back to article Whoosh! China shows off J-20 'stealth' fighters and jet drones

China has showed off its new J-20 fighter in public for the first time along with two jet-powered unmanned aircraft, according to reports. Two of the J-20s made a flypast at the Zhuhai airshow in Guangdong province, as reported by the BBC and the Guardian. The Chengdu J-20 is regarded as China's answer to the US F-22, itself …

  1. streaky Silver badge

    Stealth..

    Not so much, as anybody who knows *anything* about radar will tell you - one look down the barrel of those engines and they'll light up like christmas trees on radar, ignoring the rest of the airframe that doesn't even look slightly stealthy. Plus haven't the western military powers and Russia all figured out ways to eye stealth aircraft these days anyway? Thought that was common knowledge.

    1. Tony Haines

      Re: Stealth..

      I thought it was pretty good:

      "The media could not be played".

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Stealth..

      It has some (but not a lot) radar signature reduction measures.

      Looks ridiculously big though - more in the light bomber category - more in the Su-34 category than something positioned against F35 or Su-PAKFA

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Stealth..

        F35 is an underpowered tubby wee thing with stubby wings. Even a light bomber should be able to fly rings around it.

        That's assuming it ever sees combat. It's the 21st century F-111B and should have suffered the same fate already.

        1. streaky Silver badge

          Re: Stealth..

          I realise that the F-35 is the thing to poke fun at of the decade and some bad decisions have been made - but people don't actually think that do they? It's a replacement for the F-16 and F-18 that's far more capable than both.. so... people don't actually think that do they?

      2. Triggerfish

        Re: Stealth.. @Voland

        You are about right think it's about a 1/3rd again longer than a F22 or F35.

    3. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: streaky Re: Stealth..

      ".....haven't the western military powers and Russia all figured out ways to eye stealth aircraft these days anyway?....." More of a problem for the Chinese is that their pilots have been traditionally trained in the old Soviet home defence, GCI techniques and tactics. Those techniques got shown up as long ago as the Vietnam War and as recently as over Iraq and Libya. The ambitions of the Chinese are to use the J-20s to project Chinese air-power at very long range over the China Sea and the disputed "Nine Dash" air zone (hence why the J-20 is the size of an airliner, it needs so much fuel). Acting at such long range away from the comfort of their home defence systems is going to leave the J-20 pilots awfully exposed to ECM, a situation where the intense training in individual decision making of Western pilots and their superior integrated systems will give them an advantage.

    4. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: Stealth..

      "Not so much, as anybody who knows *anything* about radar will tell you - one look down the barrel of those engines and they'll light up like christmas trees on radar, ignoring the rest of the airframe that doesn't even look slightly stealthy."

      It depends how you look at it. According to analysis from those who seem to know about this sort of thing, it is probably quite stealthy when viewed head-on. This has led to a lot of speculation that the design has been changed from what originally appeared to be a general multirole fighter or ground attack aircraft, to an air superiority fighter or interceptor. Basically, it's difficult to see coming, and by the time you're looking at the decidedly un-stealthy side or rear it doesn't matter any more. Practically everything gets called stealthy in press releases these days, but there's a difference between being generally stealthy and being stealthy in certain specific ways in order to do a specific job.

      "Plus haven't the western military powers and Russia all figured out ways to eye stealth aircraft these days anyway? Thought that was common knowledge."

      It's certainly commonly claimed on the internet that they must have, but there's really no such thing. All radar does it bounce a signal off objects and look for reflections. Stealth works by not reflecting the signal back to the source. No amount of cleverness on the part of a detector can magically increase those reflections, so there's simply no way to ever to simply see through stealth. What can be done is try to work around it. The main two ways are either using different wavelengths of radar that aircraft may not have been designed to be stealthy in, or using clever computery stuff to try to identify likely hostiles more from their behaviour than the raw radar returns - you might be able to reduce the radar return of your plane to no more than that of a bird, but if someone can pick out a bird coming in on a likely attack route at mach 2 they might get suspicious.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stealth..

      Radar stealth is actually only of limited utility in fighters because it only confers a dubious and questionable advantage at ranges beyond that of electro-optical systems.

      Electro-optical systems use Infra Red, which gives them a passive detection range of ~30-40km depending upon conditions, whereas active radar gives detection ranges of several hundred km. However, the use of active radar not only immediately alerts any enemy that you're looking for them before you are able to detect them (because the strength of the incident radar pulse received by the target aircraft will be far stronger than the reflected signal from the target aircraft that the radar needs to receive and recognise) but also acts as a beacon for your location.

      Note that electro-optical systems using IR can work by detecting skin-heating - they don't need to see the hot exhaust plume from the engines - and so can detect an oncoming aircraft as easily as one retreating or flying across its path.

      The options for radar stealth fighters, when engaging electro-optical equipped fighters, are either to retreat and maintain distances beyond electro-optical detection i.e. 30-40km, or close to within electro-optical detection range where their radar stealth is useless and where any aerodynamic compromises due to radar stealth might leave them at a distinct disadvantage. This is why non-radar stealthy but highly agile fighters, such as the Gripen and Eurofighter, and especially the Sukhoi Flanker variants, which are aerodynamically superior to all other current fighters, including the F-22, are still viable.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Stealth..

        Is this still valid?

        http://www.theregister.co.uk/2001/06/20/stealth_detection_system_disappears/

        1. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: Stealth..

          "Is this still valid?"

          Probably, but it would seem to have somewhat limited application. It basically falls under the point I noted above about using wavelengths that the aircraft isn't designed to be stealthy in, combined with having lots of low-power emitters blanketing an area rather than a single central emitter/receiver. But the problems come with the "low power" and "blanketing an area" parts.You might be able to use this to follow a stealth aircraft flying low over an urban area, since there will be plenty of mobile phone masts around, but it's completely useless if you want to detect incoming aircraft outside your borders, or in areas with worse mobile coverage, or simply flying high enough that the signal is too weak. Basically, you can't see anyone coming, but you might be able to track them once they've already bombed you.

          1. Triggerfish

            Re: Stealth..

            Thanks. I did sort of wonder that it implied you would only catch them when they were so near it was pointless.

  2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    Re: gearing up for what?

    Isn't it obvious? They want Kidlington. And they won't take 'no' for an answer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: gearing up for what?

      Kidlington. That explains a lot. However as we spend more of our GDP than China ( 2.0% cf 1.9%) on defence we can certainly give them a run for their money defending it.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: gearing up for what?

        You think they'll charge us 2% of our GDP to take Kidlington?

        It's a hard bargain but I think we could go as high as 3%

  3. Chris Miller

    I'm surprised

    that they managed to find anywhere in China with visibility > 100m.

  4. Matt 70

    Clint would approve

    It's Firefox..

    1. CraPo

      Re: Clint would approve

      Must...think...in....Chinese

      1. waldo kitty
        Facepalm

        Re: Clint would approve

        Must...think...in....Chinese

        i'm guessing someone hasn't seen the movie to have down-voted that comment... in the movie, the firefox craft was soviet so the pilot had to think in soviet... since this is a chinese craft, it stands to reason that they would have to think in chinese :shrug:

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Re: Waldorf kitty Re: Clint would approve

          "....i'm guessing someone hasn't seen the movie to have down-voted that comment... in the movie, the firefox craft was soviet so the pilot had to think in soviet...." "Soviet" is not a language, it is a societal term. In the movie Michael Gant has to think in Russian because the plane's computer had been configured to understand the pilot's thoughts in Russian. A "soviet" is a term for a societal group operating under supposed socialist principles (the nuttier Left in the UK forms silly little "Soviets" all the time).

  5. You aint sin me, roit
    Trollface

    Not a worry for ten years at least...

    I imagine they'd like to be paid for building our nuclear infrastructure before bombing it out of existence.

  6. David Neil

    Political posturing

    The head of development was relieved of post about 2 weeks ago and there are reports that it really doesn't do what they promised.

    1. Tikimon Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Political posturing

      "...and there are reports that it really doesn't do what they promised."

      So it's comparable to the F-35 then. Let's pit one against the other and take bets on which one falls out of the sky first, and whether any weapon hits were needed for that to happen.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Political posturing

        Tikimon suggested "...comparable to the F-35 then. Let's pit one against the other..."

        How about we take not 'one against the other', but $100M worth of one against $100M worth of the other.

        That'd be most of one F-35 (just missing, say, the engine) against probably a dozen J20.

        1. tr1ck5t3r

          Re: Political posturing

          A $100M in China or Russia goes alot further than a $100M in USUK as the cost of living is more expensive in USUK land.

          Interesting to note the UK Taranis drone has gone all quiet.

          What advantages does it bring over a conventional aircraft? Can pull tighter maneuver's more G force which humans cant tolerate, slightly more weapons and fuel capacity over conventional aircraft.

          What are its weaknesses? Games console players with a passing interest in hacking might upgrade from the games console to real life and take matters into their own hands. Lets not forget the virus that made into onto the ISS, but hacking the communications and brains is more of a challenge especially when you can do a flyby over the Mall!

          Cant see the RAF wanting to down one of their own, even if its just a bot riding a controlled explosion.

          Are the custom distro's running things like the F35 and other Mil hardware really that secure?

  7. Dazed and Confused Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Do you think

    This one has to dial home to ask for permission for you to aim at the target of your choice?

    I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Do you think this one has to dial home to ask for permission

      ... when they start selling them to other countries, I very much suspect that they will.

  8. John Hawkins

    Outer Manchuria?

    Gearing up to take back Outer Manchuria perhaps? The Chinese certainly have a better claim to that than for example Argentina has to the Falklands, as well as a need for more space.

    I think Russia has a great deal more to fear from China than the West. Pity Lewis Page isn't still with El Reg; would have been interesting to hear his views on the subject.

    1. AugustB

      Re: Outer Manchuria?

      "Pity Lewis Page isn't still with El Reg; would have been interesting to hear his views on the subject."

      Indeed, I'll 2nd that.

    2. Ian Emery Silver badge

      Re: Outer Manchuria?

      Manchuria conquered China, not the other way around, so it would be a little like saying the French want Germany back.

      The 2nd bit though.... if it werent for nukes, I think the Chinese would already have done it; they could absorb a 100:1 kill ratio against them, and still wipe out every Russian in Asiatic Russia with plenty of PLA troops to spare.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really?

    "the Korean War six decades ago, when human waves threw themselves at the British Army's machine guns and tanks."

    I think the British had some help.

    1. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: Really?

      <quote>I think the British had some help.</quote>

      Of course they had some help. The 16th Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery helped.

      You're welcome.

      1. GrumpyKiwi Silver badge

        Re: Really?

        My understanding was that the British liaison with the US Army described the situation to them as "a bit sticky" which the yanks didn't realise was British Army code for "our trousers are full of brown".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Really?

      "I think the British had some help."

      Something like this apparently.

      Republic of Korea – 590,911

      Colombia – 1,068

      United States – 302,483

      Belgium – 900

      United Kingdom – 14,198

      South Africa – 826

      Canada – 6,146

      The Netherlands – 819

      Turkey – 5,453

      Luxembourg – 44

      Australia – 2,282

      Philippines – 1,496

      New Zealand – 1,385

      Thailand – 1,204

      Ethiopia – 1,271

      Greece – 1,263

      France – 1,119

      and more.

  10. Lotaresco

    Where did they get their ideas from?

    "It looks a lot like an F-22 fuselage mated with an F-35 cockpit section and with the forward canard delta wings of a Saab Gripen or a Eurofighter Typhoon grafted on; a visual mishmash of features from successful Western designs."

    How strange that the list of design influences looks exactly like a list of the designs hacked by the 2nd Bureau of the People's Liberation Army.

    1. Triggerfish

      Re: Where did they get their ideas from?

      I can't work out whether its stolen, or natural progression for 5th gen airframes to look like this or similar because they are optimal for the current knowledge / build abilities. I suspect it's a bit of both.

  11. DougS Silver badge

    Human waves

    They'll replace the human waves throwing themselves against superior but expensive firepower with drone waves throwing themselves against superior but expensive firepower.

    The US is going to go from first to "not first" in military superiority over the next couple decades if someone doesn't come along capable of strong arming the idiot Air Force generals who do everything in their power to preserve manned aircraft. I don't care how good you make the boondoggle that replaces the F35 boondoggle in the 2030s, if the enemy can fly thousands of cheap unmanned drones for the same price taking potshots and going for kinetic kills, the human pilot and his billion dollar stealth plane are going to lose that battle every time.

    1. theOtherJT

      Re: Human waves

      Zerg rushing. Coming soon to a real battlefield near you?

    2. Alex Walsh
      Alien

      Re: Human waves

      The Aliens exhausted the supply of ammunition in the Sentry guns, so perhaps James Cameron was on to something.

  12. CanadianMacFan

    Spares

    Wonder if they have any extras to sell to Canada. Can't be worse than the F-35 that we were supposed to buy. See if we could get a version without weapons and radar so that we could put in our own.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Spares

      You could relaunch the TSR2 program...

      1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

        Re: Spares

        Blueprints for CF-105 Arrow were probably destroyed, but this little bird is surely worthy of resurrection.

  13. Craig Vaughton

    F-22?

    Not sure I agree the tit looks like an F-22, to me it's more like they borrowed the only Su-37 Berkut they built from Sukhoi and stuck the wings on the normal way round? Maybe their carbon fibre skills aren't quite up to mass produced strengthening for forward sweep?

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: F-22?

      Whatever it is, there was LOTS of cut-n-pasting involved and quite clearly some of the original Su, LM, Boeing and Saab ideas have been "lost in translation".

  14. Al Black

    Stealth

    It is a stealth fighter in the sense that the designs were stolen from the West by stealth: "It looks a lot like an F-22 fuselage mated with an F-35 cockpit section and with the forward canard delta wings of a Saab Gripen or a Eurofighter Typhoon grafted on; a visual mishmash of features from successful Western designs." That is because that is where they sourced the designs from.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Stealth

      There are only so many ways you can build an aircraft, especially if you want to minimise your radar cross section, carry weaponry and be able to dogfight effectively.

      Look up "Convergent evolution" sometime.

  15. JaitcH
    Meh

    "It looks a lot like an F-22 fuselage mated with an F-35 cockpit section ...

    and with the forward canard delta wings of a Saab Gripen or a Eurofighter Typhoon grafted on; a visual mishmash of features from successful Western designs."

    This might well have been caused because the hackers who copied the designs from the 'super secure' US defence industry mistakenly copied the wrong files.

    The significant thing is the Chinese have achieved a remarkable milestone however they managed it.

  16. martinusher Silver badge

    Chinese have been selling drones for some time

    I've seen pictures of the Chinese drones.... they look remarkably like Predators. Its a bit like going to Harbor Freight for your surveillance capability than Sears -- the product won't be as good but it will be a lot cheaper and for many customers that's all that matters.

    The J-20 isn't really that interesting, its just a way of telling the world "we know how to make aircraft". What you need to watch out for is that the Chinese are currently developing their civil aviation industry. The first product will be a medium sized plane, something around the 737/A320 size.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Chinese have been selling drones for some time

      The predator look-alike is their first generation drone.

      Jet ones are something new.

    2. Ian Emery Silver badge

      Re: Chinese have been selling drones for some time

      Having lived in China I can predict.

      The real plane wont match the specs given out in any way.

      Top speed will be limited to about 400Knt - or the wings will fall off.

      Range will be about 500 miles - and then the wings will fall off anyway.

      Only 2 missile mounts will work, but using both during the same flight will make the wings fall off.

      Anything over 2G in a turn and the wings AND tail will fall off.

      Now the drones I would be scared of, the Chinese can turn them out by the billion - each armed with an Li-ON warhead

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
        Alert

        Re: Ian Emery Re: Chinese have been selling drones for some time

        ".....each armed with an Li-ON warhead." Each armed with a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 incendiary device!

      2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Chinese have been selling drones for some time

        @Ian Emery

        "Bits" falling off...

        Ooh… You Are Awful

        Airbus' A320 final assembly line in China. Airbus designed airframes being assembled in China. It won't be long before that skilled workforce and a generation of western trained aviation engineers will go onto to do their own thing.

        http://www.airbus.com/company/worldwide-presence/airbus-in-china/

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If it's build the same way as the dashcams...

    ...Only one in four will get off the ground anyway, and those will probably fail after the first day of use.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I was at a lecture by a fellow from BAe Systems. He said the tolerance on the F35 is 50 microns per six metres, in three dimensions. I wonder whether the Chinese have a similar capability.

    1. The elephant in the room

      Tiger vs T-34 tank / Space Pen vs pencil / engineering schools of thought

      Achieving such a tolerance is an amazing feat of engineering; however not requiring incredible precision to produce an effective product is probably more useful.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Tiger vs T-34 tank / Space Pen vs pencil / engineering schools of thought

        I think the pencil one is wrong, pretty sure small bits of graphite, floating arund on a zero g environment with lots of electronics is not optimal, also NASA was a little worried about flammable stuff up in space to the point of obsession.

        1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

          Re: Tiger vs T-34 tank / Space Pen vs pencil / engineering schools of thought

          snopes.com/business/genius/spacepen.asp

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