Not Enough Stealth in China's J-20 Jet? Plans to Change Shape to make it Stealthier

  • Bureau
  • 12:33 PM, December 26, 2022
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Not Enough Stealth in China's J-20 Jet? Plans to Change Shape to make it Stealthier
Alleged new J-20 jet variant @Andreas Rupprecht on Twitter

China’s J-20 fighter appears to be undergoing upgrades constantly, the most recent one being changes to its shape to improve its aerodynamic and performance capabilities as well as its stealthiness.

Unverified photos circulating on social media show flattened cockpit canopy that blends into the raised spine. This kind of aerodynamic arrangement likely has the effect of improving performance and handling during transonic flight by reducing the drag on the airframe, and the enlarged spine could also provide useful space for additional avionics and fuel, The Drive reported.

A Chinese expert told semi-official outlet Global Times that the report “is based on unconfirmed information and remains only speculative.”

“It is natural that the J-20 will keep on receiving upgrades to enhance its capabilities, just as it has done over the past few years,” the source added.

The J-20 will increase not only in terms of the number being produced, but also in terms of its capabilities, analysts said.

Not Enough Stealth in China's J-20 Jet? Plans to Change Shape to make it Stealthier
Top: Prototype no. 2051 and eventually J-20B; Bottom: Regular J-20A @Andreas Rupprecht on Twitter

It appears that the rear portion of the recently photographed J-20 aircraft, which is located behind the canopy, shares some general characteristics with the J-35 carrier-based stealth jet’s spine. For perspective, the upper fuselage of the J-35 aircraft blends almost flush with the back of the upper canopy.

A PLA commentator who did not want to be named told EurAsian Times, “The rearward visibility maybe not be as good as the standard J-20A, but rearward visibility by turning one’s head back behind to the six o’clock is probably not that important in this day and age, and that slight reduction in rearward visibility is probably more than worth the benefits it offers.”

In addition to fuel storage, a flatter cockpit canopy blending into a raised jet spine could assist in reducing drag and increasing internal volume for more avionics.

Not Enough Stealth in China's J-20 Jet? Plans to Change Shape to make it Stealthier
J-20 fighter @China MoD

It is also expected that the J-20 will eventually replace the current standard domestically developed WS-10 engines with the more powerful WS-15 engines.

In its annual report to Congress, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) said “China’s decades-long efforts to improve domestic engine production are starting to produce results with the J-10 and J-20 fighters switching to domestically produced WS-10 engines by the end of 2021.”

As with its previous China report in November 2021, the DoD states work is also underway to increase the number of air-to-air missiles the J-20 can carry internally, in addition to equipping the type with thrust vectoring engine nozzles, and installing the higher thrust WS-15.

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