13:26 GMT27 July 2021
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    The People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s (PLAAF) recently commissioned J-20 will dramatically improve China’s ability to project power in the Asia-Pacific region, but it still has some weaknesses that could make it vulnerable to enemy radar detection, according to a new US think tank report.

    The Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) has published a simulated 3-D view of the J-20 stealth fighter in tandem with researchers from Air Power Australia, another think tank.

    According to the researchers, the jet has highly advanced radars, sensors and avionics similar to the US’ F-35 and F-22 stealth fighters.

    The jet has "achieved some low observable goals for enhanced stealth," according to the December 12 CSIS report, allowing the J-20 "to bypass radar and electronic countermeasures with low to zero visibility."

    Nevertheless, jet's spherical nozzle design, set between the two Russian AL-31 engines in the plane's rear and the cockpit, "may work against its stealth capabilities," CSIS states. Keeping weapons attached externally to its wings as opposed to stored inside weapons bays will also make the plane less stealthy, analysts say.

    Much of the data about the J-20 remains crude and estimated, but will be updated as new details roll in, CSIS notes.

    One possibility is that China is planning to make the aircraft stealthier over time. While CSIS estimates about 11 J-20s have been produced so far, some are believed to feature AL-31 engines while others may be powered by domestically produced WS-10 engines. Future J-20s will be powered by WS-15 engines, which are likely to improve the jet's rear-end radar signature while providing continuous supersonic travel capability, or "super cruise," which European, Russian and US fighters have already implemented. The ability to "super cruise" makes the jet harder to detect, as it doesn't require afterburners to reach supersonic speeds.

    Once the J-20 became operational in late September, it achieved the status predicted by the US Naval War College in 2014 — that once operational, the J-20 would "immediately become the most advanced aircraft deployed by any East Asian Power."

    The PLAAF's experience with the J-20 is thought to provide China with a significant edge over India, Japan and South Korea, which all plan to design and produce their own fifth-generation fighters but remain years away from putting such jets into service.

    Analysts have yet to conclude whether the J-20 will be most effective in an air superiority role or as an air-to-ground strike fighter. One of the most important factors in determining what the plane will best be suited for — though the PLAAF maintains the jet will be a multi-role fighter — consists in what types of missions PLAAF pilots are trained in, CSIS notes.


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    J-20, stealth aircraft, PLAAF, Center of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), China
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