NEWS

China rushed its stealth fighter and now it isn't even stealthy

Chinese state media announced on Feb. 9 that the Chengdu J-20 stealth jet had officially entered into service as a combat-ready platform — but inside sources say it's a long way from fighting fit and has an embarrassing flaw.


Citing military sources with knowledge of the J-20's development, the South China Morning Post reported that the jets that entered service didn't feature the engine China custom-built for the platform but used an older one instead.

The result is an underpowered, less stealthy jet that can't cruise at supersonic speeds and is therefore not a true fifth-generation fighter.

The Posts' sources pinned the jet's troubles on a test in 2015 in which the custom-built engine, the WS-15, exploded — something they attributed to China's inability to consistently build engines that can handle the extreme heat of jet propulsion.

Also Read: China's J-20 stealth fighter enters military service

"It's so embarrassing to change engines for such an important aircraft project several times … just because of the unreliability of the current WS-15 engines," one of the sources told the Post. "It is the long-standing core problem among home-grown aircraft."

How an old engine makes the J-20 fight like an old fighter

The older engine, the WS-10B, is basically the same kind used in the J-11 and J-10 fighters in 1998 and 2002.

Without the new engine, the J-20 can't supercruise, or fly above the speed of sound, without igniting its afterburners like the U.S.'s F-22 and F-35 can.

"Afterburners do make any fighter much easier to detect, track, and target using Infrared and Electro-Optical systems at closer ranges when in use," Justin Bronk, a combat-aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider.

The two Chengdu J-20s making their first public appearance at Airshow China 2016 (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Experts have assessed that the goal of the J-20 platform is to launch long-range missiles at supersonic speeds, but they won't perform as well if they can't fire at such speeds, Bronk said.

"The major drawback from not having the ability to supercruise in this case would be having to choose between using a great deal of fuel to go supersonic or stay subsonic and accept shorter effective range from the fighter's missiles and an inferior energy position compared to a supercruising opponent," he said.

A senior scientist working on stealth aircraft who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of their work previously told Business Insider that the J-20's design had a decent stealth profile from the front angle but could be exposed from others.

According to Bronk, the older engine may exacerbate that problem.

Did they even really deploy the thing?

A U.S. Air Force affiliate researching the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force told Business Insider that an analysis of imagery suggested the service's 9th Brigade traded its Russian-made Su-30s for J-20s, but they disputed whether the jet was operational in the way Western militaries use the word.

"The aircraft and its pilots and maintenance group need to master the type before it can be sent on a 'real' mission, not a training mission," said the researcher, who spoke on condition of anonymity because their employer's report has not been released.

Also Read: The real purpose behind China's mysterious J-20 combat jet

The researcher said that even for planes that aren't stealth and as radically different as the J-20, that could take up to a year, adding that the new WS-15 engines most likely won't be added until 2020.

So while China claims it has become the only nation other than the U.S. to field a fifth-generation stealth jet, at the moment it looks as if it's hardly stealth, hardly fifth-generation, and a long way from the field.

Featured

Meet the Mighty 25: Influencers Supporting the Military Community in 2018

Throughout the year, the team at We Are The Mighty has the privilege of learning about and meeting people doing extraordinary things in the military-veteran community. This is the inspiration behind our annual Mighty 25: Influencers Supporting the Military Community in 2018 — a list of individuals who are making a difference for military service members, veterans, and their families.

This year, we expanded our list to include not just veterans, prior service members, and reservists, but also civilians who are doing exemplary work in this community.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

This is earth's real first line of defense against asteroid strikes

To be big enough to kill all life on Earth, all an asteroid has to do is kick up enough dust to cloud the atmosphere, change the climate, and cause a global extinction. To do so, the asteroid must be larger than 270 meters across — and there are millions of asteroids that size relatively close to Earth. How do we defend against random destruction or an extinction-level event?

Keep reading... Show less
History

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

You've heard of the Rough Riders, Teddy Roosevelt, his Medal of Honor, and the ass-beating the United States gave Spain in Cuba. But do you know just how much went down on the Caribbean Island that day?

Keep reading... Show less

NASA's 'chief sniffer' smells everything before it goes to space

Thanks to George Aldrich and his team of NASA sniffers, astronauts can breathe a little bit easier. Aldrich is a chemical specialist or "chief sniffer" at the White Sands Test Facility's Molecular Desorption and Analysis Laboratory in New Mexico. His job is to smell items before they can be flown in the space shuttle.

Aldrich explained that smells change in space and that once astronauts are up there, they're stuck with whatever smells are onboard with them. In space, astronauts aren't able to open the window for extra ventilation, Aldrich said. He also said that it is important not to introduce substances that will change the delicate balance of the climate of the International Space Station and the space shuttle.

Keep reading... Show less
History

'The Rock of Chickamauga' is the only Union General who never lost a battle

There's ongoing debate among historians and military history buffs about which general was better, Grant or Lee? Or maybe the question should be Sherman or Jackson? The name you never hear in these debates is George H. Thomas, who is arguably better than all of them, because he would not publicize himself or allow history to give him the credit he richly deserves.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH
David Vergun

6 exciting future weapons the Army needs next

Within a decade, if not sooner, leap-ahead technologies like lasers, hypersonic weapons, mobile and secure networks, and unmanned/autonomous air and ground vehicles will likely reside in combat formations, said the Army's secretary.

Peer threats from China and Russia — nations also developing these technologies — make fielding these systems absolutely necessary, said Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper, who spoke May 16, 2018, at the Center for a New American Security here.

Keep reading... Show less
International

How Prince Harry's military career makes him a hardcore noble

Many veterans chose the military life in search of something bigger than themselves. This rings true even for British royalty. Just like his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, his father, Prince Charles, and his brother, Prince William, Prince Harry served in the British military — except his war stories from Afghanistan are far more impressive than most royals.

Keep reading... Show less
History

How brave World War II-era pilots flew the now-classic C-47

The C-47 is a classic transport plane — it flew with the United States Air Force in World War II and remained in service until 2008. It's been used by dozens of countries as a transport. A re-built version, the Basler BT-67, currently serves in a half-dozen air forces, from Mauritania to Thailand, in both transport and gunship versions. In fact, classic C-47s are still around — either under civilian ownership or as warbirds.

Keep reading... Show less