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China’s 5th generation Stealth Fighter Program

While the Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi is
flight testing its T-50 PAKFA–the world is watching the tests very
Analysts are surprised that China too is testing its 5th
generation aircraft (which it calls 4th generation). Beijing thinks
that the F-22 is a 4th generation aircraft    while the West considers it
a 5th generation stealth fighter. With $30 Billion China building J-xx
5th generation fighter.
Shenyang J-XX: J-12, J-13, F-XX, J-XX (or J-X or XXJ) is a name
applied by Western intelligence sources to describe a programme or
programmes by the People’s Republic of China to develop one or more new
fourth- or fifth-generation fighter aircraft. In 2002,Jane’s Defence
Weekly reported that Shenyang Aircraft Corporation had been selected to
head research and development of the new fighter, a claim repeated in
New Scientist the same week. However, a 2006 article in Military
Technology referred to three designs; J-12 & J-14 by Shenyang
Aircraft Corporation and J-13 by Chengdu Aircraft Corporation.
According to the report from Jane’s, development of the subsystems,
including the engine and weapon suite for the next generation fighter,
has been under way for some time.
If we ignore the war of nomenclature–the fact remains that Chinese
are at par with or possibly ahead of the Russian stealth race.
As for the Chinese 5th generation fighter (or 4th generation as they
call it), it has always been a battle between SAC and CAC. We’ve
received a lot of mixed/contradictory news over the so called J-XX in
the past few years. People first speculated that it will be developed
by SAC due to the model they saw in Zhuhai 2002. 
By 2007, we started to
receive news that CAC’s design was actually awarded the contract. At
the same time, many people also certainly speculated that China was
going to join this project for the longest time, but that never
happened. I think that China knew what was at the stake in such a
cooperation. They would likely get an offer from the Russians for ToT
and some development work. Although, the Russians would freeze the
design according to their needs and keep some of the trade secrets to

China Close To Test 5th Gen Fighter–usually tagged as F-XX, but some call it by the moniker J-14.
A Chinese fighter of nominally the same technology generation as the
Lockheed Martin F-22 will soon enter flight testing, while a jet
airlifter larger than the Airbus A400M should be unveiled by year-end.
Beijing’s fighter announcement suggests a serious failing in U.S.
intelligence assessments, mocking a July 16 statement of U.S. Defense
Secretary Robert Gates that China would have no fifth-generation
fighters by 2020. Industrial competition looks more remote than
strategic competition, however, since China will want to fill domestic
requirements before offering the aircraft abroad, even if it judges
export sales to be a wise policy.
The new fighter “is currently under development,” says Gen. He
Weirong, deputy air force chief. “[It] may soon undertake its first
flight, quickly enter flight testing and then quickly equip the forces.
“According to the current situation, [the entry into service] may take another eight to 10 years,” he adds.
No details of the aircraft were given, but it is almost certainly
designed for supersonic cruise without afterburning. In April, Adm. Wu
Shengli, the navy chief, listed supercruising fighters among equipment
that his service needed. Notably, all the other equipment on his wish
list looked quite achievable by the end of the next decade, matching
the timing that the air force now suggests for the fighter.
China classifies aircraft of the F-22’s technology level as
fourth-generation fighters, although they are called fifth- generation
aircraft in the West. China’s current advanced fighter, the J-10, is
locally called a third-generation aircraft, which in Chinese terms
means that it is comparable with the Lockheed Martin F-16.
Work on “the fourth-generation aircraft is now proceeding intensely,” He says.
Whether the upcoming fighter is really comparable with the F-22
remains to be seen. Low radar reflectivity would not be surprising,
since aircraft and missiles with stealthy shapes are now popping up in
many countries, including South Korea as recently as last month
(AW&ST Oct. 26-Nov. 2, p. 42). But sensor performance, information
fusion and maximum supercruise speed would also be assessed critically
in measuring a claim to have caught up with technology levels that the
U.S. did not deploy until 2005.
The existence of a Chinese fifth-generation fighter, usually tagged
J-XX, has been rumored for years without official confirmation.
If the aircraft does go into service before 2020, then at that time
China may well have jumped past Britain, France and other Western
European countries in terms of deployed, domestically developed
combat-aircraft technology. That will depend on how quickly those
countries move to field combat drones to replace current strike
aircraft, says Andrew Brookes of the International Institute for
Strategic Studies.
Brookes takes seriously the Chinese objective of technology
equivalent to the F-22, and he sees no reason to doubt that the F-22
would be the standard against which they would judge their design. The
know-how can be imported.
“The Russians have the technology and the Chinese have the money,”
he says. “If they really set that as a target, then I think they can do
The aircraft may not bother Western manufacturers in export markets,
Brookes suggests, simply because an equivalent of the F-22 would be a
destabilizing export that China would be prefer to keep to itself.
Even if China decides that it wants to export the fighter, Lockheed
Martin should by then be well entrenched with the F-35, which should be
mature and reliable at that point. Other manufactures may not be so
well placed, however.
Gen. He made his remarks during an interview on China Central
Television as part of the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the
air force of the People’s Republic of China. 
China is probably working on two fifth-generation concepts, says
Richard Fisher of the International Assessment and Strategy Center. One
of those concepts, appearing most commonly in bits and pieces of
evidence that have turned up from time to time, would be a heavy
twin-engine fighter probably of about the same size as the F-22. The
other is a single-engine aircraft probably closer to the Lockheed
Martin F-35.
Gen. He could be referring to either of the aircraft when predicting
an entry into service during the next decade. Fisher’s bet is that he
is talking about the twin-engine concept.
Like Brookes, Fisher believes China is realistically aiming at the
F-22’s technology level. “One has to assume that the People’s
Liberation Army is confident in its projections, as it almost never
makes such comments about future military programs, especially one that
has been as closely held as its next-generation fighter.
“As such, one has to be asking very hard questions: How did the U.S.
intelligence community get this one wrong? And inasmuch as no one
expects the F-35 to replace the F-22 in the air superiority role, is it
time to acknowledge that F-22 production termination is premature and
that a much higher number is needed to sustain deterrence in Asia?”
In his July 16 speech, Gates said that even in 2025 China would have but a handful of fifth-generation aircraft.
The new Chinese fighter could come from the Chengdu or Shenyang plants of Avic Defense.
Gen. He says the Chinese air force plans to emphasize development of
four capabilities: reconnaissance and early warning, air strike,
strategic supply, and air and missile defense.
The J-10 began large-scale service entry in 2006, state media say.
When Wu raised the prospect of a supercruising fighter, an easy
answer seemed to be an advanced version of the J-10. That looks less
likely now that He describes the future concept as a full generation
ahead of the J-10.
“I believe the Chinese have a difficult road if their design is tied
to the J-10,” says a U.S. Air Force officer involved in the development
of the F-35. “Significantly reduced signature requires more than
coatings. It requires an integrated design philosophy with the right
shaping, the right structure and the right surface coatings.”
Fisher assumes that China is developing improved fourth-generation fighters in parallel with the fifth generation.
The existence of the airlifter has been known for several years, if
only because pictures of it have appeared fleetingly in presentations
by the Chinese aviation conglomerate Avic.
As expected, it turns out to be a product of Avic’s large-airplane
subsidiary, Avic Aircraft and, more specifically, of the subsidiary’s
core plant, Xi’an Aircraft.
Avic Aircraft General Manager Hu Xiaofeng says the airlifter is in
the 200-metric-ton class and will be unveiled at the end of this year.
In fact, its design has already unveiled in pictures shown by state
media. The four-engine aircraft adopts the universal high-wing, T-tail
configuration. The wing is mounted on top of the circular body, rather
than passing through a deep segment of it and cutting out much of the
usable cross-section. In that respect it is like the A400M, Ilyushin
Il-76 and Kawasaki C-X but unlike the C-17, whose embedded wing
presents less frontal area.
The main gear of the Chinese aircraft is housed in very protuberant sponsons, like those of the C-17.
A photograph of the cockpit shows five electronic displays of
moderate size and conventional transport-style control columns. Engines
are not revealed but would presumably be imported from Russia. A
wind-tunnel model shows the engines are enclosed in long nacelles, like
those of the Perm PS-90 from Russia.
The PS-90 has a standard maximum thrust of 35,300 lb. in its latest
version. The C-17, with a gross weight of 265 tons, is powered by four
Pratt & Whitney F117 engines of 40,400 lb. thrust.
The airlifter’s fuselage appears to be of conventional metal
construction. The aircraft will be significantly larger than the A400M,
which has a 141-metric-ton gross weight.
Hu says it has been independently developed in China. However, his
parent company, Avic, has a long history of cooperation with Ukrainian
airlifter specialist Antonov.China Close To Testing Next-Gen Fighter |
So, why did China not cooperate with the Russians. I think China
realizes that it has enough aerospace technology base to be able to
develop a true 5th generation fighter. At the same time, the Russians
would always be the primary partner in such a project. It would be hard
to imagine China wanting to act second-fiddle and be locked out of a
large part of the development process and some of the advanced
technologies. By working with the Russians, China would not only pay a
majority of the development but also continuously pay Russians for
certain parts of the frame, maintenance/repairs, extra supplies of the
engine and maybe even missile/avionics cost. In the end, China has
enough faith in AVIC1 to be able to develop this fighter.
On November 9, General He Weirong, deputy commander of the People’s
Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), confirmed long-standing speculations
that the PLAAF is developing fifth-generation fighters
(fourth-generation in Chinese standard), which may be in service within
8 to 10 years, and certainly by 2020. During an interview with
state-owned China Central Television (CCTV) two days ahead of the 60th
anniversary of the PLAAF on November 11, Deputy Commander He announced
that the next-generation fighter would soon undergo its first flight,
closely followed by flight trials (Xinhua News Agency, November 9). The
senior military officer’s disclosure reflects the considerable progress
that the PLAAF has made in force modernization, which has exceeded
Western expectations in terms of the pace of development and the
capabilities of its defense industrial base. While China remains
several steps behind the United States in operationalizing its advanced
fighter jets, the PLA’s rapid military modernization has raised
concerns among U.S. allies in the region that the military balance is
beginning to tilt toward China’s favor.
In an interview with Global Times, PLAAF Commander Xu Qiliang
stated, “superiority in space and in air would mean, to a certain
extent, superiority over the land and the oceans” (Global Times,
November 2), thereby highlighting the PLAAF’s position in Chinese
military planning. At an event commemorating the PLAAF’s 60th
anniversary, President Hu Jintao heralded a “new chapter” in the
development of the PLAAF (Global Times, November 10).
China’s fifth-generation fighters will reportedly have 4S
capabilities: stealth, super cruise, super maneuverability and short
take-off. According to Air Force Colonel Dai Xu, “its most striking
characteristic is the capability of invisibility, which also could be
called low detectability” (Global Times, November 10). The U.S. F-22
Raptor serves as the gold standard of fifth-generation fighters, which
is currently the only fifth-generation fighter in service among all the
world’s armed forces. According to General He’s interview, Chengdu
Aircraft, the country’s leading fighter manufacturer, is reportedly
developing the fighter with Shenyang Aircraft (Xinhua News Agency,
November 9).
General He’s startling revelation that the next-generation fighter
may be in service by 2020 stands in stark contrast to the Chinese habit
of closely guarding its military capabilities, yet consistent with a
recent trend that reflects the Chinese Armed Force’s growing confidence
in its military strength. During an interview with the official Xinhua
News Agency back in September, Defense Minister Liang Guanglie
proclaimed that, “Our [China’s] capabilities in waging defensive combat
under modern conditions have taken a quantum leap … It could be said
that China has basically all the kinds of equipment possessed by
Western countries, much of which reaches or approaches advanced world
standards” (Xinhua News Agency, September 21),.
Indeed, an ongoing survey conducted by Global Times among its
Chinese users revealed some telling observations about how they
perceive China’s security environment and PLA airpower. The short
four-question survey asks the respondents questions ranging from where
they think the biggest security threat to China in the future will come
from to how they rate China’s airpower and what type of air force
should be developed in the future. The first question, which asks how
respondents view China’s security environment, 46 percent of the 9,335
who answered said that they think the biggest security threat to China
comes from the sea, while 43 percent responded that it is airborne. The
second question asked respondents to rate China’s air force, and 50.8
percent rated the Chinese Air Force as average, while 44.9 percent
rated it as weak. The third question asked respondents what kind of
airforce China should develop, and an overwhelming majority, 75.3
percent, responded that China ought to develop a strategic air force
capable of covering the entire globe. The final question asks
respondents where China should place its emphasis with regard to air
force development, and the majority—47.6 percent—responded that China’s
air force should develop a space-based combat unit (satellites, space
weapons, etc.), while 21.3 percent responded that China’s emphasis
should be placed on developing large airlift platforms (strategic
bombers and cargo aircraft, etc.) (Survey.huanqiu.com, November 17).
In light of China’s rapid air force modernization, Japan is
increasingly concerned about Chinese regional air superiority. A Kyodo
News report cited by the Global Times quoted Andrei Chang,
editor-in-chief of the Canada-based Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, as
saying that the PLAAF currently has 280 J-11s, whose combat performance
is comparable to Japan’s Air Self Defense Forces’ 200 F-15s, and 140
J-10s, which are a match for the F-16s. According to a Japanese
military source, “even though [Japan] has a disadvantage in numbers at
the moment, but combined with its airborne early warning and control
system Japan can win in terms of quality.” Yet, the source cautioned
that, “once China deploys its AEWC [KJ-2000, which were on display at
the October 1 National Day Parade] … Japan’s air superiority will
gradually diminish” (China Daily, November 11; Global Times, November
Recently, we’ve received two pieces of news. The first one is an
enthusiastic report on WS-15. The article just got really excited about
using digital design for developing WS-15, but it did not really
explain how well the project really is doing. According to some online
sources, the engine should be ready in the middle to later part of next
The thrust performance is designed toward matching F-119, but
it’s hard to think that WS-15 would be as reliable and stealthy as
F-119. We also got one final confirmation from CAC that they got the
main design work for the 5th generation fighter. Now, the production
facility of SAC may still be used to produce a large part of the 5th
generation fighter, but PLAAF clearly likes CAC’s design better. SAC
will be saddled with the design for the naval fighter, future J-11
variants and UAV/UCAVs.
CAC now has the upgraded J-10, the 5th
generation fighter, the global hawk-like UAV and the JF-17 projects to
work on. After SAC is done with J-8IIs (hopefully soon), SAC basically
only has J-11 variants and UAVs to work on. Also, what does XAC have
after JH-7A? I presume bomber or fighter-bomber projects, but there
really isn’t a good report verifying much of anything. Also, it’s
interesting that PLAAF selected CAC’s design over SAC despite neither
firm having built a prototype. 
CAC will now be in charge of getting
some built soon that will use 2 WS-15 engine (or maybe WS-10 series in
the beginning), radar (by probably 14th institute) and integrating
different avionics together. CAC is already getting a lot of experience
developing a new generation of avionics on the upgraded J-10. The 5th
generation plane should take that up a notch to be able to fighter in
the new environment. A new generation of missiles are also being
developed for future fighters. We’ve seen/heard a 5th generation SRAAM,
a successor MRAAM to PL-12 and a Metor-like ramjet powered LRAAM. CAC
has shown that it can integrate all of this in the J-10 project. So, I
think PLAAF is making the right decision to pick it ahead of SAC for
the 5th generation design work. At current time, I’ve been reading 2015
as the year that this plane will join service. I think this is kind of
optimistic, because they are not expecting first flight until 2012.

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