A modified version of the People's Liberation Army's Chengdu J-20 fifth-generation stealth fighter has been spotted preparing for what will presumably be its maiden flight.
The report said images of a modified prototype of the J-20, manufactured by Chengdu Aircraft Corporation, emerged on Feb. 20 showing the aircraft taxiing.
Analysis of the photographs suggests that the jet has been modified to improve engine performance, combat capability and stealth, including a sloped "caret" design, vertical stabilizers, larger scalloping on the weapons bay cover and a new brace on the canopy. A new electronic targeting system located below the nose of the plane and its distributed infrared sensor system suggests an intention to model the J-20's optical and infrared targeting and warning system on America's Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Other aspects of the J-20 remain unclear at this stage. Some reports indicate that the jet will be powered by a 15-tonne thrust WS-15 turbofan engine, though others suggest that as the WS-15 may not be ready for service until 2020 the J-20 could opt for a version of the Russian 13.5-tonne thrust Saturn AL-31F-M1 instead. Other options include the 14.3-tonne thrust AL-31-M2 or the 14.5-tonne thrust Saturn 117S.
If the J-20 does opt for Russian engines then initial production aircraft could be available for testing by the PLA Air Force by 2015, with service entry in 2017 and initial operating capability by 2019, the report said.
Another new jet that could be revealed this year is the tandem twin-seat Chengdu J-20S, which could rival the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation's twin-seat fourth-generation J-16 attacker, which is currently in the testing phase.
He Weirong, deputy commander of the PLA Air Force, predicted in November 2009 that fifth-generation fighters could enter service in China within eight to 10 years.