-10 A air superiority fighter and perspective Air to Ground fighter J-20B, Indian Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is designed to be an Omni role fighter which Indian Air Force favours. AMCA is expected to see service with the IAF within the timeline the Chinese are able to deploy J-20 variants on the Indian borders in large numbers and may be exported to Pakistan in the future
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