U.S. F-22s versus Chinese F-35s: "A new Chinese fighter with stealth and supercruise is in development and may soon make its first flight with predictions of operational fielding by 2017-19, says PLA Air Force deputy chief, Gen. He Weirong.
The new Chinese fighter aircraft could come from Avic Defense’s Chengdu facility, which developed China’s latest J-10 fighter, or from Shenyang.
He says the PLAAF will emphasize development of reconnaissance/early warning; strike; strategic airlift, and air and missile defense. The J-10 began large-scale service in 2006.
While replicating the F-22 seems unlikely, aerospace officials with insight into the stealth fighter programs contend that building an F-35-like aircraft (with larger signature and less aerodynamic performance than the F-22) could be a threat to the U.S. if they are built in large numbers.
‘Even 4th generation fighters, when pitted in large numbers against 187 F-22s, will eventually wear [the stealth fighters] down,’ an aerospace industry official says.
‘They only carry eight air-to-air missiles. They don’t have to match Raptor capabilities if they build an advanced fighter in F-35 numbers.’
But many remain unconvinced about China’s timelines for an advanced design.
‘But we’ve yet to see a real organic design [emerge] from China. So far they’ve leveraged Russian or Israeli technology. They don’t have a lot of radar engineering capability, nor experience in integrating a complete structure.’
Those are two big obstacles.
‘You can paste on some [signature-lowering] capabilities but changing a very large target to a large target doesn’t buy you too much operational advantage,’ the Air Force official says. ‘You need very small stealth signature numbers.’
The F-22 met a -40dBsm all-aspect requirement while the F-35 came in at -30dBsm with some gaps in coverage.
‘You need a combination of the right shape, structural design, surface coatings, aerodynamic performance and flight control system designs,’ the Air Force official says.
‘It’s not magic, but there’s still a lot of art in it.’
The idea that the J-10 will serve as a technological springboard is considered unlikely.
‘I believe the Chinese have a difficult road if their design is tied to the J-10,’ he says. ‘As you know, significantly reduced signature requires more then coatings. The J-10 has many features which may produce the desired aerodynamic effects but would be a negative for signature reduction. I am sure they can somewhat reduce the signature with a few design tweaks and coatings but the operational relevance would be questionable.
‘They can certainly refine their composite structure competency – Boeing’s been helping them with that through the commercial airliner programs – and basic [stealth] coatings are widely known and available,’ the Air Force official says. ‘The milestone will be when we see more refined shaping.’