Feeds

China's 'stealth fighter' flies – brown trouser time, or not?

Benefits the US aerospace industry more than China's

High performance access to file storage

Analysis The death-tech beat has spoken of little else but China's new "stealth fighter" for some weeks now – and yesterday, funnily enough just as the US Defense Secretary was visiting Beijing, the J-20 (or whatever it may turn out to be officially called) finally took to the air.

The People's Republic is making no real effort to keep the plane secret – interested bloggers and photographers have been able to watch the plane in ground trials unhindered from the fence line at the Chengdu test site for weeks. Needless to say, vids of yesterday's first flight are widely available:

As will be obvious from the clips and many online pictures of the new plane, the J-20 (or J-whatever, as the craft's official number has not been announced) has been designed to be "low observable" – that is, difficult to see on radar, at least from certain angles.

Such a shape, combined with many other rather more difficult technologies (radar-absorbent coatings, heat dump into the fuel tanks to lessen infrared signature, complex frequency-hopping invisible radars and communications, etc, etc), offers so-called "stealth" capability. This doesn't mean that a plane is totally invisible to the enemy, just that – hopefully – it can detect and strike airborne opponents while they are still unable to get a lock on it. Alternatively, when trying to penetrate an enemy's groundbased air-defence system, a stealth plane may be able to avoid detection for part or all of its mission by flying carefully planned routes and/or cooperating with supporting electronic-warfare jammer aircraft.

There's no particular indication that China has any of the necessary supplementary technologies to create a true stealth capability. Furthermore, the J-20's shape indicates that its low-observability on radar would probably be much more limited in angle than is the case with operational stealth planes such as the US F-22 Raptor and B-2 Spirit (there's very little effort to stealth up the exhausts compared to the US designs, for instance, and the intakes and control surfaces look likely to be a lot more visible from a lot more places on the sphere of possible viewpoints around the aircraft).

Then, the J-20 is plainly large and cumbersome, and appears to lack thrust vectoring. One possible theorised effect of stealth design on air combat is that opposing stealth fighters – unable to lock each other up for long-range missile duels – would find themselves tackling one another in close-in dogfights using such tools as helmet-mounted sights and agile short-ranged missiles able to attack targets well off the launching fighter's line of flight. The cumbersome J-20 would probably suffer a gruesome fate in close with the highly manoeuvrable Raptor, or even the more affordable F-35 Lightning II.

Indeed, as China almost certainly can't yet build a Raptor-style stealthy targeting radar (and thus J-20 style jets would be unable to use long-range missiles while remaining unseen) the J-20 would probably be defeated even by ordinary Western fighters such as the F-15, Rafale and Eurofighter. If it lit up its radar to shoot at them from afar, they would instantly detect it and win the fight with long-ranging missiles such as the forthcoming Meteor. If the J-20 remained silent and stealthy in a meeting engagement it would encounter enemy fighters at short range, where their manoeuvrability and dogfighting weapons would defeat it easily.

If the J-20 has a military purpose (rather than merely being a demonstration/propaganda/industrial-subsidy project as is probably the reality) it would be to act more as a bomber than a fighter – to try to slip undetected past opposing air defences and strike at key targets: enemy bases, aircraft carriers, patrolling AWACS planes and such like. But this is highly unrealistic in today's Pacific; the whole Far East is a chain of US allies from Japan down to Australia, thickly sown with powerful American and allied air forces able to sweep the skies with radar and infrared-search-and-track (IRST) scanners, both ground and airborne. The seas are full of dangerous warships – US supercarriers each equivalent to a mobile Taiwan, Aegis air-defence vessels able to sweep hundreds of miles of sky, warships and submarines able to launch thousands of cruise missiles at targets far inland.

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
Get your MOON GEAR: Auction to feature Space Race memorabilia
Keepsakes from early NASA, Soviet programs up for bids
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.