Home » Aviation » China Unveils More Capable Stealth Fighter Prototype

China Unveils More Capable Stealth Fighter Prototype

An image of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force J-20 new stealth fighter prototype.

An image of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force J-20 new stealth fighter prototype.

China’s stealth fighter program hit a milestone when a sophisticated prototype of its J-20 aircraft made its first flight earlier this month. J-20’s builder, Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC), appears to have spent significant effort in giving the new prototype—No. 2011—stealth from different angles, a more maneuverable airframe, and fitting it with a complete set of avionics.

CAC spent a lot of time testing two previous prototypes—Nos. 2001 and 2002—before making the changes to the new version.

The first two prototypes basically were the technology demonstrators for this project, whereas No. 2011 should be looked at as the first pre-production prototype.

Studying the following photos from Chinese online forums, there are numerous subtle changes from Nos. 2001/2002 to No. 2011

The comparison pictures show improved workmanship, moving from a demonstrator to prototype.

Changes between prototypes of China's stealth fighter prototypes.

Changes between prototypes of China’s stealth fighter prototypes.

The most obvious change is the F-22-style light grey color scheme that makes it easier to identify changes.

Comparing the side views, it appears the intakes have been redesigned to be a little more slender with a more protruding (and possibly larger) bump.

The leading part of the intake is also slanted inward a little bit to conform better with the body. The back corners of the canard have been clipped and inner edge has been cut in a way so as to not leave any gap with the intake.

The back corners of vertical tail fins have also been clipped. According to a Chinese research paper, that seems to reduce the radar signature from side angles.

The front and rear landing gear doors also have been modified and the wing actuators are flatter.

Comparing the bottom views, the main weapon bay seems larger, allowing it to hold more than just air-to-air missiles and precision guided munitions. The leading edge is now straight rather than curved.

The tail booms are longer and wider, while more parallel to the exhaust. The ventral fins look a little larger and now completely shield the exhaust from most of the side views.

It looks like unless an aircraft is directly trailing the J-20, the radar signature from the exhaust should be much lower than before.

There also appears to be a fairly comprehensive set of avionics on board. No. 2002 is believed to have been installed with and testing AESA radar.

Based on frontal view comparisons, the nose of No. 2011 may be slanted at a slightly smaller angle to better fit the intended radar.

Differences between China's stealth fighter prototypes.

Differences between China’s stealth fighter prototypes.

A new electro-optical tracker similar to the F-35’s Electro-Optical Targeting System has been installed on the chin of the J-20.

Also included are defensive avionics systems with panes and bumps installed on both sides of the nose, the intake, and tail.

While the interior of the cockpit cannot be seen, it’s apparent that a new type of holographic heads-up display (HUD) has been installed and that the canopy has been modified with an inner-canopy frame.

A new generation of integrated electronic systems already has been tested out in the J-10B project, which should be very helpful to the J-20 project.

Focusing on radar, J-10B will be installed with a first-generation AESA radar and the Shenyang J-16 will be installed with an 1.5 generation AESA radar. By the time J-20 comes into service, it will be installed with a second-generation AESA radar.

China’s improvement in radar technology, the appearance of various external avionics installation and work done in the Chengdu J-10B project point to a modern integrated electronics system.

An image of China's newest stealth fighter prototype.

An image of China’s newest stealth fighter prototype.

The new prototype represents a vast improvement over Nos. 2001/2002 in stealth, maneuverability and avionics. Based on the timeline of other People’s Liberation Army Air Force projects, one expects the serial production of J-20 to start around 2019, with the first operational unit forming around that time.

The one big question mark for the J-20 is the WS-15 engine, which currently is still in development. It’s unclear whether or not that engine will be available once serial production starts.

  • Diogenes

    Huge development… another chink in US Navy A/C carrier armor. Last time I mentioned this I was called stupid and foolish. I know seven generations of Navy officers have launched their careers off the decks of carriers, but sadly, technology is spelling carrier aviation’s doom. Think battleship! Ya’ can’t hit ‘um if ya’ can’t see ‘um. And they will sure as a gazelle can run know that CVNs aren’t invisible.

  • Ruckweiler

    What’s really sad is that the Red Chinese are arming and updating rapidly while we seem to be going in the other direction and they are doing it with our dollars since we’ve been too stupid not to trade with these Communists. Also, regarding the PLA, as has been said before, quantity has a quality all its own. Pretty soon the old Lebensraum lied will be heard again. Amazing how history repeats itself.

  • Ctrot

    Obviously the Chinese have learned a great deal from all the
    western companies that have transferred enormous amounts of technology to China
    over the last 20+ years. There is no way their electronics industry would have
    advanced to this level in such a short time otherwise.

    • Joseph

      Leap-frogging technology is often hard to believe. But even if the Chinese really stole, copied, reverse-engineered, or whatever other scenarios, how did they master it so fast?
      It is either the Chinese scientists are very smart, or the stealth technology is not so sophisticated at all.

      • China Lee

        China has spent 30 years publishing research papers on material science, engineering, physics, chemistry, etc.

        China’s scientific base is extremely strong. Coupled with advanced scientific tools (e.g. world’s-fastest-supercomputer Tianhe-2 at 33.86 petaflops), it is understandable that Chinese military technology development has accelerated.

        China has a large population and plenty of geniuses. Though China was basically in the Stone Age during the 1960s, China still managed to detonate a 3.3-megaton thermonuclear bomb in 1967. Also, China launched its first ICBM in 1970.

        Given the stellar performance of Chinese scientists in the 1960s and 1970s with rudimentary tools, it is no surprise that Chinese scientific geniuses are making great strides in developing modern military technology when supercomputers and CNC machine tools are available.

      • Ben

        Cmon now… lets pretend for a minute, just for a minute, that Asian kids are not good in Math or Science…

    • China Lee

      The Wall Street Journal conducted an investigation a few years back. After months of following leads, they finally tracked down the person behind one of China’s latest radar microchips.

      As I recall, his name is a typical Chinese name and he only had a post-office mailbox.

      I don’t recall his name anymore, but the Wall Street Journal reported that he is Taiwanese. As you know, Taiwan’s Hsinchu Park has some of the world’s best electronics experts (e.g. TSMC engineers).

      The Wall Street Journal article concluded that it was unknown how many Taiwanese experts were working on China’s military projects. Taiwan has plenty of electronics experts, but no real defense industry. If China is willing to pay top dollar for a Taiwanese scientist with 30 years of experience then China should be able to produced advanced electronic systems. Science is a dual-use technology.

  • rappini pasta

    The Chicoms will never make something from original thinking they always have to steal it from the west. Case in point our corporations send them drawings and they make the parts. ie,. missile technology oh I forgot Klinton gave it to chinks.

    • Porty1119

      It’s just as deadly no matter where they got the technology. What’s done is done; now we get to reap what we’ve sown.

  • M&S

    It seems that the aircraft is significantly altered in proportional displacement of key structural features. Yet because the scales are not exactly the same and the perspectives are not orthogonal, the reality becomes one of judging from feature points.

    Going from this side by side image-


    J-20 2001 Prototype (Black)

    Length Overall: 177.13mm

    Length from tip of radome to NLG strut: 55.67mm

    Length from rear canopy frame to canard pivot point: 14.40mm

    Length from NLG strut to MLG strut: 58.34mm

    Length from MLG strug to rear fuselage boom: 63.12mm

    J-20 2011 Preproduction (Metallic)

    Length Overall: 179.12mm

    Length from tip of radome to NLG strut: 56.25mm

    Length from rear canopy frame to canard pivot point: 19.18mm

    Length from NLG strut to MLG strut: 56.24mm

    Length from MLG strug to rear fuselage boom: 66.63mm

    How this works out proportionally as a percentage of overall length is then:


    Radome to NLG: …..31.4%…..31.4%

    Strut To Strut: ……….32.9%…..31.3%

    Strut to Boom: ……….35.6%….37.1%

    Keeping in mind the low resolution on screen and my lack of a printer to make a proper analytics study between multiple image angles, it would seem to me that the radome to MLG strut is actually relatively proportional between the two aircraft (indicating that the forward fuselage is relatively similar in length).

    And that further to this, any appearance of greater distance between the struts themselves may be accounted for by errors in perspecitive angle and/or optical illusion due to the presence of the open forward MLG door on the earlier 2001 prototype.

    While the aft fuselage, though perhaps not wing chord, is substantially longer, the placement of the engines is moved forward (or the engines themselves are shorter), indicating that the fuselage boattail shaping is altered to improve area rule which means that the wingtips (from which the drawings are scaled) are likely _not_ the same chord.

    This in turn throws off all other measurements as the jets should in fact be aligned, nose to nose, not wingtip to wingtip.

    From wingtip to inner side of the engine:tail boom angle is roughly 26.14mm on both jets planview image but root to root, from the outside corner of the LERX to the inboard corner of the TEF:fuselage junction on 2012 is about 33.73mm while 2001 (not to scale) is another 2.4mm longer.

    The new, straight, LERX on 2012 is also visibly longer yet ends just behind the canard, as it does on 2001. With proportional length differences of about 14.13mm vs. 13.29mm for 2001’s sabre curved version. On the other hand, the chord on 2012’s port (right side in the ventral view) canard is about 14.68mm while the 2001’s canard is perhaps a touch smaller at 14.3 or so.

    This more than anything suggests to me that, averaged for correct scale length, the canard on 2012 is much larger in chord and thus area. Which in turn may mean the LE sweep angle has been reduced on the later aircraft (as indeed it was on the YF-22 to F-22 wing redesign) but until we see a useful topside image of 2012 to place the relative locations of the canopy, inlet corners, wing leading edge and wing trailing edge as all moving tails vs. the repositioned exhausts it will be impossible to compare, accurately with similar photos of the 2001/2002 prototypes whose overall length is now known.

    The slope of the forward fuselage chine incline is certainly different, based on the proportions of the radome visible above and below it’s break point on 2012 vs. 2001. While the sharpness of the chine and the shadow it casts suggests a different cross-sectional value as well.

    Yet the nose itself is nearly the same length from the radome tip to the NLG strut, on both jets while the substantial difference in displacement from the aft canopy break to the canard actuator point, even accounting for the thicker obscuring canopy frame on 2012, suggests that either the inlets have been cut back or the canopy moved forward. Maybe both. Which in turn could effect the apparent size of the DSI bump. This is also similar to what was done in the transition from the YF-22 to the F-22 with changes in the planform alignment (47` vs. 42`) and intake trunk slope.

    I have great doubt as to whether 2012’s main weapons bay has been lengthened to the degree indicated by the planview above. These images-



    Suggest that the weapons bay door cutouts still terminate ahead of (or very near to) the side MLG doors which, while themselves slightly smaller, retain their position relative to the side weapons bays and the wingroot LE corner.

    What I would suggest might be altering the apparent size of the weapons bays, aside from the larger sawtooth panel cutouts is a change in the relative proportional lengths of the intakes. Which, wouldn’t you know it, I just found the perfect illustration for-


  • jack1972605

    Looks like they stolen or plans for the f22.

  • Greencar

    The thing is based on PPP, the Chinese spend much more in defense than we do. The military contractors in China do not gouge much whereas in the USA a 35 cent bolt may cost tax payers over a thousand dollars. China’s kids have been tested much higher than any kids in the world for 20 years.

  • There’s no doubt its similar to the f22. Same as the russian’s new stealth fighter. Mkes you wonder if this is yesterday’s secret technology, then what is today’s?

  • Dave

    China has been terribly bullied since the 19th century through WWII especially by the Japanese since 1895-1932-1937-1945,then ruled by a stupid dictator since 1949-1976 that made China back warded 50 years compared to the Western World.
    Then the new leader Deng Xiaoping admitted China is falling 5 decades behind and try to catch up by opening Her door to the outside world and invite as many foreign investors as they can,started from 1978 with a massive economic reform to transform the country.
    They are very aware that all of this foreign investors and industrialists are going to bring hell a lot of money and technology so the Chinese could learn from them.
    Up to 1989 China is still dirt poor despite having a fast double digit economic growth for over a decade so far,and start from 1992 they had saved decent amount of money to pay top dollars to hire many unemployed Soviet scientist whose their Motherland is just bankrupted.
    Up to the early 21st century the Western world is still look at the Chinese with one eye as a backward country and pay no attention to it,at this time they allread recruited many experienced Taiwanese computer and electronic expert working alongside Russian scientists for military weapon program,while at the other hand they themself had learned and acquired huge amount of knowledge from this foreign scientist and developed their own indigenous military weapon program.
    While China entered the socond decade of the 21’st century they already became a true giant,then the Western world really took attention this time with fear and huge suspicion.
    Everybody believed that China had stolen alot of secret sensitive military technology from the West to add it and mixed it with their own indigenously developed technology to create something like this J-20 and J-31,that is true and I believed it.
    Many from the West accuses them as a copycat,but the West themself must remember they themself actually doing the same thing in the past.
    -Example when NAZI was beaten in 1945 America ‘kidnapped’ many dozens of NAZI rocket scientists including Werner Von Braun and brought them home to extract their priceless knowledge so Neil Armstrong and friends could fly to the Moon in 1969..
    -At the other hand the Soviet spy stole the American Manhattan project secret knowledge during WWII that triggered a Nuclear stand-off at the 1963 Cuban missile crisis.
    -And when the British exported many dozens of turbofan jet engine to Stalin for a friendship deal at the 50’s so we can watch a new kind of dogfight over Vietnam war in the 60’s and 70’s between American jets and Soviet advanced superfast MIG-21.

    I’m not saying that some country stealing technology from the more developed country to catch on is a good thing,but it seems many country has been doing this in the past so many times.