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Superpower Status in the Air -
China, Russia & the United States
RELEASE NOTES: UPDATED JANUARY 24, 2011 WITH LATEST INFORMATION ABOUT CHINA'S J-20 STEALTH FIGHTER. and JANUARY 24, 2011 with VIDEO of the SECOND TEST FLIGHT of the T-50. Video is back! UPDATED FEBRUARY 14, 2011 STEALTHINESS OF SUKHOI T-50 QUESTIONED BY PRAVADA. UPDATED APRIL 15, 2011, OCTOBER 14, 2012. CHINA'S 1ST AIRCRAFT CARRIER LAUNCHED SEPT. 24, 2012 Depending on your Internet setup, this page will take 2 to 30+ seconds to load. Printout will be ~100 pages, A4 dimensioned. Good Reading! - Bennett Blumenberg, author

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USA / AC-130U 'Spooky' . . USA / SR-71B 'BLACKBIRD' . .

RUSSIA / AL-31FM . . RUSSIA / AL-31FN . . RUSSIA / AL-31FP . . RUSSIA / AL-31FU . . RUSSIA / AL-41F . .
CHINA / WS-6 . . CHINA / WS-9 . . CHINA / WS-10 . . CHINA / WS-13 . . CHINA / WS-14 . . CHINA / WS-18


STEALTH FIGHTERS and BOMBERS / 2010 to 2020 . .


Published April 5, 2010, Revised and Expanded, January 24, February 14, 2011, October 14, 2012.

China - Stealth Fighters with Snow Leopard
China - Stealth Fighters with Snow Leopards
Artist - Chang Yu Hu / photo.blog.sina.com.cn

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Think about it! There is No Reason why the Chinese should not be aggressively developing stealth military aircraft. Flush with 2+ trillion of USD and yuan as they ride out the global recession in much better shape than the United States, R & D can easily be financed. If China can approach parity with the USA in numbers and quality of stealth aircraft, nuclear carrier battle groups and nuclear attack submarines, they have become a 'superpower' via projection of their foreign policy and military strength.

China – Stealth Fighters with Owl
China – Stealth Fighters with Owl
Artist - Chang Yu Hu / photo.blog.sina.com.cn

Stealth fighter prototypes have been built in China and one may already have taken its maiden flight. Yes, photographs can be faked, but that is not the point. Put photos of the Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35; Russian MiG 1.44 and one or more models of the indigenous JH-7 fighter in front of a talented aviation artist and presto, a new and compelling fifth generation stealth fighter will materialize. Show that Chinese artist photos of the Northrop Grumman B-2 “Spirit” stealth bomber, Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” and you'll soon have a compelling concept for new Chinese stealth bomber. Settle back, enjoy the art work and realize that the first Chinese stealth fighter prototype may have already taken its maiden flight.

China – J-XX Stealth Fighter
China – Shenyang J-XX Stealth Fighter / Concept
Photo - irandefence.net

Corporate plays .. Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) is the huge state owned, high tech industrial group that develops and manufactures next generation fighters and bombers for the PLAA. Subsidiaries of AVIC include Shenyang Aircraft Company (SAC) and Chengdu Aircraft Industry Co. (CAC). Xi'an Aircraft Industrial Corporation (with SAC) developer and manufacturer of the H-6 strategic long range bomber and hosts the 'black' project that is developing the H-8 stealth bomber. Latest internet blog news and 'leaks' identifies two Chinese stealth fighters as farther along in development than anyone would have imagined six months ago.

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In 1997, US Office of Naval Intelligence reported that an advanced, Fourth Generation twin engine, heavy weight stealth fighter designated the J-12 was under development. Design was contracted to both the CAC/611 Design Institute and SAC/601 Design Institute with a target service date of 2010. Initial speculation suggested that the 601 Institute was creating ' conventional' designs' that when finalized might be the J-13 advanced stealth fighter – see below. The 611 Institute designs are believed to be tailless delta wing without canards. The triplane configuration draws upon features of the Sukhoi S-37, and there is a rather close resemblance to the ill fated Russian experimental prototype, the MiG 1.44 MFI. The goal of that program was to build a multi-function fighter with stealth capability comparable to the of the American F-22. The Fly-By-Wire technology developed by the 601 Institute is believed similar to that tested on the J-8IIACT demonstrator. Fire control radar could be an active phased array. To that end, the radar cross section was been greatly reduced in all designs with features such as internal weapons bay, wing-body blending, engine pod blending with fuselage, and flattened profile of front fuselage. Landing wheel legs blend into the fuselage with the wing bottom; and the wheels blend into wings. Russian assistance with the very complicated radar cross section calculations is very likely.

China – J-XX Stealth Fighter / concept
China – Shenyang J-12 (XXJ) Stealth Fighter / Flight Concept
Photo - irandefence.net

Chengdu J-7H

“It has been rumored that J-12 would be powered by two 8,500kg/RD-33 class "medium thrust" turbofan engines with trust-vectoring nozzles to fulfill its high maneuverability requirement. [These engines might be the Chinese WP-15 (115KN class)] A prototype of the trust-vectoring nozzle was displayed at 2002 Zhuhai Airshow by China Aeronautical Establishment/606 Institute in 2000. Consequently J-12 would have a 10t empty weight and a 15t normal TO weight, making it a medium weight fighter. On the other hand, J-13 might be powered by more powerful 12,500kg/AL-31F class "high thrust" turbofan engines which results in a normal to weight exceeding 20t, making it a true heavy weight fighter.“

Performance of the J-12 (XXJ) is thought to be superior to EF-2000 and French Rafale for stealth and agility but not at all equal to the F/A-22 in terms of electronics and supercruise.

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The J-13 Program began in 1971 when the 601 Design Institute began planning for a new fighter to replace the J-6. First designs resembled the French Mirage F-1 and used cantilever wings and fair intakes mounted on the fuselage. As the design evolved, the J-13 came to draw more upon the Russian MiG-29 and American F-16. In the 1990s, this project was ended due to the success of the Chengdu J-10.

China J-13 flight
China – Shenyang J-13 (new) flight
? Photo - Strategy Page / Chinese Military Aviation

The J-13 designation now applies to a new, heavy weight stealth fighter that is a redesign of the Russian Su-30MKK begun by the 601 Research Institute at Shenyang in 2002. What little information that is available indicates several closely related designs for the Fourth Generation J-13 that draw upon features in the Russian Su-33, and the single prototype Su-27K that was purchased from the Ukraine (Research Institute for Aeroelastic Systems in Feodosia.). There is a twin engine design that shares some features with the American Lockheed Martin F/A-22, particularly in the internal carriage of its weapon systems. The J-13 has a more conventional wing design and a single vertical tail fin.

China – J-13 RCS
China–Shenyang J-13 RCS
Aviation art - China Threat / Chinese Military Aviation

Ideally, the PLAAF would prefer to use the indigenous Shenyang Liming Motor Company WS-10A turbofan engine which is profiled below. The WS-10A features thrust vectoring nozzles for much improved aircraft maneuverability. Chinese designers have reportedly already developed some components, such as landing gear configurations that allow for the higher sink rates required for a carrier-capable aircraft. The little known Chengdu two engine, J-13 stealth fighter may be powered by two AL-41 turbofan engines with thrust vectoring nozzles and supersonic cruise capability. Maximum takeoff will be ~20 tons, and the J-13 will be 'heavyweight' fighter.

The little known Chengdu two engine, J-13 stealth fighter may be powered by two AL-41 turbofan engines with thrust vectoring nozzles and supersonic cruise capability. Maximum takeoff will be ~20 tons, and the J-13 will be 'heavyweight' fighter. The J-13 is projected to fly sometime around 2013. An improved J-13G and naval J-13J designs are in development and 2013 is the projected year for flight testing.

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In this description that has been 'pieced together' for the J-14, there is a sophisticated melding of features from from several existing aircraft and their incorporation into a new stealth fighter design. This analysis believes the Chinese designers started with the MiG 1.44 but imposed a radical redesign so as to greatly reduce the radar cross section of the J-14 and impart significant stealth characteristics. Emphasis in the new design was placed upon wing-body blending, a new shape for the air intake, blending of engine pods into fuselage and wing roots. The latter features call to mind the Northrop YF-23. The front fuselage blends downward into the upper wing and blends with the separated engine bay bulges while maintaining a resemblance to the classic Su-27 forward fuselage shape. The flattened profile of the front fuselage is somewhat reminiscent of the Su-32, are the serrated doors that cover the landing gear and missile bays.

China – Shenyang JXX / J14 / Stealth Fighter
China – Shenyang JXX / J14 / Stealth Fighter Prototype-1b
Photo- irandefence.net

In December, 2008, the highly respected "Jane's All the World's Aircraft" went on the record that China has been developing a “heavy weight” stealth fighter for many years. There are at least two photographs of Chinese stealth fighters now on the Internet that are purported to be 'genuine'. This photo of a Shenyang JXX / J14 in a hanger has been available for at least two years and has been widely criticized. It is described as either a prototype J-14 or J-15 stealth fighter, but it could also be an altered photograph of an existing Chinese heavy weight fighter. The aircraft seems to be a detailed, full scale engineering mock up, not a prototype.

The Chinese experience with the J-10, which drew upon features in the Israeli LAVI, is important in any attempt to decipher a stealth fighter design. The J-10 designers also looked closely at the experimental Russian prototype MiG 1.42, although there is no evidence for formal, contractual information exchange about the MiG 1.42. It seems that the J-14's planform in this photo is close to that of the MiG 1.44. There seem to be fully movable canard surfaces, with mid-positioned wing complement amd widely separated twin-vertical surfaces canted outward. As in the J-10, these continue under the wing in twin ventral fins which are canted outward. Wind tunnel models not pictured in this article, show booms protruding from the wing to help support the vertical tail planes and ventral fins as in the MiG 1.44. If these booms end with radomes covering antennas, and a rearward facing radar, the J-14 borrowed these configuration elements from a setup tried out on the Su-37.

Shenyang J14 Stealth Fighter assembly
China – Shenyang JXX / J14 / Stealth Fighter Assembly
Photo- Military News Sina

However in other features, the J-14 bears no relationship to the MiG 1.41, particularly in reduction of the radar cross section to maximize stealthiness. The pronounced wing body blending, a new shape for air intake blending of engine pods with rear upper fuselage and wing roots shos an interesting resemblance to the Northrop YF-23. The front fuselage merges down into the upper wing and blends with the separated engine bay bulges which somewhat resembles the 'classical' Su-27. Cockpit geometry and placement above the fuselage, to provide the pilot with superb all around visibility, is also very close to the arrangement in the Su-27. The flattened profile of the front fuselage is nearly identical with that of the Su-32; as is the use of serrated doors to cover landing gear and missile bays.

China – Shenyang JXX / J14 - concept
China – Shenyang JXX / J14 concept
Aviation art - Karl Toussaint

The main landing gear has single wheels mounted on telescopic legs and retracts outward. The legs go into the fuselage and and blend into the wing bottom. The telescopic main gear legs are shortened with a pulling bar acting on a lever in a design that is very close to that of Eurofighter Typhoon. The wheels are drawn and blended into the wing as with the F/A-22. In order to minimize the volume of the bay occupied by the [landing] gear in the retracted position, the telescopic main gear legs are shortened via a pulling bar acting on a lever, similarly that in the Eurofighter Typhoon.

China–Shenyang JXX/J14-concept
China – Shenyang JXX / J14 with missiles / concept
Graphic Art - World Outlook / irandefence.net

Selection of a Russian turbofan engine at this stage is assumed: see discussion of engines below. In combat configuration, the J-14 could easily have a wight of 25-28 tons when equipped with 2 x SRAAM and $ x MRAAM. In after burning mode, a thrust of 13-14 tons would be needed to achieve a thrust:weight ratio of 1:1. No Chinese made turbofan engine is known that can deliver such performance with high reliability, although the Chinese are striving to do so in production status by 2015. The gearbox of the engine in this J-14 photo is mounted above the engine in the usual Russian style. Internet speculation proposes the WS-10A to power the J-14 fifth-generation combat aircraft if and when this turbofan enters production.

Engine airframe installation has a fixed geometry, air intake on the bottom of the front fuselage with no moving ramp. The overall smoothing of shape reduces radar reflectivity.“ The pronounced bulging up of the air intake inner duct helps avoid a direct presentation of the critically reflective engine fan/compressor face to enemy illuminating radar from the forward hemisphere. In addition, the bulge is needed to make room for the nose landing gear bay and, even more, for the bottom fuselage weapons bay. Notwithstanding its fixed geometry, the air intake shows elements which should generate a couple of oblique shock waves before the normal one, thus guaranteeing an adequately efficient dynamic pressure recovery in the supersonic flight regime. The well-shaped bulge along the bottom of the centre fuselage entering the air intake, which forms the upper part of the air intake duct, seems reminiscent of the latest Lockheed Martin's vaunted design for a fixed-ramp, multi-shock air intake planned for use on the production F-35 and already experimented on an F-16. This peculiar layout, together with the forward-raked air intake lip (already seen in the late 1950s on the F8U-3 Crusader III) is clearly intended to generate the oblique shock waves mentioned above.”

China – Shenyang JXX / J14 / Stealth Fighter
China – Shenyang JXX / J14 / Stealth Fighter concept
Artist- irandefence.net

“The location of the air intake under the fuselage is well suited to provide a smooth distortion-free airflow to the engines. . . . particular point of view, the hinged bottom lip present in the Typhoon works even better at extreme angles of attack, but it implies the penalty of a higher radar signature. In more general terms, the choice of a single air intake configuration in a twin-engine airplane . . . establishes a potential single point failure in an otherwise completely redundant twin-engine installation. It can be expected that Thrust Vector Control (TVC) nozzles, probably of the axisymmetric type (despite their not insignificant contribution to overall nuclear signature), will be a standard feature of the J-14 to both enhance maneuverability and reduce trim drag in cruise flight.

Shenyang SAC-601 J-15
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The latest internet blog news and 'leaks' identifies two Chinese stealth fighters as farther along in development than anyone would have imagined six months ago. In December, 2008, the highly respected "Jane's All the World's Aircraft" went on the record that China has been developing a “heavy weight” stealth fighter for many years. The J-15 Flying Shark is a SAC project. The advanced Russian fighter Su-33, a prototype of which was acquired by China from the Ukraine in 2001, likely contributed many design features, as has the advanced Chinese J-11B fighter. The J-15 is expected to be stationed on the Varyag aircraft carrier, now in the last stages of fitting out in Dalian. The Russian AL-31F, an advanced and proven turbofan engine, is the first choice for power plant. The American fighter that most closely resembles what little we know about the J-15 is the F/A-18C 'Super Hornet'. Latest news from China states that the J-15 made its maiden flight on August 31, 2009.

China – AVIC 1 J-15 concept
China – AVIC 1 J-15 / Concept
Artist - irandefence.net

China Stealth Fighter Prototype / First Photo
China – Shenyang SAC-601 J-15A / ? Stealth Fighter Prototype / November 25, 2009
Photo - cjdby.net / Chinese Military Aviation

The second of these stealth fighter photographs was published November 25, 2009 on Chinese Military Aviation, site well respected for its expertise in Chinese military aviation.

Shenyang CAC J-20
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In 1997, the US Office of Naval Intelligence confirmed that a 4th generation stealth fighter (XXJ, J-20) was under development in China for which the 611 Institute and CAC are now the main contractor. The Chinese scrutinized many foreign aircraft for best design features: USA F-22 “Raptor' and F-35; EU EF-2000 'Typhoon'; and the French 'Rafale'. Russia has provided software to evaluate different approaches to reducing the J-20 radar cross section for best stealth profile. It is also believed that the Russian Saturn 117S turbofan engines will power the prototypes if the indigenous WS-10 'high thrust' or WS-15 'large thrust' engines are not up to the challenge. The J-10B fighter is used as a test bed for many J-20 systems. A full scale model of the J-20 may have been completed in 2009. Maiden flight for the J-20 is scheduled for sometime in 2012. Production and combat readiness in the PLAAF are scheduled for 2015. Stealth and maneuverability characteristics of the J-20 most closely resemble those of the American F-22. The J-20 is a twin engine, multi-role, heavy weight, 4th generation fighter scheduled for production and active service in 2015.

China Stealth Fighter concept / weapons bay
China – Shenyang J CAC-601 J-20 / weapons bay, reduced radar cross section
Graphic Art - Chinese Military Aviation

The J-20 might also integrate an advanced Fly-By-Wire with fire control and the turbofan engines. The advanced Chinese J-10B fighter is used in the J-20 program as a test bed for many subsystems. While the Chinese engine priority is to use an indigenous turbofan, three decades of development difficulties with such engines, mandates that the Russian Saturn 117S turbofan engine will likely power prototype J-20 aircraft. Russian assistance with software to calculating the radar cross section of competing designs appears likely. From what little can be gleaned, the overall stealth and agility of the J-20 design might equal or surpass that of the EF-2000 'Typhoon' and France's 'Rafale' but is not comparable to the American F-22. In August 2009, the 611 Institute was contracted to develop with J-20 with the 601 Institute as sub-contractor. Rumors suggest that the 611 Institute began to distribute blueprints for constructing the first prototype, that is scheduled to fly in 2012. As this article was in preparation, rumors that surfaced on December 7, 2009 suggested that a full scale mock-up of the J-20 has been built by CAC.

China Stealth Fighter concept
China – Shenyang J CAC-601 J-20 / Stealth Fighter Concept
Artist - Chinese Military Aviation

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The guesswork about China's first 5th Generation Stealth Fighter ended in late December, 2010. Photos of a new jet fighter that resembled the USA's F-35 began appearing on Chinese web sites. Most were taken at a considerable distance, apparently with cell phone cameras, and Chinese Internet censors immediately demanded their removal. Too late, the photos had gone viral and it would be hard to refute the existence of the Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter, at least for one flying prototype as predicted by this author in February, 2010. The Chengdu Aircraft Company (CAC), builder of the J-10 and J-17, is revealed as the contractor. Design similarities to the American F-35 raise questions about the possible success of Chinese cyberwar efforts to obtain classified data about the F-35 in spite of repeated denials by the US press. The mainden flight of the Chengdu J-20 occurred on January 20, 2011 in very public setting in the city of Chengdu. The J-20 prototype flew above a crowd and dignataries that included the United States Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. The political implications are enormous, see comments below under 'Reprise'.

China Jengdu J-20, Stealth Fighter
China – Jengdu J-20, Stealth Fighter
Photo - Asia Defense News

The J-20 weighs 36-40 tons, has two engines, a length of ~24 meters (75') and wingspan of 15 metres (46') as estimated from photographs. The F-35 by contrast is 15.7 meters (52.4') long with a wingspan of 10.7 meters (35'). The WS-15 engine designated for the J-20 is still in development so it is likely that the prototype(s) is powered by two Russian / AL-31FU/1175 engines, each with 14.5 tons of afterburner thrust. These two engines give the J-20 more power than the 31 ton F-35A whose single engine generates 19.5 tons of afterburner thrust. Engine power aside, design problems are evident. Positioning the canards between the cockpit and wings reduces stealth characteristics. It is possible that the radar cross section of the Chengdu J-20 is larger than that of the American F-22 and F-35 and allows the plane to be detected under certain circumstances.

China Jengdu J-20, Stealth Fighter
China – Jengdu J-20, Stealth Fighter / maintenance
Photo - Asia Defense News

Stealth aircraft require a package of new technologies to be properly fitted out as this article makes clear. AESA radar and a highly integrated software environment that is central to every function of the aircraft and every pilot action is the bottom line for which Russia and China must find excellent solutions before production aircraft can be contemplated. Xu Yongling, one the top test pilots in China, claims that the J-20's supersonic cruise ability and air mobility are indigenous, technological breakthroughs for China that do not rely on developments elsewhere. He also re-affirms tha the F-117 technology, which China quickly accessed in 1999 as discussed elsewhere in this article, was outdated in 1999 and behind 4th generation fighters of the time. The radiation-absorbent, exterior coating technology of the F-117, that might have been of interest for the J-20 design, had a production process too complicated for China to consider according to Xu. Wang Yanan, an associate editor in chief at Aerospace Knowledge magazine, concurs with Xu's comments. Nonetheless, Western critics of the Chengdu J-20 see a poorly conceived assemblage of outdated USA and Russian design elements - back end looks like an old MIG prototype. Others see in this small bomber sized stealth fighter, a well thought out plan to base a long ranger interceptor at air bases deep inside China that are beyond the reach of American aircraft that must fly to China from Guam or aircraft carrier battle groups. Nonetheless, with some of the most advanced avionics in the world, and test flights 11 months earlier than those in China, the Russians and their T-50 are likely ahead of the Chinese in this 'race' to fit out a squadron of fully operational, stealth fighters.


China and Pakistan / JF-17 – FC-1
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The origins of the FC-1 are with the Super-7 joint project with Grumman in the United States to upgrade the Chinese J-7 fighter which was a clone of the Russian MiG-21. Signed in 1986, icy political relations and a large program cost increase canceled the program in 1990. China continued, rebranding the fighter as the FC-1, and concluded a partnership with Pakistan in 1999 to develop the fighter known as the JF-17 with a glass cockpit with three large multifunctional displays. Russian Mikoyan Aero-Science Production Group (MASPG) contributed in the early years of the project. The first of three prototypes made its maiden flight on August 25, 2003. Flight trials were completed in 2005, and production began in June 2006. The first two JF-17 fighters for Pakistan were delivered on March 12, 2007. Pakistan will soon manufacture wings and fin and the JF-17 is now assembled in Pakistan at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. In mid-April 2009, Pakistan announced that its first squadron of JF-17 fighters would be stationed at Peshawar. China is actively marketing this aircraft to Bangladesh, Iran, Egypt and Nigeria. This Chengdu fighter is stealthy, has a reduced radar cross section and can be used as a test bed for latest generation stealth fighter development. Following the aborted Super-7 program with the United States, the JF-17/FC-1 has been in continual development.

China - Chengdu J-17 FC-1
China - J-17 FC-1
Photo - Sino Defence

China - Chengdu J-17 FC-1
China - J-17 FC-1 assembly
Photo - Sino Defence

Within a rather conventional aerodynamic design, the diffuser, supersonic inlet (DSI) for improved air intake efficiency stands out and resembles that of the USA F-35. The advanced, innovative features of the JF-17 are in the radar, cockpit and avionics. Currently, advanced avionics are being purchased from France, Italy and Germany. Designed as an export fighter for Pakistan by the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute (611 Institute), the China_Chengdu J-17 FC-1 had its maiden flight on August 25, 2003. Each country contributed 50% of the development costs. The fighter uses the Russian Klimov RD-93 turbofan engine with the indigenous turbofan engine designated WS-13 (or Tianshan-21) in development. The initial trial order of eight aircraft was delivered in 2007-2008. The second order for 42 Chengdu J-17 FC-1, cost ~$USD800 million was signed in March 2009, current production rate is about 15 fighters per year. The Pakistan Air Force may eventually buy 250 fighters.

China - Chengdu J-17 FC-1
China - J-17 FC-1 landing
Photo - Air Force World

Pakistan (via China) - FC-1
Pakistan (via China) - FC-1
Photo - Rupee News

The JF-17 is in state of continual design evolution, it might be considered as an ongoing testbed for advanced features even as it has entered production for the PAF. It is light years past the Super-7 stage when it was basically a clone of the MiG-21. Stealthiness continues to improve via: nose redesign around a new AESA radar for reduced RCS; increased use of composite materials; a new RAM paint; and a new DSI with better performance at high altitudes and high speeds. The latest iteration of the WS-13 turbofan may be used in the stealthier JF-17, although improved Thrust to Weight Ratio (TWR) is mitigated by the weight increases due to increased wing size, larger internal fuel tanks and twin tails although increased use of light weight composites will be utilized.

Pakistan / China - J-17 FC-1 takeoff
Pakistan / China - J-17 FC-1 takeoff
Photo - Air Force World

Larger wing size brings with it improved high altitude maneuverability, and the capacity to utilize larger fuel tanks for greater range. How many of these important design changes go into production, as opposed to restriction to a technology demonstrator, is not clear. 'Officially', the major upgrade to the JF- 17 is scheduled for 2012 by which time Chinese made avionics and turbofan engine meet qualifications. A major, production upgrade to an export fighter should not be made until a first and major customer is contracted. Pakistan may also unveil a second advanced fighter in 2012 based upon the American F-16, block 60 as flown by the UAE Air Force. Or buy J-10s - ?J-10B – from China? Latest air to air missiles are being acquired from France.

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China - Chengdu J-10B
China - Chengdu J-10B
Photo - Air Force World

In March 2009. the prototype of the Chengdu J-10B was unveiled, three months after the maiden flight in December, 2008. The J-10 series is well known over several models, but the J-10B was shrouded in secrecy from its beginning b because of advanced features that are believed to include a significantly reduced radar cross section. A DSI/bump inlet engine reduces aircraft weight and tested favorably on the FC-1/JF-17 It was then adopted for the J-10B. A IRST/LR radar enables passive detection of enemy aircraft which increases the stealth advantage of the J-10B in combat scenarios. A flatter nose resembles that of the USA F-16. It is believed that the 601 Design Institute developed a X-band AESA fire control radar, the first of its kind for a Chinese fighter. This increases the J-10B multi-target engagement and ECCM capability (cf pods under wings).

China - Chengdu J-10B / J-10 comparison
China - Chengdu J-10B / J-10 comparison
Photo - Air Force World

The vertical tailfin has a large fairing and ECM antenna, similar to that on on the French Mirage 2000. First tested on the FC-1/JF-17, the J-10B has a rear facing fairing MAWS sensor is underneath the parachute boom. Radar cross section is further minimized by RAM coating at engine inlet and the leading edges of the wings. When production is on the horizon, the turbofan engine may be the Chinese made WS-10A. Overall, the J-10B represents a major advance and might be the testbed for the advanced avionics earmarked for the J-20 stealth fighter. Overall, it now is comparable to the USA F-16E/block 60 and might be soon designated a multi-mission fighter, with an acceptable to speed less than that of the J-10A. Latest photos show that the prototype with pitot tube removed from the nose which indicates that the 03 prototype has had its maiden flight.

China - Chengdu J-10S / runway
China - Chengdu J-10S / runway
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation

China - Chengdu J-10 takeoff
China - J-10 takeoff
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation

China - Chengdu J-10 tinflight refueling
China - J-10 inflight refueling
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation

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China J-11 fighter
China J-11 fighter / takeoff
Photo - sinodefence.com

The J-11 'Flying Leopard' is the Chinese clone of the Russian Sukhoi Su-27SK ('Flanker') multi-role fighter as built by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC). The basic Flying Leopard was built using Russian kits of the Su-27SK. In November 2004, the Chinese stopped production of their J-11s, approximately 95 had been built. There were several reasons why the PLAAF wished to end the co-production agreement. The prime reason was that the Russian air control system was incompatible with Chinese missiles. At the end of the day, the Su-27SK/J-11 was a single mission fighter that could only deliver 'dumb' munitions – free fall bombs and unguided rockets.

China J-11B fighter
China J-11B fighter
Photo - sinodefence.com

The J-11B utilizes the Su-27SK/J-11 airframe but is fitted out with Chinese avionics and Chinese missiles and bombs. Mockups unveiled in 2002, revealed that the J-11B is a multi-role attack fighter with advanced, indigenous avionics. Late in 2004, the first flying J-11B fighters were presented by Xian. The J-11B is armed with precision guided bombs and air to air missiles that include the advanced, indigenous multi-target PL-12 (see below). Advanced avionics, fire control radar, large windshield, strengthened and lengthened airframe (following wind tunnel tests), and glass cockpit are among the presumed accoutrements, as is the hoped for Chinese made advanced turbofan engine.

China J-11B w/ PL-8 AAM
China Shenyang J-11B w/ PL-8 AAM
Photo - Military News Sina

Radar is believed more powerful than Type 1473 configured for the J-10, capable of tracking 20 targets simultaneously and locking onto six targets. A quadruple redundant Fly-by-Wire system has mechanical backup. There are two variants of the fully glass cockpit; one for ground attack with a reflecting head-up display (HUD) with four multi-function displays (MFDs); the other to be used in air combat features a holographic HUD with three MFDs. Both cockpit configurations integrate fire control radar, electro-optic countermeasure pods and infra-red search and track. Latest weapon systems such as the CATIC Pl-12 active radar-guided AAM are smoothly integrated.

China J-11B assembly
China Shenyang J-11B Assembly
Photo - Military News Sina

The all-important efforts to reduce Radar Cross Section reduced the RCS from 15m2 (Su-27) to less than 5ms and possibly as low as 3m2. This reduction in RCS is due to modification of the air intake lip with a radar wave shield, the use of radar absorbing materials on the intake interior; and application of Chinese made signature reduction paint. Use of composite materials has reduced aircraft (empty) weight by 700 kg. Lifetime is believed extended by 10,000 hours compared to the Su-27SK. Since 2006, the J-11B has been a test bed for the indigenous FWS-10A ‘TaiHang’ turbofan engine which is similar to the Russian AL-31F – see below – but has longer lifespan and lower fuel consumption.

China J-11BS fighter
China Shenyang J-11BS
Photo - China Defense Mashup

Three J-11B aircraft (No.521, 523 and 5 24) are currently at the Yanhliang Flight Test Center and are considered to be Fourth Generation Aircraft. In addition to the two seat J-11BS, naval versions of the J-11 are nearing completion: J-11J (single seat, 2010) and J-11JS (two seat, 2011).

Shenyang J-11B Advanced Fighter / video appears to be genuine.

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Shi Lang's convoluted history began as the Riga, when her keel was laid down in Russia in December 6, 1985. Launched December 4 1988, she was renamed Varyag in late 1990S. A casualty of the breakup of the Soviet Union, construction was stopped in 1992 when only the electronics remained to be fitted. Ownership was transferred to the Ukraine where the Varyag was stripped. In 1998, a Chinese company tendered the winning $25M bid at auction. In 2000, the Varyag was towed around the Cape of Good Hope and completed a 15,200 nautical mile journey to to China at an average tug speed of 6 knots. Recent photos taken in the Dalian Shipyard show yellow anti-skid primer on the flight deck. Turf layering would be added to finalize the flight deck, and the Varyag would be painted in standard PLA Naval colours.

China – Shi Lang,  aircraft carrier
China – Varyag aircraft carrier / Dalian docks
Photo - china-defense-mashup

On April 27, 2009, the Varyag was moved to another dry dock, apparently to install engines and heavy equipment. A radar mast was installed on the carrier superstructure on December 15, 2009. Perhaps, the Varyag was moving towards operational status as a training ship where carrier landings and takeoffs can be practiced.

China – Varyag aircraft carrier
China – Varyag aircraft carrier / Dalian harbor
Photo - armybase.us

April 13, 2011. - Renamed Shi Lang after a general who successfully conquered Taiwan in 1683 for the Qing Dynasty with 300 ships and 20,000 troops, China's first aircraft carrier was finally ready for launch on September 24, 2012, only 18 months behind schedule (seriously - good performance). See also Danwei front page announcement. Now installed are: a) shipborne multi-function Active Phased Array Radar (APAR); b) Sea Eagle radar as sensors; c) hauled up Type 730 close-in weapon system (CIWS); d) seven-barreled 30mm machine guns to destroy incoming anti-ship missiles and enemy aircraft at short range; and e) the fully automatic fire-and-forget Flying Leopard 3000 Naval (FL-3000N) air defense missile system. Possible missions include: a) take off and landing training for pilots flying the latest (stealth) fighters; b) centerpiece in a fleet to invade Taiwan; c) protection of important shipping and oil transportation sea lanes; and d) projection of China's 'soft power foreign policy.

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As to Chinese 'theft' of aircraft designs from other nations, that is a simplistic accusation. The Chinese do what every country does. They carefully scrutinize successful fighter and bomber designs from around the world for the most successful and proven features. If Chinese capacity for a specific feature is inferior, the Chinese will attempt to clone or re-engineer that feature from another aircraft for a best fit with their indigenous aircraft. Is this 'stealing'? Yes, it is if an aircraft design feature is under tight security in the home country and not available for export. But then every nation participates in cyberwar and will 'steal' advanced military information wherever possible. Most Russian aircraft features that the Chinese have or intend to re-engineer and then use, are done so under contract and there is no need for 'theft' of the information. While an international treaty prohibiting cyberwar is an intriguing diplomatic possibility, there is little likelihood that anything of the at sort will materialize. From the point of view of military competition and the power that comes with an advanced military aviation capability, there is no strategic reason to shut down cyberwar by treaty.

Russia MiG 1.42
Russia MiG 1.42
Photo - Military-Today.com

MiG 1.42
Russia - Mikoyan_MIG_1.42
Photo - Mikoyan Mig 1.42/1.44/MFI

China - Su27UBK fighter trainer
China - Su27UBK fighter trainer / loading missiles
Photo - Air Force World

Russia – Sukhoi 34  fighter
Russia – Sukhoi Su-34 (Su-32) / 2003
Photo - Yevgeny Pashnin / Wikipedia

Russia Sukhoi Su-32_(Su-34)
Russia Sukhoi Su-32_(Su-34)
Photo - Air Power Australia

MIG-35B /Mikoyan MIG-35 'Fulcrum F'
Photo - Sukhoi Company

The Sukhoi Su-35 (Flanker-E) is a 4.5 generation long-range, multi-role, strike fighter. It closely resembles a specialized version of the Su-30. It is derived from the Su-27 program of the early 1980s wherein a Su-27M prototype first flew in 1988. Aircraft designation was changed to Su-35 in 1993 after comprehensive changes had been made. 15 Su-35 (Su-27M) aircraft have been produced, of which five Su-35s ('Super Flanker') have been used by the Russian Knights display team. Sukhoi began developing a 4.5 generation upgrade to the Su-35 in the mid 2000s which is an interim design until the 5th generation PAK FA (T-50) can complete test flights and enter production. The most recent aircraft in the Su-35 family is the Sukhoi Su-35BM, alias Su-27BM or Su-27SM2. The first upgraded Su-35BM came out of the 'black' and into the 'white' at the MAKS-2007 airshow, and it flew on February 19, 2008. ('BM' translates as 'big modernization.').

Sukhoi Su-35 prototype
Sukhoi Su-35 prototype
Photo - Sukhoi Company

Su-35BM has increased expected service life to 6,000 hours, operational lifetime has been extended to 30 hrs and in between repair time is now 1500 hours. Canards were eliminated from the design because new composites and electronics further reduced aircraft weight. Avionics are entirely Russian and there is a new suite of on board instruments. An information management system (IMS), integrates functional, logical, informational and software subsystems into a single complex that ensures the interaction between the crew and equipment. The indication system is built on the all-glass cockpit concept. A new integrated control system developed by MNPK Avionika Moscow-based Research and Production Association integrates several systems: remote control, automatic control, limiting signals system, air signals system, and chassis wheels braking. Maximum speed is Mach 2.25 (2,400 km/h, 1,500 mph) at 18,000 m (59,100 ft), range is 3,600 km (1,940 nm) and rate of climb is >280 m/s (>55,100 ft/min). Aircraft cost is estimated at $USD 65 million. “The improved radar stealth reduces the reflectance of the Su-35 in the X radio waveband and in the angle range of ±60°.”

Sukhoi Su-35 flight test
Sukhoi Su-35 flight test
Photo - Sukhoi Company

The first upgraded Su-35BM came out of the 'black' and into the 'white' at the MAKS-2007 airshow, and the first prototype flew on February 19, 2008. The next two Su-35BM aircraft are nearing completion at KnAAPO (Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Production Association), with possible delivery to first customers at end of 2010.

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For the past several years, Sukhoi has been designing and building Russia's entry into the Fifth Generation Stealth Fighter sweepstakes. On January 29, 2010, Sukhoi and the Russian government announced that their Fifth Generation Stealth Fighter had come into the light and was no longer a 'black' project. A protoytpe Sukhoi T-50 PAK successfully completed a first test flight of 47 minutes at the far eastern Komsomolsk-on-Amur facility. Aircraft controllability, engine performance and primary systems operation, and landing gear were evaluated. The Sukhoi T-50 is an all weather, multi-role fighter and has many cutting edge features. Composites are used extensively and may account for 90% of the aircraft's weight. Stealthiness is extreme, although details have not been made public.

Sukhoi T-50 PAK
Sukhoi T-50 PAK flight
Photo - Sukhoi Company

Advanced avionics were a priority in the design of the T-50. Russian information releases claim that the installed avionics allow for real time data exchange with ground based controls systems and other aircraft in the flight group. Electronic pilot functionality is integrated, as is the advanced phase advance radar. Composites have been used extensively, and account for 90% of aircraft weight according to one report. Although details are lacking, Sukhoi claims tht stealthiness is excellent in the T-50 PAK, with an "unprecedented small radar cross section" in radar, optical and infrared wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum.

However, on June 18, 2010, Pravda noted that the Sukhoi T-50 prototype does not have full stealth capacity. "The T-50 develops the ultrasonic speed in a regular operation mode. Fourth-generation jets had to use the afterburner for the purpose. The T-50 engine consists of the digital control system and the plasma ignition system. The engine and the advanced construction of glider give the jet extra high maneuvering abilities.. . The stealth technology, a mandatory requirement for a fifth-generation fighter jet, has not been fully developed for T-50. . . . The PAK FA carries state-of-the-art radar equipment with active phased antenna array. The Russian-made device allows to conduct all-sided and multi-channel target servicing, which is also one of the requirements for fifth-generation fighter jets. The T-50 lacks the required electronic equipment. The plane of this class must carry state-of-the-art avionics: a circular data system, automated interference control and other systems. It was earlier reported that India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited would deal with development of the navigation system and the mission computer for the T-50. . . The Russian jet will overcome the USA’s F-22 on its maneuvering ability, arms and range. Russia has spent 30 billion rubles on the first stage of the development of the plane and will require additional 30 billion rubles for the second stage. "

"PAK FA’s speed limit is 2600 km/h, the maximum non-afterburning speed ­ 2100 km/h. The practical range ­ 4300 km. For comparison, F-22 Raptor’s speed limit makes up 2410 km.h, the maximum non-afterburning speed ­ 1963 km/h, and the practical range ­ 3219 km."

Sukhoi T-50 takeoff
Sukhoi T-50 takeoff
Photo - Sukhoi Company

There are ?three protoytpes of the T-50 PAK that have been built at Sukhoi's KNAAPO aircraft plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. They carry the technical name T-50 under the PAK FA project. Project cost comparison with the American F-35 program is dramatic. The T-50 PAK project has cost no more than $USD 10 billion to date and the price for each fighter is $USD 100 million. The final costing of the F-35 program is now estimated at $USD One Trillion and the cost of each aircraft for export is $USD 235 million.

Sukhoi T-50 runway
Sukhoi T-50 runway
Photo - Sukhoi Company

In October 2007, India signed on as a 50% partner in the project. A lighter two seater fighter will be developed to meet the requirements of the Indian Air Force. The Indian 'T-50' will be built by HAL, Sukhoi's partner in the project. Sukholi press releases make clear that the T-50 level of stealthiness will be made available to the Indian Air Force on models designed for export. The lines are now drawn for regional air force competition with next generation fighters. Pakistan has access to China stealth technology in the JF-17 / FC-1 fighters now being manufactured with China for the Pakistan Air Force, while Russia has made available its latest stealth technology as developed for the T-50 to India. May this competition forever be peaceful, and restricted to air shows and internet blog arguments.

Sukhoi T-50 – Stealth Design / More on How to Make a Jet Fighter Invisible

With appreciation and credit to:
Trai Tim Viet Nam

Although details are lacking, stealthiness is extreme with an "unprecedented small radar cross section" in radar, optical and infrared wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Sukhoi T-50 - stealth design 1
Sukhoi T-50 stealth design / turbofan air ducts
Photo - Trai Tim Viet Nam

Sukhoi T-50 - stealth design 2
Sukhoi T-50 stealth design / air frame silhouette -'edges'
Photo - Trai Tim Viet Nam

Sukhoi T-50 - stealth design 4
Sukhoi T-50 stealth design / RAM, RCS overview
Photo - Trai Tim Viet Nam


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Astonishing but true. Two, brilliant aeronautical engineers designed and built several models of a stealth, flying wing fighter/bomber during the latter years of WWII in Nazi Germany. Both powered and air sail models were developed and tested. Several air frames survived and are available to the public for viewing.

Horten Va Assembly
Horten Va Stealthy Flying Wing / Assembly
Photo - "Nurflügel" / Peter F. Selinger and Dr. Reimar Horten

Reimar and Walter Horten designed the first stealth aircraft that went from design to build out. The last model they designed was the Horten Ho IX (also known as the Ho 229). The Ho 229 was subsonic with top speed estimated to be 1,024 km/h (636 mph) and its ceiling 15,000 meters (49,213 ft) was manufactured by Gothaer Waggonfabrik

Horten IIIe and IX V
Horten IIIe and IX V Stealthy Flying Wing Fighter/Bomber
Photo - "Nurflügel" / Peter F. Selinger and Dr. Reimar Horten

Horten IX(Ho-229)
Horten IX(Ho-229) Stealthy Flying Wing Fighter/Bomber
Photo - "Nurflügel" / Peter F. Selinger and Dr. Reimar Horten

After WWI, the Treaty of Versailles prevented Germany from producing military aircraft, so Germany funded such work under the auspices of the allowed glider clubs. In the early 1930s, the Horten brothers became interested in flying wing design to improve the performance of gliders. Without a fuselage, wing can be shorter and sturdier than otherwise, and overall design should minimize drag. Their private Ho IX was approved by the Nazi Air Ministry who added two 30mm cannons to the design. Estimated top speed was higher than any known Allied military aircraft.

Control was implemented via long span (inboard) and short span (outboard) spoilers. Landing gear was tricycle and retractable, and a brake parachute slowed speed on landing. Reimar experimented with mixtures of charcoal dust and wood glue as a stealth coating that would absorb radar. The flying wing design alone minimizes radar cross section (RCS). In 2008, Northrop-Grumman released a report about Horten's theories and concluded that these flying wing aircraft likely reduced RCS by 60%.

Horten IX(Ho-229) / restoration
Horten IX(Ho-229) Stealthy Flying Wing Fighter/Bomber - Restoration
Photo - "Nurflügel" / Peter F. Selinger and Dr. Reimar Horten

The first test flight was that of the glider model Ho IX VI on March 1, 1944. It was successful until a landing accident which revealed necdessary design changes. In December 1944, the Horten Ho IX V2 powered by a Junkers Jumo 0094 engine, had a successful test flight. Much impressed, Göriing order 40 aircraft for the Luftwaffe. An additional three test flights of the Horten Ho IX V2 took place during February 1945. but the Horten's interest and obligations had shifted to the Amerika Bomber program. Minor landing accidents were followed by fatality. Test pilot Ziller died after extreme attempts to save the valuable prototype aircraft. Nonetheless the project continued and the larger V3 model was designed.

Ho IV test flight, 1959
Dezso George-Falvy test flight / Ho IV at Mississippi State University, 1959
Photo - "Nurflügel" / Peter F. Selinger and Dr. Reimar Horten

As WWII was ending, US Operation Paperclip was racing against the clock and the Soviets to secure advanced German weapons for the United States. Paperclip did take control of a Horten glider and a partially assembled Horten IX V3. They were sent to Northrop which had experience with flying wings. The Ho 229 V3 airframe is now located at the Restoration Facility of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The only other original Horten flying wing that now exists is a glider at the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California. Nine Horten gliders also were produced in Argentina after WWII. Northrop engineers studied the V3 airframe at the Smithsonian and then built a reproduction of the V3 model which included replicating the special glue mixture used by the Hortens to bind the sheets of veneer in the nose cone. The slowing down of radar signals in the nose sections that used this glue was confirmed. When viewed head on in the alignment of an attacking aircraft, RCS had been reduced ~40%. A National Geographic TV special about the Horten flying wing aircraft aired in June 28, 2009. The Northrop reproduction Horten IX V3 was donated to the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

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Eurofighter Typhoon / takeoff
Eurofighter Typhoon / Indra Dhanush Exercise, 2007
Photo - KnAAPO / Defense Aviation

France  Rafale
France Dassault Rafale / flight 1
Photo - Air Force World

The French Dassault Rafale, a technology demonstrator, flew in 1986. (France had formally withdrawn from the Eurofighter Program in 1985. Prototypes flew in 1991 and the Rafale entered production in 2000. There are three models: one and two seat fighters for the Armée de l'Air, and a single seat fighter for the French Navy. Unit cost is now $USD90 million plus and Dassault has yet to secure an export contract.

France  Rafale
France Dassault Rafale / flight 2
Photo - Air Force World

The Rafale has a reduced radar signature, with details about stealth features remaining classified. Extensive use of composite materials and serrated wing trailing edges help to reduce RCS.

Photo - israeli-weapons.com

The LAVI was a small, jet fighter that was advanced and innovative. It was designed with state of the art avionics, a high degree of pilot input and long distance delivery of munitions. Three prototypes were built and flown, the first on Dec.31, 1986. The last and third air frame continues with IAF as a testbed aircraft for advanced avionics.

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USA - Vought_XF8U-3 Crusader III / flight
USA - Vought_XF8U-3 Crusader III / flight
Photo - Steeljawscribe

Built by Chance Vought as a testbed for a MACH 2.0+ fighter, five (4) Vought_XF8U-3 Crusaders were built and three were flown. Power was supplied by Pratt & Whitney J75-P-5A engine generating 29,500 lbf> (131 kN) of afterburning thrust. provisions for a Rocketdyne XLF-40 liquid-fueled rocket motor with 8,000 lbf (35.6 kN) of thrust in addition to the turbojet. The innovative features incorporated into the Vought_XF8U-3 Crusader III design included: fire control computer, AN/APG-74 radar, and AN/ASQ-19 data link. The system was expected to simultaneously track six and fire at two targets."

USA - Vought_XF8U-3 Crusader III / maintenance
USA - Vought_XF8U-3 Crusader III / maintenance
Photo - Steeljawscribe

Exactly which advanced features c1950s are of interest to the Chinese is not known. The XF8U-3 first flew on 2 June 1958. During testing, the aircraft reached Mach 2.6 at 35,000 ft (10,670 m). Subsequently, the XF8U-3 would zoom climb to 60,000', then 'shoot' climb to 75,000'. Although always defeating the Phantom F-4 in mock dogfights, the US Navy chose the F-4 over the Vought Crusader III, and the program was scrapped. Acceleration of the Vought_XF8U-3 was stunning, but problems emerged that included: windscreen could not stand up to the heat generated at Mach 2.9 and compressor problems plagued the engine. The Crusader III could not accommodate the second cockpit for a Naval Control Officer that was required in a multi-mission fighter. After service with NASA, the three airframes were scrapped and this extraordinary testbed aircraft now exists only in photo archives.

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F/A-18F over Afghanistan
Boeing F/A-18F flying over southern Afghanistan
Photo - Commander Erik Etz / U.S. Navy

First flown in 1978, introduced in 1983 and still in active service with the US Navy and Marine Corp, the Boeing F/A Hornet is an extraordinary strike fighter. 1480 air frames have been built, models A through D. Several exceptional design features provide the Hornet with unequaled high angle-of-attack capability. The Hornet was among the first aircraft to heavily utilize multi-function displays, which at the switch of a button allow the pilot to perform either fighter or attack roles or both. This "force multiplier" capability gives the operational commander more flexibility in employing tactical aircraft in a rapidly changing battle scenario. Several countries including Australia, Kuwait and Spain have purchase the Boeing F/A Hornet.

F/A-18C takeoff USS Nimitz
Boeing F/A-18C / takeoff USS Nimitz / North Arabian Sea, Dec.14, 2009
Photo - Mass Communication Specialist, 1st Class David Mercil / U.S. Navy

F/A-18F Hornet launches from carrier
F/A-18F Super Hornet launches from aircraft carrier, USS Nimitz / Persian Gulf, Nov.29, 2009
Photo - Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class John Phillip Wagner Jr / US Navy

F/A-18F has significant stealth capabilities, which are rarely mentioned in the aviation press.

The Boeing Super Hornet is one of the most successful American jet fighters. The Super Hornet was designed and first produced by McDonnell Douglas with first flight in 1995. McDonnell Douglas and Boeing merged in August, 1997 and one month later full production of the Super Hornet began. It entered service with US Navy in 1999, replacing the F-14 Tomcat since 2006. The Royal Australian Air Force replaced its aging fleet of F-111s with the Super Hornet. The F/A-18E is a single seat, advanced design of the F/A 18C, and the F/A 18F is a two seat fighter that is a larger and advanced version of the F/A 18D. The Super Hornet has a 20mm gun, can carry air to air and air to surface weapons and with five external fuel tanks can be configured as a tanker with a mid-air refueling system.

F/A-18F Hornet launches from carrier
F/A-18E/F supersonic flyby / Blue Angels, Home Coming Show / Pensacola, Fla Nov. 13, 2004
Photo - Photographer's Mate, 2nd Class Mark A. Ebert / US Navy

Of interest to this article are the stealth features of the Super Hornet, which may well have been studied by the Chinese. In early 2008, discussed creating a Super Hornet Block III for the USAF and Royal Australian Air Force. This version would be a 4.75 generation fighter with extra 'forward stealth capabilities and extended range. Well designed and building upon an exceptional aircraft with long successful track record, this forward stealth fighter would be operational until 2024 when a 6th generation aircraft would be available.

When designing the Super Hornet, the US Navy adopted a balanced approach in that low observability derived from reduced radar cross section would not the an overriding priority but would be integrated with other survivability factors. Stealth design was integrated with advanced electronic warfare capabilities, reduced vulnerability to ballistic impact, standoff weapons etc.

F/A-18F Hornet launches from carrier
F/A-18E/F Super Hornets on flight deck of USS Ronald Reagan / May 18, 2005
Photo - Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Aaron Burden / US Navy

Radar cross section was reduced at the front and rear of the aircraft. Leading edges of the engine inlets were designed to scatter radiation to the sides. “Fixed fan-like, reflecting structures in the inlet tunnel divert radar energy away from the rotating fan blades.” The Super Hornet makes extensive use of panel joint serration and edge alignment. Careful attention has been paid to removal or filling of surface joint gaps and resonant cavities. Exhaust and inlet ducts are no longer covered by grilles. The F/A 18E/F uses perforated panels that are opaque to radar waves. Panel boundaries and edges are carefully aligned to scatter traveling waves. While not comparable to the F-22, the reduction in radar cross section in the Super Hornet is significant, an order of magnitude smaller than previous generation fighters.

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Northrop McDonnell YF-23 on runway
Northrop McDonnell YF-23 on runway
Photo - Balmung0731 / Wikimedia

The Northrop/McDonnell Douglas YF-23 was a prototype fighter that competed against the Lockheed YF-22 that subsequently evolved into the F-22 Raptor. Two YF-23 were built: “Black Widow II” and "Gray Ghost” and they were designed with all-aspect stealth as a high priority. The YF-23 was designed for speed and maneuverability and was more stealthy and faster than the the YF-22 which was more agile. Both aircraft, were designed for supercruise which is flight above Mach 1 without the use of afterburners. The YF-23 was slightly more aerodynamic with a cruising speed of Mach 1.25, Mach 0.08 faster than the YF-22. The YF-23s flew 50 times for a total of 65.2 hours. The YF-22 won the competition in April 1991.

Northrop McDonnell YF-23
Northrop McDonnell YF-23 / airfield
Photo - National Museum of the USAF

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Lockheed Martin F-117
Lockheed Martin F-117 Night Hawk
Photo - Manuguf / Wikimedia

The Night Hawk was the first production stealth fighter in history. One F-117 has been lost in combat - to the Yugoslav Army. On 27 March 1999, during the Kosovo War, the 3rd battalion of the Yugoslav 250th Air Defense Missile Brigade shot down an F-117A. This brigade was commanded by the brilliant, if eccentric Colonel Zoltán Dani. Nato Commander Wesley Clark confirmed the downed jet fighter as Serial Number 82-0806, call sign “Vega 31”. Colonel Dani's Missile Brigade was equipped with the Isayev S-125 'Neva' (NATO designation SA-3 'Goa') anti-aircraft missile system that used the improved Serbian Isayev S-125 'Neva' (NATO designation SA-3 'Goa') anti-aircraft missile system. According to NATO Commander Wesley Clark and other NATO generals, Dani personally supervised the modification of his targeting radar to increase its wavelength. He also had his units operate their radars on unusually long wavelengths which did make them radar visible for brief periods, but the F-117 had no radar warning indicator. Colonel Dani also moved his missile batteries frequently and utilized spotters to identify NATO aircraft. In some cases, the combined talents of the SA-3 crews and spotters allowed for visually tracking of F-117s.

Four F-117s formation
Four Lockheed Martin F-117s in formation
Photo - Jim Gordon from Biloxi, MS, USA [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The commanders and crews of the SAMs guessed the flight paths of earlier F-117A strikes from rare radar spotting and positioned their SAM launchers and spotters accordingly. It is believed that the SA-3 crews and spotters were able to locate and track F-117A 82-806 visually, probably with infra-red and night vision systems. On 27 March 1999, several SA-3s were launched from approximately 8 miles out, one of which detonated near the F-117A, forcing the pilot to eject. The pilot's first indication of an incoming missile was likely seeing its flame. At this distance and combined speed, the pilot had about 6 seconds to react before impact. The F-117 pilot survived and was later rescued by U.S. Air Force Pararescue personnel. While the name "Capt Ken 'Wiz' Dwelle" was painted on the canopy, it was revealed in 2007 that the pilot was Lt Col Dale Zelko, USAF.

F-117 downed Serbia, 1999
F-117A (Vega 31) shot down over Serbia, Kosovo War 1999
Photo - Ravnagora / Free Republic

The wreckage of the F-117 was not promptly bombed, due to possible media fallout from news footage of civilians around the wreckage. The Serbs are believed to have invited Russian personnel to inspect the remains, compromising the then 25-year old U.S. stealth technology. The flat panel 'facet' design of the F-117 has since been surpassed and it is unclear if the Russians acquired any meaningful design 'secrets'. China is another story, however. Pieces of the F-117 wreckage were strewn over farmland and taken by local souvenir collectors. Chinese agents were immediately present to buy F-117 parts from these farmers according to Croatia's military chief of the time, Admiral Davor Domazet-Loso. However, if some of these design secrets made their way to China, they provided potentially valuable information for their effort to develop a stealth fighter. The F-117A remains are displayed at the Museum of Aviation in Belgrade close to Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport. Some American sources acknowledge that a second F-117A was damaged during the same campaign, and although the plane returned to base, it supposedly never flew again.

?F-16 Fighting Falcon at night
? F-16 "Fighting Falcon" ? at night

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Lockheed Martin F-22 at air show Virginia
Photo - Senior Airman, Vernon Young / USAF

The F-22A 'Raptor' is a Fifth Generation air superiority, stealth fighter that is accepted by many as the de facto world standard for such aircraft. It entered service with the USAF in 2005, ~150 are now deployed and a recent controversial decision will cap production at 187 airframes. The F-22 Program is expensive, cost at this time is about $62 billion and flyaway cost in 2009 USD is $143 million per aircraft. The stealth technology incorporated in the F-22 is considered highly classified by the Unites States and is not available for export aircraft. The F-22 design approach to stealthiness is multifaceted and intended to reduce signature throughout the entire spectrum of sensors: radar, visual, infrared, acoustic and radio. Reduced radar cross section is only one of five priorities that stealth design prioritized. Infrared emissions are disguised, the F-22 is less visible than usual to the eye, radio and noise are controlled and an under bay weapons carrier reduces heat emissions. Maintenance intensive, radar absorbent coatings were not used as extensively as on the F-117.

Lockheed Martin F-22 / supersonic flyby over carrier USS John C.Stennis / June 22, 2009
Photo - Petty Officer 1st Class, Ronald Dejarnett / US Navy
An F-22 Raptor executes a supersonic flyby over the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis June 22 during Northern Edge 2009, a joint exercise in Alaska focusing on detecting and tracking units at sea, in the air and on land.

There is an internal Signature Assessment System in the F-22 that indicates when the radar signature has degraded to the point of needing significant repair. The exact dimensions of the F-22 radar cross section are classified and not known. But in 2009, Lockheed Martin released information that indicates a radar reflection from some angles equal to that of a steel marble. These advanced stealth features require extra maintenance and mission capability might be reduced as much as 70%. The complexities and weak points in the F-22 stealth design are succinctly expressed in the Wikipedia F-22 article from which this brief profile is extracted: “The effectiveness of this emphasis on stealth characteristics during the F-22 design process is difficult to measure. While its radar cross-section is almost nonexistent, this is merely a static measurement of the aircraft's frontal or side area and is valid only for a radar source in a stationary location relative to the aircraft. As soon as the F-22 maneuvers, it exposes a different set of angles and a greater surface area to any radar, increasing its visibility. Furthermore, the use of stealth contouring and radar absorbent material are chiefly effective against high-frequency radars, the type usually found on other aircraft. Low-frequency radars, including weather radars and warning stations in areas of the former Soviet Union, are allegedly less affected by stealth characteristics and are more capable of detecting some of the aircraft employing them.”

Lockheed Martin F-22 / weapons bay
Photo - Senior Airman Jonathan Steffen / USAF

Furthermore, F-22 maintenance requirements are severe, and renders a final assessment of the aircraft as less than ideal in the minds of many military aviation professionals. Again quoting the Wikipedia F-22 article: “In July 2009, the Air Force reported that the F-22 requires more than 30 hours of maintenance for every flight hour, with the total cost per flight hour of $44,000.[146] The Office of the Secretary of Defense puts that figure at 34 hours of maintenance per single hour of flight at a cost of $49,808 per hour of flight.[146] However, a Lockheed spokesman says that the variable cost per flight hour is only $19,000,[145] with a direct maintenance man hours per flight hour of 18.10 in 2008 and 20.48 in 2009.[145] The Pentagon requirement is for 12 hours of maintenance per flight hour.[145] The F-22 had required maintenance every 0.97 flight hours in 2004. This improved to 3.22 flight hours per maintenance event in production Lot 6 aircraft.[145] The aircraft's radar-absorbing metallic skin is the principal cause of its maintenance troubles, with skin repairs accounting for more than half of the maintenance.[146] Another source of maintenance problems is that many components require custom hand-fitting and are not interchangeable.[146] The canopy visibility has degraded more rapidly than expected, with refurbishments at 331 flight hours, on average, instead of the required 800 hours.” Primary references may be found in the Wikipedia article. See also Reference #70 below. Suffice to say the F-22 stealthiness is fragile and expensive, albeit as a fighter this aircraft is extremely impressive when aggressively maintained and flown by skilled pilots. It would be very interesting to have comparable data for the Russian Sukhoi T-50 PAK stealth fighter for comparison.

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F-35C over Grand Canyon
F-35C in flight over the Grand Canyon
Photo - f22 enthusiast / f-16.net

On April 21, 2009, the Wall Street Journal (USA) reported that computer spies had hacked the US DOD computer system and stolen highly classified data from the worldメs most expensive weapons program ヨ the Joint Strike Fighter Program. This Lockheed Martin fighter accesses 7.5 million lines of computer code, more than triple the amount used in the current top Air Force fighter, the F-22. The Raptor deploys the most advanced stealth technology of any air force in the world and for that reason is banned from export. Although forever denying they indulge in cyberwarfare, China was immediately the first suspect for the stolen data event announced in late April, 2009.. Vague statements from the United States Department of Defense implied the theft attempt had been traced to China via IP addresses. Details were not forthcoming except that anonymous informants reported that the F-35 Lightning II Program has been repeatedly broken into. Supposedly, this latest attempt downloaded a great deal of data but the most sensitive information from the program was not stolen.

F-35A  Joint Fighter / Elgins AFB / April, 2009
F-35A  Joint Fighter / Elgins AFB,  April, 2009
Photo - Senior Airman Julianne Showalter / Wikimedia

Space in this article does not permit a complete discussion of the F-35 Program and the multitude of difficulties that have slowed and delayed every development schedule. I have briefly critiqued the F-35 as The Trillion Dollar Fighter elsewhere. Suffice to say the most thorough and objective assessment of the Program's difficulties is the March, 2010 report from the US Government's General Accounting Office. "Manufacturing JSF test aircraft continues to take more time, money, and effort than budgeted. By December 2009, only 4 of 13 test aircraft had been delivered and labor hours to build the aircraft had increased more than 50 percent above earlier estimates. Late deliveries hamper the development flight test program and affect work on production aircraft, even as plans proceed to significantly ramp-up annual procurement rates. Some improvement is noted, but continuing manufacturing inefficiencies, parts problems, and engineering technical changes indicate that design and production processes may lack the maturity needed to efficiently produce aircraft at planned rates. The independent manufacturing review team determined that the planned production ramp rate was unachievable absent significant improvements."

“Although restructuring actions should help, there is still substantial overlap of development, test, and production activities while DOD continues to invest in large quantities of production aircraft before variant designs are proven and performance verified. Slowed by late aircraft deliveries, technical problems, and low productivity, the flight test program only completed 10 percent of the sorties planned during 2009. Before delays, the complete fight test program was scheduled to take six years. Other technical challenges include (1) relying on an extensive but largely unproven and unaccredited network of ground test laboratories and simulation models to evaluate system performance; (2) developing and integrating very large and complex software requirements; and (3) maturing several critical technologies essential to meet operational performance and logistical support requirements. Collectively, testing and technical challenges will likely add more costs and time to development, affecting delivery of war fighter requirements and hampering start up of pilot and maintainer training and initial operational testing.”

The cost factor is illustrated by the sales pitch to Canada which quoted a unit price of mid $70 million for each F-35. In 2011, the asking price is ~$155 million for each F-35 making it the most expensive fighter ever produced.

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Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle / stealth fighter prototype
Photo - MSP Aviator / Wikipedia

More than 335 F-15s have been built and sold by Boeing to both the USAF (223 F-15Es) and export customers. Presented to the media in March, 2009, Boeing's F-15 Silent Eagle is a state-of -the-art, 5th Generation Fighter with considerable stealthiness due to an internal weapons carriage and radar absorbent materials. Production costs are much less than the F-35. Test flights to evaluate Radar Cross Section took place in August and September, 2009. Silent Eagle is aimed at the export market, and South Korea may be the first customer.

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China – Xian JH-7A, 7B Attack Bomber
China – Xian JH-7A Attack Bomber
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation

Approximately 24, JH-7s were manufactured before XAC used up their imported stock of 50 Spey MK202 turbofan engines that were imported in the 1970s. AdditionalJH-7 attack bombers were produced after ~70 suplus Spey MK202 engines were bought from the UK in 2001. In the early 1990s, both the PLAAF and PLAN needed to replace their aging fleets of H-5 and Q-5 fighters attack bombers. The best choice would be an upgrade to the ‘new’ JH-7 attack bomber. The original JH-7 design was soon judged as needing upgrade and improvements. In the mid 1990s, an improved design designated JH-7A was proposed by the 603 design institute with full scale development scheduled for 1999. First JH-7A were delivered to the PLAAF in late 2004. The JH-7A is still in production, power by Chinese made WS-9 engines (see below). They are of interest to this article because latest models are believed to be ‘stealthy’. There is commitment for future designs to continually reduce Radar Cross Section (RCS). Details are lacking, the extent to which the RCS has been reduced in latest prototypes of the JH-7 series is not clear. As of late 2008, there were three JH-7A regiments deployed in the PLAAF, with total aircraft numbers 80 to 100.

JH-7 deployed aircraft / October 24, 2008
JH-7 deployed aircraft / October 24, 2008
Data - sinodefense

The JH-7A was the first Chinese built combat aircraft to be entirely designed on a computer. More than 24,000 components were created using 3d (CATIA software. (CATIA originated in the late 1970s with French aircraft manufacturer Dassault to assist with the development of the Mirage fighter. Aircraft corporates using CATA include: Bombardier Aerospace (Canada), Airbus (EU) and Boeing (USA) who has used CATIA to develop the 777 and 787 commercial airliners. Over the years it has proven extremely successful and is widely used worldwide in the aircraft, automotive and ship building industries. Recent versions can handle multiple stages of product development and have been ported to UNIX and Windows.)

China - JH-7A runway w/ tower
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation

A virtual aircraft was assembled in simulation with a major cost savings to the program that develops prototypes. Design changes that were made using CATIA include: replacing a three segment windscreen by a single-piece curved windscreen. Pilot setback was lowered by 30mm. Seat of weapons operator was raised by 30mm. Airframe modifications were: removing over-wing fences; replacing the single large under fuselage, stabalising fin with two smaller fins. Extensive use of composite and alloy materials reduced aircraft empty weight for takeoff by 400kg, and maximum take-off weight was increased by 10%.

China – Xian JH-7A Attack Bomber
China – Xian JH-7A Attack Bomber profile
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation

The JH-7A also makes use of the composite material known as Hirao developed by the Beijing Aeronautical Manufacturing Engineering Institute. Weight and strength of the aircraft have been increased and life expectancy may be doubled with a 24% reduction aircraft weight (400 kg unloaded) and 10% increase in takeoff weight. The BAMEI also developed a superplastic Titanium alloy that increases aircraft carrying capacity, improves stability and load distribution. New paint chemistry helps confer stealthiness. Critical flutter speed has been optimized and vibration effect reduced. Cockpit windshield is now an 'overall arc' design. Vertical surfaces use Kevlar composite materials. The Xi'an Aircraft Design Institute developed China's largest, full size model for low speed flutter an stress analysis. Overall, 35 new materials and technologies have been utilized in the design and manufacture of the JH-7A. Weapons delivery has been significantly upgraded with Chinese and Russian advanced precision guided weapons: see Weapons Section below.

JH-7A landing w/drag chute
China - Xian JH-7A landing w/drag chute
Photo - Air Force World

Xian JH-7A hanger / maintenance
China - Xian JH-7A hanger / maintenance
Photo - Air Force World

Xian JH-7A squadron
China - Xian JH-7A squadron
Photo - Air Force World

The 'black project' JH-8 is now understood to be a significant all-weather, ground attack upgrade to the JH-7A. The side by side two seat version indicates an attack-fighter bomber, indeed the Chinese aviation press always categorizes the JH-7 series as 'attack bombers'. The advanced JH-7B is believed to have significantly reduced radar cross section and excellent stealth features. It is a development project of the 603 Design Institute that may also be an assigned escort jammer aircraft for the PLAAF's Su-27SK and Su-30MKK that are armed with the Zvezda-Strela Kh-31 anti-ship missile. News bytes hint at cutting edge avioncs with fire control. Would we expect any less? The JH-7B could also carry the KD-88 air launched cruise missile, and a modification could convert the JH-7B into a two seat attack bomber. Flexibility in configuration describes a true multi-role attack aircraft with significant ordnance delivery capability.

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Derived from the Russian Tu-60 Tubulev bomber more than 30 years ago, the Chinese initiated new design upgrades and resumed production of this long range strategic bomber sometime before 2002. It can perform a variety of roles from long range nuclear and tactical bomber, tanker and reconnaissance aircraft. Latest variants include the X-H6M, a naval version with four under wing pylons that has been operational since 2005, and is believed to utilize composite parts to reduce airframe weight. Canons removed, the Xian -H6M could carry YJ-81 AntiShip Missiles (ASM) or KD-88 Land Attack Cruise Missiles (LACM).

Xian-H6 bomber / maintenance
China Xian-H6 bomber / maintenance
Photo - Military News Sina

The Xian H-6H was the first version to contend with contemporary strategic bomber war scenarios. It carries two wing mounted indigenous YJ-63 LCAMs,, a long range modification of the large C-601 ASM. which has a 200km range. The Xian H-6H is likely uses the 9,500kg thrust Wopen WP-8 turbojet. The Xian H-6H could attack the tunnels near Hualien on Taiwan that are used to hide Taiwan's air force from initial PLA attack. Using an optical sensor, the YJ-63 LCAM also maintains a data link to the H-6H via a small radome on the underside of the rear fuselage. This configuration flew with the Tupolev Tu-16K-10 in 1958.

China Xian-H6G bomber
China Xian-H6G bomber
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation

Earliest deployment of the Xian H-6H was likely winter 2000 which is the first known report of the YJ-63 LACM. LCAMs such as the YJ-62 and 63 will have a range of 1,000 to 2,000 kms. As with the USA Tomahawk, a 'pinched' nose would enhance stealthiness. High accuracy would be maximized through a combination of inertial, satellite and radar guidance systems. With four external pylongs plus the bomb bay carriage, the H-6K could carry 14 to 20 500kg PGMs when the H-6K functions as an aerial artillery platform.

China Xian-H6  bomber assembly
China Xian-H6 bomber assembly
Photo - Air Force World

Internet 'leaks' suggest development of the H-6K began sometime in 2000. The letter “K” represents the Chinese - “Air Striking Platform”. In January 2007, photos appeared on the Internet of a new version of the Xian H-6 in which the WW II era glass nose is replaced by a solid enclosed nose for the housing of radar and electronics. Also visible are large engine air intakes and six wing mounted pylons appropriate for LACMs and PGMs. Larger, more powerful engines might be 12,000kg (26,445lbs) thrust Aviadvigatel D-30KP turbofan[8], which also powers the Ilyushin Il-76 transport an could confer a combat radius of 3,000 km+. Now absent is the WW II era glass nose compartment.

China Xian-H6H  bomber airfield
China Xian-H6H bomber
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation

China Xian-H6K prototype / assembly
China Xian-H6K bomber prototype / assembly
Photo - Air Power Australia

Inside the lightening proof radar radome that replaced the vintage glass enclosed nose, the H-6K is believed to carry a powerful PD radar. An upgraded cockpit features advanced avionics the integrate power, flight and weapons fire control. With this likely configuration, the Xian-6K can undertake long range strategic missions to attack US carrier groups in the western Pacific region. Fitted out to carry six to eight very long range AAMs, the Xian H6K would be equipped go after 'early warning systems' aircraft carrier-based tactical Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft such as the Northrop-Grumman Hawkeye E-2 and E-3. For looking infrared systems are used for antisubmarine warfare. Air launched torpedoes would attack underwater submarines in the East and South Seas of China. Information could be shared with the PLAN's Ka-28 and Z-9 helicopters in antisubmarine attacks. The complexities attending the H-6K upgrade are formidable, as is the integration of an advanced Russian turbofan engine, and XAC may have only produced two aircraft for evaluation and testing. Production rate may be only two or three aircraft each year.

China–Xian H6 Bomber squadron
China – Xian H6 Bomber squadron
CGI artist - Air Force World

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For several years, rumors have circulated that a "black project" was underway at the 603 Design Institute to design a stealth bomber similar to the USA B-2. Supposedly, a gunship version has also been designed which has drawn inspiration from the United States Lockheed AC-130H gunship.

China – Stealth Xian H8 Bomber
China – Xian H8 Bomber
CGI artist - Chang Yu Hu / blog.sina.com.cn/zhangyufeiniao

This stealth bomber concept is sometimes described as a Xian-Hi6 which is an odd identification. All versions of the Xian H6 bomber series are designed with a 'classic' long narrow fuselage that has no delta wing characterisitcs as seen in these photos.

Xian H-6i may have tested early features of the Xian H-8. It was powered by 4 Rolls-Royce Spey Mk 512 engines. The program began in 1970 and the first maiden flight was made in 1978. In comparison to the original H-6, the fuselage is lengthened and the engines are rearranged to be carried in individual pods under the wings. Ferry range was initially increased to 8,100 km (with standard payload) with a combat radius over 5,000 km (with nuclear payload). China was planning to cancel the program in 1980 before the start of scheduled production according to most sources.

China – Xian H-8 Stealth Bomber
China – Xian H-8 Stealth Bomber at airfield / concept
CGI artist - Chang Yu Hu / blog.sina.com.cn/zhangyufeiniao

As a few China Watchers and aviation bloggers uncovered, it seems that the Chinese stealth bomber program was revived some years ago and continues today with a 'black' security designation. The Xian H8 is the first long range, stealth bomber for China. Development may have started in 1994 when the Chinese obtained their first information about the American B-2A. Designed by the 603 Institute, Xian will produce this new stealth bomber. When loaded, the H-8 would weigh about 18 tons and be able to cruise at Mach 1.2. Basic features include: a high tech, blended wing-body design; fly-by-wire, an angled fuselage, and a weapons bay with rotating weapons profile. The wing has massive internal fuel tanks. Extensive use will be made of composite materials. The Xian H-8 will have terrain hugging capacity and terrain following and mapping radar, satellite links and an advanced digital mapping system.

China –  Stealth Stealth Bomber / concept
China – Xian H-8 Stealth Stealth Bomber / concept
Artist - Kaskus

Advanced stealth technologies are assumed, but no details are available. A new stealth missile for the Xian H-8 is rumored to be able to reach targets on the American west coast. Four Rolls-Royce Spey Mk 202 turbo-fan engines will power the H-8 to reduce operational costs and simplify logistics. However, it is intended to use the domestic WS-10A engine as soon as possible. 'Conventional' weapons include laser guided 'thunder stone'6, satellite guided bombs and anti-ship missiles.

China–Stealth Stealth Bomber runway
China – Xian H-8 Stealth Stealth Bomber on runway

Additional design features of the current Xian H-8 are believed to include: stealth technology re blended design and extensive use of composite materials; first use on Chinese aircraft of leading edge and trailing edge wing flaps; stealth enhanced with engine inlets and engine exhausts above the wing; stealth enhanced by placing modular weapon racks in internal weapons bay; first Chinese use of Fly-by-Wire on a large multi-engine aircraft; capability for six 3,000km range HN-3 air to surface nuclear cruise missiles; four turbo-fan engines; speed up to Mach 1.2 - ?1.4; maximum range 11,000 km w/;o refueling; and advanced avionics.

China – Xian H-8 stealth bomber at hanger
China – Xian H-8 stealth bomber at hanger
CGI artist - Chang Yu Hu / blog.sina.com.cn/zhangyufeiniao

A credible report about the maiden flight of the Xian H-8 on January 15, 2007 is no longer on the web but may be found in the Internet Archive – see Source #. Additional flight trials were scheduled to start in January 2008.

China – Xian H-8 stealth bomber over city / concept
China – Xian H-8 stealth bomber / bombing run over city / concept
CGI artist - Chang Yu Hu / blog.sina.com.cn/zhangyufeiniao


USA / Lockheed-Boeing AC-130U 'Spooky'
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Lockheed-Boeing AC-130U
China – Lockheed-Boeing AC-130U 'Spooky' / flares counter heat seaking missiles
Photo - Senior Airman Julianne Showalter / USAF

An AC-130U Spooky Gunship from the 4th Special Operations Squadron jettisons flares over an area near Hurlburt Field, Florida, on August 20, 2008. The flares are used as a countermeasure to heat-seeking missiles that can track aircraft during real-world missions.

It is not immediately clear why this extraordinary, turboprop gunship is of interest to Chinese designers working on the Xian H-8 stealth bomber. A quick glance at each aircraft and it is near impossible to see anything in common between AC-130U and a 21st century delta wing stealth bomber. Based on the famous C-130 Hercules transport plane, the Lockheed-Boeing AC-130U 'Spooky' has been upgraded and kept current since the Vietnam War, 25 aircraft are now in active service with the USAF. Early in 2010, two MC-130Ws will receive latest weapons and communications system upgrades. Seventeen (17) new C-130J transports are now earmarked for conversion into AC-130 gunships over the next five years. A partial answer as to Chinese interest may lie in sophisticated sensors, navigation and fire control systems utilized by Spooky/Spectre.

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The SR-71 Blackbird is the end result of a now famous 'Black Project' that began as A-12 OXCART soon to be known as 'Archangel' or preferably 'The Article'. Aircraft were built at the highly secure Lockheed Skunk Works, Lockheed's facility for advanced research into next generation military aircraft. Understandably, the project was 'black' and recquired the highest security clearance. President Johnson publically announced the project for political reasons vs a vs the Soviet Union on February 29,1964. Area 51 is a DOD and USAF test facility that is shrouded in the highest secrecy. It is located at Groom Lake in the Nevada desert, less than 150 miles from Las Vega. The Department of Defense and the USAF denied the existence of Area 51 until July 14, 2003 when the Soviet Union published high altitude satellite surveillance photos of the facility and runway. The US DOD still will not provide any details about the facility. The rumors and conspiracy theories that surrounded Area 51 were fabulous and they continue today. The last design of 'The Article' was Article 121' of which 18 aircraft were built. The first flight of the 'The Article' was that of 'Article 121' and it took place at Groom Lake Nevada on April 15,1962. Twelve A-12 aircraft were reconnnaissance spy planes flown by CIA pilots.

SR-71B Blackbird / National Air and Space Museum
Lockheed – SR-71B Blackbird / National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly, Virginia / Dec. 2,, 2010
Photo - Blumenmberg Associates LLC

Each Blackbird is 107.4 feet long, has a wingspan of 55.6 feet, and is 18.5 feet high. Gross takeoff weight is about 140,000 pounds, figure that includes fuel weight of 80,280 pounds. Designed for a maximum speed in excess of Mach 3.0, the SR-71 Blackbird required a fuselage of titanium alloy. Ironically, the titanium was imported from the Soviet Union during the height of the cold war. The SR-71s may still be the fastest and highest-flying production aircraft ever built. Blackbirds flew at 2,200 miles per hour (Mach 3+, at altitudes of over 85,000 feet.

 SR-71B Blackbird / September, 1992
Lockheed – SR-71B Blackbird / September, 1992
Photo - NASA

What stealth characteristics of the 'Blackbird' might interest the PLAAF in the 21st century? The radar cross section of the Lockheed SR-71 Black Bird was reduced as chines were added to the design – flattened, tapering fuselages sides do not reflect most radar energy to the radar beam's origination point, and the vertical control services were canted inward. Radar absorbing materials were used in sawtooth sections of the skin. Ceramic based fuel additives reduces the exhaust plumes radar visiblity. The most visible signs of the SR-71s low radar cross section are the vertical stablizers that cant inward, and the fuselage chines. A plane the size of the SR-71 should generate a radar image the size of a barn, that of the Blackbird was the size of a single door.

 SR-71A NASA Research Blackbird
Lockheed – SR-71A NASA Research Blackbird / Sierra Nevada Mts, 1997
Photo - Jim Ross / NASA

Although the Russians were believed to be even more advanced at this time, the SR-71 flew years before the ground breaking research of Pyotr Ya Ufimtsey could be incorporated into aircraft stealth design. Unfortunately at the end of the day, the SR-71 stealth features were flawed. The exhaust stream generated its own radar signature in spite of the special cesium compounds added to the fuel to counteract that problem. The later F-117 had a radar cross section the size of a ball bearing. Swedish pilots flying the JA-37 Viggen using known and predictable flight patterns of the SR-71 over the Baltic Sea – especially the airspace between Öland and Gotland - frequently locked their radar on a Blackbird, and on at least one occasion that feat was formally acknowledged.

Lockheed SR-71
Lockheed – SR-71 Blackbird
Photo - Anonymous (US Government / Wikimedia

The SR-71 had a large infrared signature when cruising above Mach 3.2. It was visible on air traffic control radar, and missiles were often shot at Black Bird during spy/reconnaissance missions. The flight characteristics of the SR-71 were stunning and they made the aircraft nearly invulnerable to attack. Over its active lifetime, more than 4,000 attempts to shoot down a Blackbird were made and none succeeded.

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USA / B-2-Stealth Bomber
Northrop Grumman B-2 'Spirit' Stealth Bomber / bomb loading
Photo - Master Sgt. Val Gempis / USAF

The USAF B-2 'Spirit' is the only long range strategic bomber in the world that is deployed and combat ready. Designed and built by Northrop Grumman, the B-2 had first test flights in 1989 and was deployed with the USAF in 1997. Initial plans for the USAF to purchase 132 aircraft were scaled back because of very high cost andt the B-2 'Spirit fleet numbers 21 aircraft. Costs of each aircraft in 1997 dollars are now at least USD$737 million. If spare parts, retrofitting and software are factored in, cost per plane rises to USD$ 929 million. Total program costs, which includes develpment, engineering and testing brings the cost per bomber to USD$ 2.1 billion. Ironically, the CAD design system and computer controlled manufactuing process proved to be very expensive. The operational costs for the B-2 are very high, 3X more than the B-1 and 4X higher than the B-52. Highly automated, the B-2 can fly with a two man crew.

USA / B-2-Stealth Bomber – premier flight
Northrop Grumman B-2 'Spirit' Stealth Bomber / Premier Flight, Edwards AFB, CA July 17, 1989
Photo - USAF

Nonetheless, performance and capability of the B-2 are exceptional. The 'Spirit's stealth derives from a combination of acoustic, infrared, visual and radar signatures, many of the specifics derive from the F-117. Composite materials, spoecail coatings and the flying wing design greatly reduce the number of leading edges for radar detection. Engines are buried within the wing which conceals the induction fans and hides their exhaust. Needless to say, it is not allowed to have a B-2 bomber on permanent public display although participation in air shows is allowed.

USA / B-2-Stealth Bomber – Guam
Northrop_Grumman B-2 'Spirit' Stealth Bomber / maintenance at Andersen AFB, Guam
Photo - Master Sgt. Val Gempis / USAF

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Chinese aircraft designers appear to have studied the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit and Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird bomber prototypes. In 2005, a former Northrop B-2 design engineer who worked on the B-2 propulsion systems, was arrested for selling highly classified data about the B-2 and its stealth design to China. Noshir Gowadia has admitted to the charges but claimed the material he sold was not classified, and did not contain anything that the United States was not willing to release. Nonetheless, there is no question that B2 propulsion system and stealth characteristics have been studied intensively by Chinese stealth aircraft designers. Interestingly, design teams for the B-2 were separated and situated in different locations, a preventive measure against foreign espionage which Gowadia's access to classified data was able to circumvent. (Gowadia also showed classified B-2 documents to at least seven other countries besides China.)

USA / B-2-Stealth Bomber – over St. Louis
Northrop_Grumman B-2 'Spirit' Stealth Bomber / over St. Louis, MO USA
Photo - Tech. Sgt. Justin D. Pyle / USAF

Gowadia has been charged with conspiring to violate the Arms Export Control Act by contracting an illegal agreement to design and assist in testing of a stealthy cruise missile nozzle; and with performing a defense service service for the Peoples Republic of China without first obtaining required approval from the U.S. Dept. of State. He is also charged with three counts of deliberately transferring classified USA defense information to a representative of the PRC with the intent that it be used to the advantage of the PRC and/or to cause injury to the United States.

The indictment describes six trips taken by Gowadia to China to discuss design and testing of the cruise missile nozzle. One of his contacts is alleged to be a member of the PRC's Foreign Experts Bureau. A request to judge Gowadia mentally incompetent to stand trial was denied in November, 2009 and he is expected to finally stand trial in April, 2010.

** UPDATE.. deliberately delayed until after the test flight of the Chengdu J-20, and President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States, Gowadia was finally sentenced on January 25, 2011. Gowadia received 32 years, which assures that at 66, he will spend the rest of his life in prison. Ironically, to the extent that Chinese designs for stealth fighter and stealth bomber prove successful, Gowadia has assured that the United States will have made a significant contribution to those accomplishments.

USA / B-2-Stealth Bomber and F-15 Strike Eagles / Guam
Northrop_Grumman B-2 'Spirit' Stealth Bomber / F-15 'Strike Eagles' / Andersen AFB, Guam
Photo - Tech. Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo / USAF

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Russia appears to have a long term commitment to developing a next generation, strategic stealth bomber. This program is under the PAK-DA programs - Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Dalney Aviatsyi which means Future Air Complex for Strategic Air Forces. This new bomber will be based upon the current supersonic Tu-160 long range bomber, and the target date for flight trials is 2015.

Russia / Next Generation Stealth Bomber
Russia / PAK-DA Stealth Bomber
Concept sketch - Defense Aviation

Russian Air Force Aleksandr Zelin noted a few years ago that work on this bomber had begun, development of a prototype could take up to eight years and that stealth features are an obvious priority.

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Since 2005, bits and pieces of internet gossip and 'leaks' point to a major 'black' bomber project that that is developing a stealth aircraft far in advance of the B-2. The contractor is Northrup Grumman which was developing the X-47C a long endurance UCAS aircraft with 10,000 lb weapons load and a wingspan (172') equal to that of the B-2 bomber. Supposedly, funds for the X-47C were terminated in 2007, but a rumor persists that they were transferred into the 'black' next generation stealth bomber project.

USA / Next Generation Stealth Bomber
USA / Next Generation Stealth Bomber
Artist - Defense Tech

Also in 2007, executives at Northrup Grumman hinted that they expected to be awarded the contract of a 'major restricted program'. In early 2008, the company disclosed a $USD 2Billion surge in backlog at the Integrated Systems Division. Meanwhile Boeing and Lockheed agreed to team up on a Next Generation Bomber project. Presumably funds for a large stealth aircraft survived the budget cuts of April 2009. Meanwhile a large new hanger has been constructed at the USAF flight test center at Groom Lake, Nevada, and it is screened and closed off from public viewing.

The B-2 'Spirit' was designed in the early days of “Computational Fluid Dynamics", before the complex 3D airflows over an all-wing aircraft could be simulated properly. The B-2 represented a low-risk trade off between aerodynamics and signatures. Today's powerful computing capability allows for the design of flying wing aircraft with maximum stealth characteristics, and high aerodynamic efficiency. A large scale, flying demonstrator aircraft could evaluate the design of engine inlets and exhaust, stability and control. High altitude performance might be another goal. Flying the B-2 in daylight is considered a suicide mission because it cruises at the same altitude as most fighters. By contrast, the sky above 60,000' is dark. Using Northrup-Grumman's 'cranked kite' design, a NGB could weigh one half the weight of the B-2 but equal it in centerline length. The NGB might also be configured to carry the new 30,000 lb Massive Ordnance Penetrator now under development at Boeing.

Northrop Grumman B-## Stealth Bomber
Northrop Grumman B-## Stealth Bomber 2
Concept Photo / B-2- High Tech Edge

It is logical to view the upgrades now under development for the B-2 'Spirit' as preliminaries for the NGB Program. The B-2's rotary weapons launcher will be changed to allow for carrying mixed loads of weapons that range from Small Diameter Bombs to the one ton class bombs. A new Ku-band active, electronically scanned radar (AESA) will have extremely high ground resolution. Stealth compatible satcoms are planned.

A B-2/Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance aircraft could be designed, built and deployed in phases. Later models might be unmanned, and powered by advanced engines that also supply power to direct-energy weapons for self defense or attack. Stealth would be very important to such designs. Blended wing and flying wing designs provide all aspect stealth with low radar signature from the side, as well as from front and rear aspects. The peaks in radar signature created by designs like the F-22 and F-35 from fuselage sides and vertical tails are absent. Flying wings also feature 'broadband stealth. At low radar frequencies, “the wingtips, tails and other small parts of a conventional aircraft have dimensions in the same magnitude as the radar wavelength and therefore have a “resonant” RCS that is largely unaffected by shaping or materials. ”Essential to such designs would be “long endurance, wide-band active and passive radio-frequency sensors, and LO-compatible high-bandwidth satcoms.” Russia and China have unveiled modernized versions of VHF radar with claims of high counterstealth performance.

In reply to those who believe the era of the long range, strategic bomber is over, and that such a weapons system has no useful role in the wars conceived to be likely in this century,, analyst Barry Watts offers these thoughts. He believes that a NGB is justified for at least four reasons. 1. Long range missions that require a long range of action to reach targets deep in defended airspace. 2. Strategic planning might find reasons to attack critical targets that are at intercontinental distances. 3. Missions that require extended survivability in order to be successfully completed. 4. Operations where the USAF must be able to project force beyond the reach of enemy weapons. Nuclear missions or attack are of low priority, and electromagnetic pulse hardening need only be moderate.

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Making jet fan blades that have a long usable lifetime has long proven very difficult or impossible for China and most other countries. They have been unable to make blades the metal of which did not "creep" and disable the engine. Solving this problem was advanced metallurgy and one of the crown jewels of the Western defense establishment. However, thanks to new turbofan engine technology from Britain’s Rolls Royce, the Xian Aircraft Corporation is now able to build its long-delayed JH-7A fighter bomber for the PLA Navy and Air Force, providing a new strike platform to use against U.S. naval forces or US allies and friends in the region. This fighter-bomber program had been dormant since the late 1970s for the lack of an effective engine. In the late 1970s China purchased a small number of Rolls Royce Spey Mk 202 turbofans, but a co-production deal faltered and Xian spent nearly 20 years trying to make a copy. Xian’s fighter-bomber was resumed in the early 1990s as a domestic counterpart to the planned purchase of Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKK strike fighters. But it did not become a viable program until the late 1990s when the Xian Aero Engine Group revived cooperation with Rolls Royce. This likely began in 1998, two years after London’s reinterpretation of the 1989 EU embargo. Xian purchased additional used Spey Mk 202s and purchased the necessary technology to begin production of an uprated Spey, called the QinLing.

The intended turbofan engine for the Su-35B is a major upgrade to the AL-31F that is designated 117S and whose profile can be found below in the Engines section of this article. This engine has full rotating, vector thrust nozzles which provide maximum maneuverability to the aircraft. Russian jet fighter design continues to give pilots exceptional maneuverability options in air combat situations. “The modernization has increased the engine special mode thrust by 16%, up to 14,500 kgf. In the maximum burner-free mode it reaches 8,800 kgf.”

Russia / MMPP Salut turbofan engine
Russia / MMPP Salut turbofan engine
CGI - Siemens PLM Softare

An important Chinese priority is the conclusion of a 20 year project to redesign of the Russian Saturn AL-31FN. The WS10A turbofan engine designed by the Shenyang Liming Motor Company is slated to power the back bone of the Chinese air force. One model will power the J-10 fighter, another the J-11B. It has been in development for more than a decade and has had air trials with a Russian Su-27SK (Flanker B).

Another blog thread has discerned that the Chinese are taking a serious look at a derivative of the Saturn/Lyulka AL-31/41 family, and/or the Saturn 117S, to power J-20 prototypes. In 2005, production was initiated for the WS-9, a Chinese design based upon a Roll Royce turbofan engine. Most experts doubt the Chinese capacity to produce the requisite engine with a thrust in after burning mode of 13 to 14 tons. Indeed, the Chinese turbofan industry is on the public record as disappointed at their three decades of advanced engine development, with an admission that industry leadership still remains with the Russian Saturn/Lyulka and Rolls Royce in the UK.

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The Russian Saturn/Lyulka AL-31 turbofan engine has been a reliable, strong engine for many years. It functions very well in diverse environments and flight speeds, from deep surge to flat, straight and inverted spins. Exceptional maneuverability during extreme aerobatics with negative speeds up to 200 km/hr is ensured. Average price of the export AL-31 was $USD2.8 million in 2002.

In 2001 or 2002, Saturn/Lyulka began to modernize its Al-31F to the 31FM1-AL (AL-31F series 42, serial No Izdelije 99M1) at the Moscow Salyut plant and serial production began in March, 2007 and the engine was unveiled to the public at MAKS 2007. Stroke was increased from 12,500 to 13,500 kp and operating time to first major maintenance was extended from 750 to 1,000 hrs. A new low pressure compressor was integrated into the engine design. Control system was upgraded and a new supersonic nozzle has a lifetime of 800 hours. Overall engine weight increased slightly to 1557 kg.

Saturn AL-31-FM turbofan engine
Russia – Saturn AL-31-FM turbofan engine
Photo- Mzak Pictures (Czech)

Testing was conducted at the MM Gromova Institute using the Sukhoi 27 fighter during the summer of 2006. China was/is very interested in the AL-31FM1 model to modernize its fleet of Sukhoi-27 and Sukhoi-30 fighters.

Saturn AL-31-FM turbofan engine
Russia – Saturn AL-31-FM turbofan engine
Photo- Mzak Pictures (Czech)

Development continues as Salyut's goal is have a turbofan engine adquate to the demands of a Fifth Generation stealth fighter. The AL-31FM2 (Izdelije 99M2, or AL-31FSM (M1S)) and AL-31FM3 are late models. The AL-31FM2 has a low pressure compressor and adjustments in aerodynamics over earlier AL-31 models. Depression has been increased to 4.0 and the input can operate at 1467-1507 ºC. Stroke is now 14,200 kp or slight higher as of January 2007 information, kp is at least 1,000 hrs.

The AL-31FM3 will no longer specify at least 20% increase in stroke vrs the AL-31F, and 14,500 kp has been quoted for the AL-31FM3-1 and 15,200 kp for the AL-kp 31FM3. Pressure has been increased on the low pressure compressor and advanced heat resistant materials are used throughout the engine.

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Note that "AL-31FN engine nozzles have three distinct parts. 1. A silver ring connecting the engine to the fuselage. 2. Blue-ish pedals that allow the nozzle to move. 3.The brownish exhaust nozzle pedals."

The first choice engine for the Chinese J-10 fighter was the Pratt & Whitney 1120 from the United States which had been designed for the Israeli Lavi fighter whose specifications influenced the design of the J-10. Subsequent diplomatic developments negated that option and the Chinese turned once again to Russia and their new Saturn AL-31FN turbofan engine of which nine were to be built and tested starting in 1992. Subsequently, 1500 successful test fights were made in China but the competition between Saturn and Salyut turned ugly, particularly over the legalities of intellectual property.

Saturn AL-31-FN turbofan engine
Russia – Saturn AL-31-FN turbofan engine
Photo- Mzak Pictures (Czech)

In December 2005, journalists were allowed to see an AL-31FN engine with thrust increased to 13,500 kp. This development was financed internally by Salyut company. Contracts were signed for the manufacture of the AL-31FN in China, more precisely the assembly and refinement of kit engines as delivered. The rear of the J-10 has a small footprint in which the AL-31FN will fit nicely. The first shipment from Salyut was for 54 engines, the second in 2005-2006 delivered 100 engines. Price per engine is unclear, but may have increased to $USD 25 million in the second order. The Saturn AL-31FN turbofan is the engine of choice for the heavyweight version of the new, 'black project', J-13 stealth fighter.

Saturn AL-31-FN turbofan engine
Russia – Saturn AL-31-FN turbofan engine
Photo- Mzak Pictures (Czech)

Saturn AL-31-FN turbofan engine
Russia – Saturn AL-31-FN turbofan engine
Photo- Mzak Pictures (Czech)

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Saturn AL-31-FP  turbofan engine
Russia – Saturn AL-31-FP turbofan engine
Photo- Mzak Pictures (Czech)

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Russia / Sukhoi Su-33UB, AL-31FU turbofan engines
Russian Navy - Sukhoi Su-33UB (Flanker D), AL-31FU turbofan engines / MAAK Air Show, 2005
Photo - Air Power Australia

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The Russian AL-41F (Izdelije 20) is the first Russian Fifth Generation turbofan engine and at the time of its testing featured many aspects not seen elsewhere. The AL-41F had 'new' aerodynamic characteristics and used state of the art materials such as heat resistant ceramics, carbon composites, compounds that incorporated boron and aluminum into their molecular structure etc. This engine has been under development since 1995 at Liulka, the Moscow facility of Saturn. It is believed comparable to the engines that power the USA F-119, F-22 and the Euro 2000, Joint Strike Fighter.

Saturn 41F1A turbofan engine
Russia – Saturn 41F1A turbofan engine
Photo- Mzak Pictures (Czech)

Some specifications are available for the AL-41F. Thrust to weight ration has been increased from the 8:1 characteristic of the AL-31F engines to 11:1. Weight reduction and increased strength follow upon a reduction in the number of high compressor stages, and an increase in total compression, features that were available in Russian 4th Generation Engines upon special request from the customer. Super cruise is an option – flying at supersonic speeds without using the afterburner. As a result, turbine gas temperature undergoes an unprecedented increase to 1600ºC. A state-of-the-art digital engine management system is integrated into the computer control system of the aircraft, the cost of this advance $USD 6-700 million. After ground tests, the AL-41F was evaluated on a Tubolev Tu-16 bomber.

The little known Chengdu two engine, J-13 stealth fighter may be powered by two AL-41 turbofan engines with thrust vectoring nozzles and supersonic cruise capability. Maximum takeoff will be ~20 tons, and the J-13 will be 'heavyweight' fighter.

Saturn 41F1A turbofan engine
Russia – Saturn 41F1A turbofan engine
Photo- Mzak Pictures (Czech)

MIG_1.42 / Lyuks-Saturn AL-41F engine
Russia – MIG 1.42 / Lyuks-Saturn AL-41F engine
Photo - jpcolliat.free.fr

Saturn 117S
(scaled down AL-41F), turbofan engine
Russia – Saturn 117S (scaled down AL-41F), turbofan engine
Photo- Key Publishing Ltd Aviation Forum

The Article 117S (aka AL-41F-1A) is in essence a scaled down AL-41F, which outperformed Salyut's AL-31FM2 in bench tests. Thrust has been increased to 14,500 kgf in special thrust mode, and to 8800 kgf in maximum burner free mode. Between repair time has increased to 1,000 hours, operating period before first major maintenance is 1500 hours. The 117S was developed by PO Saturn Research and Production Association. They feature a new fan, new high and low pressure turbines, and a new digital control system. A vectored thrust nozzle is also an option.

Saturn 117S turbofan engine
Russia – Saturn 117S (scaled down AL-41F), turbofan engine
Photo- Sukhoi News, August 29, 2007

The 117S engines will be manufactured by Ufa-based Motor Building Association and the Rybinsk-based NPO Saturn Research and Production Association. The first production 117S engines were delivered to KnAAPO in early 2007 in time for testing on the first Su-35 protoypes. The intended turbofan engine for the Su-35B is a major upgrade to the AL-31F that is designated 117S: see profile below in the Engines section of this article. This engine has full rotating, vector thrust nozzles which provide maximum maneuverability to the aircraft. Russian jet fighter design continues to give pilots exceptional maneuverability options in air combat situations. “The modernization has increased the engine special mode thrust by 16%, up to 14,500 kgf. In the maximum burner-free mode it reaches 8,800 kgf." In China, this engine is intended for the J-20, stealth fighter prototypes.

Saturn 117S turbofan engine
Russia – Saturn 117S (scaled down AL-41F), turbofan engine
Photo- Jet Fly Magazine(Hungary)

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Sorting out turbofan engine history and ongoing development projects in China is notoriously difficult as anyone who dug into the subject can attest. Engines acquire multiple names and designations as different writers and bloggers attempt to sort out the catalog. The degree to which an engine differs from the Russian, or occasionally UK model, used as the design starting point is nearly impossible to answer when working with the very limited data base that has leaked out, or quick observations made at a Chinese aviation show. “To clone, or not to clone” is a key question. The situation is analogous to that which surrounded various Chinese fighters that were derived from Russian Sukhoi models. Initially, they were close copies, Russian kits assembled in China under contract and nothing illegal or 'stolen' was going on. As in years past, Chinese fighters derived from Sukhoi fighters appeared that had sufficient Chinese design features that the label 'clone' was no longer accurate. We are witnessing a similar history with Chinese development of advanced turbofan jet engines.

According to Janes, China's three main engine design and manufacture centers are: Liyang Aero-Engine Corporation (LYAC) in Guizhou, Liming Aero-Engine Manufacturing Corporation (LMAC) in Shenyang and Xi'an Aero-Engine Corporation (XAC) - has been obtained by Jane's. Although, great advances have been made, China still depends on Russia for two of its most advanced fighters. “The Chengdu J-10 fighter is powered by the Salyut AL-31FN: a derivative of the Sukhoi Su-27's Saturn/Lyulka AL-31F. The FC-1/JF-17 fighter is fitted with one Chernyshev RD-93 engine: a variant of the Mikoyan MiG-29's Klimov/Isotov RD-33." Both aircraft are on track for use by China's major defence export customer, Pakistan. JF-17s are already being assembled at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and the J-10 planned for acquisition is being designated FC-20 in service.

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Saturn 117S turbofan engine
Russia – Saturn 117S (scaled down AL-41F), turbofan engine
Photo- Jet Fly Magazine(Hungary)

In 1960, China was recovering from the Korean War and a terrible civil war. The aviation industry was taking a serious long range view as to objectives and programs to be initiated. With respect to jet engine development, the precision machining technologies and advanced materials required seemed to be a daunting challenge. Founded in 1961, the 606 Engine Design Institute cemented a partnership with the 601 Aircraft Design Institute in 1964 to design a fighter that was better than the J-7 (MiG-21 kit assembly) with an appropriately advanced turbine engine. The result was the J-9, high altitude, high speed interceptor equipped with the new WS-6 after burning turbofan engine. The WS-6 turbofan was ready for testing in June, 1968. In spite of delays caused by the Cultural Revolution, the engine was successfully tested for a total of 334 hours. In 1980, the 606 Institute designed an advanced WS-6G model which had higher low pressure, rotor speed, a three stage fan; and higher turbine inlet temperature. The cannular combustor of the WS-6 was now an annular combustor. The after burning thrust of the WS-6G was now 13.2%, and thrust to weight ratio was raised to 18.9%. The WS-6G began testing in February, 1982.

Turbofan development in China then stalled, there was no flight testing and the next phase of work went undone. By comparison, the WS-6 models appeared to be a second generation engine, 30 years behind what the turbofans made in the UK, Russia and the USA as thrust to weight ratio remained at 7. The subsequent development of the WS-9 seemed to say that the WS-6 and WS-6G were an impossible challenge and could not be used in the next advanced Chinese fighter, the Chengdu J-10.

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In late 1988, the prototype of the JH-7 fighter/bomber underwent flight tests. The USK Spey MK 202 turbofan engine was the engine of choice for the JH-7 but a partial embargo on the import of British turbofan engines was in force as of 1989. The WS-9, code named 'Qingling', was a stripped down version of the USK Spey MK 202 turbofan engine with modifications made to the blowers, compressor and a convergent-divergent nozzle. The development project was finished in 2002, a final design was approved in 2005 and in 2008 AVIC I Xian began mass production. Rumors indicate that an Improved WS-9 "Qingling" (T/W=10 17t class turbofan (WS-15/"large thrust") is being developed for the Fifth Generation J-20 stealth fighter.

Rolls-Royce Spey Mk202
China – Rolls-Royce RB168-Spey Mk202 / cf CEGC WS-9 turbofan
Photo- Nimbus227 / Wikipedia

The Chinese version of the Spey Mk. 202 is the WS-9 which AVIC I and Xi'an Aero-engines decided to mass produce, most likely because it is the engine of choice for the Xian JH-7A attack bomber.

China-WS-9 turbofan
China–WS-9 Qinling turbofan
Photo- Key Publishing Ltd Aviation Forum

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The history of the WS-10 turbofan serves to illustrate the trial and tribulations that have attended advanced aircraft engine development in China. The origin of the WS-10 begins in 1982 when the WS-6 program was canceled. The WS-10 team began with the 20 years of experience gained from the WS-6 project. The WS-10 program closely studied the USA/France CFM56 engine and the General Electric F101-GE-102 engine that powered the American long range, strategic B-1B bomber. In 1989, three areas in indigenous turbofan design that needed serious improvement were identified: a) the high compressor; b) combustion chamber; and c) short cooling, turbine blades. A core engine technology demonstrator - Medial Turbofan Thrust Demonstration Core Engine (MTDTCE) - was completed and launched for testing in December, 1992. Experts on the Russian AL-31F were consulted and were instrumental in moving the project forward. The design and development work was so complex and 'new' that 21 teams participated in the project.

The research and development of advanced turbofan engines has been the purview of the 606 Institute ( Shenyang Aero-Engine Research Institute) and the 624 Institute ( China Gas Turbine Establishment). A wide range of turbofans were envisaged that would power not only combat aircraft but training aircraft, UAV and cruise missiles. In 1980, the High-Performance Propulsion System Preliminary Development (HPPSPD) program was commissioned.

China – Shenyang-WS-10A Engine
China, Shenyang-WS-10A Engine / Zhuhai Air Show 2008
Photo - CentristCrusader / Wikipedia

Work began in 1987 to design two engines for combat aircraft: the WS-10A Taihang and WS-13 Taishan. The WS-10A would produce 13,500 kg of thrust with after burning, and 7.5:1 thrust ratio. On June 12, 1989 the Liming Aircraft Engine Company received an order for the first three components that were the result of the HPPSPD project. In July of the same year, a closed door conference was held on “Three Most Important Parts of High Pressure Compressor: 7 stage high pressure compressor, short annular combustor with air blast atomizer and an air film cooling blade. These three components were believed essential to producing a Chinese made turbofan engine and achieving independence from Russia and Britain.

To be designed by the 624 Institute, the core engine was modeled as a medial thrust and small bypass ratio turbofan with thrust to weight ratio of 8:1. It was called the Medial Thrust Demonstration Turbofan Core Engine (MTDTCE), and was on the list of 18 significant high-tech projects financed by China's Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defence (COSTIND) Eighth-Five-Year Plan. As of January 1991, three milestones in the MTDTCE Program had been reached: design completion, fabrication of one demonstration engine, and production of high pressure compressor components. Design and castings for main forging were completed in February, 1992. In June 1992, a full scale metallic model of the turbofan engine was unveiled.

Manufacture of the MTDTCE was done at the 403 plant and involved 21 industrial and research and development facilities. Prototype production began in March 1992 for sub-assemblies such as the directionally solidified blade forgings, short annular combustor, precision forgings of diffuser with shaped blade and electron beam welding of compressor sections. The first finished sub-assemblies of MTDTCE were presented on November,18, 1992. The turbofan hot sections were integrated with the exhaust nozzle and gearbox and the MTDTCE was fixed on a ground testing rig on November 24, 1992. On December 3, 1992, the MTDTCE was powered up for the first time and during its 11th test on December 12, it reached maximum speed.

China  - WS-10 turbofan engine
China – Shenyang WS-10 turbofan engine
Photo- Mzak Pictures (Czech)

The flight test aircraft was a Chinese J-11 – a Russian Sukhoi Su-27 'kit' assembled in China. Unfortunately, the oil tank and exit nozzle dimensions were not a match to the J-11, and between 1992 and 1997 the program did not move forward. An engine explosion in 1997, further delayed progress. In 1998, the J-10 which flew used a modified AL-31FN engine. In 2004, a bearing failure in the engine caused an aircraft to land (safely) on one engine. Nonetheless, after more than 20 years of development, the WS-10 pass 40 days of final tests for battery life and operational durability and was 'signed off' as ready for the PLAAF on November 10, 2005.

China - J-11B w/ WS-10 turbofan
China – Shenyang J-11B w/ WS-10 turbofan engine
Photo- Chinese Military Aviation

Thrust ranges from 13,200 to 13,500 kp (> 130KN) and first installation is assumed to be on the J-11B. The J-10 requires modifications to dimensions and increased stroke, this model to be labeled WS-10B. The WS-10A has a 7 ? compressor, a short combustion chamber and mono turbine blades made from nickel alloy. It is a high pressure turbine in a single stage design, low pressure in the two stage design. Reportedly, the WS-10A has been tested with a steerable nozzle thrust vector 15º in any direction. Not yet confirmed in the western aviation press was the expected delivery in 2007 of 15 to 20 WS-10A turbofan engines to be installed on 7 or 8 twin engine J-11B aircraft. On February 2008, AVIC announced that the WS-10A ('Turbofan 'Taihang') has begun production and would be the engine installed on the J-10 series of fighters, the J-11B and the forthcoming J-14, Fifth Generation Stealth Fighter.

Work has begun on the WS-10B which increases the thrust from “13,469 kg (132 kN) to 13,766 kg (135 kN) and it is "this variant that is planned to replace the AL-31FN in later production batches of the J-10. A later version of this engine, the WS-10G, has a thrust increase to 15,800 kg (155 kN) and will become not only the standard engine for the J-10 and J-11 but also the power plant for the proposed J-13 combat aircraft."

WS-12 Taishan -

Terminated in 1999 due to lack of funding, the WS-12 engine program has been revived. The new Xi'an JH-7B attack bomber may well be powered by the LYAC WS-12B growth variant of the original WS-12 Taishan. "This engine gives the aircraft a thrust increase to 10,200 kg (100 kN) over the JH-7A strike aircraft's Xi'an WS-9 at 9,400 kg (92 kN).“

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Work had now begun on the WS-13 Taishan turbofan which is rated at 86.37kN with after burning. However priority soon shifted over to the WS-14 for the Shenyang J-8IIIf fighter, WS-13A for the J-7MG fighter, and the Rolls Royce Spey Mk202 for the Xian JH-7A attack bomber. The WP-13A turbofan is intended for the J-7MG; the WS-13 will power both the Chengdu JF-17 Thunder and the FC-1 Fierce Dragon fourth-generation multi-role combat aircraft.

China / WS-10 turbofan engine
China – WS-13B Taishan engine
Photo- Mzak Pictures (Czech)

China / WS-10 turbofan engine
China – WS-13 and WS- 15 core engines
Photo / Poster - fyjs.cn

This photo shows a series of core engines with the inlet corrected air flows in the range of 5kg/s to 30kg/s. Left to right: 5kg/s(WS-500,700kgf engine...), 15kg/s(12A core), 20kg/s(WS-13), 30kg/s(WS-15--T/W ratio 10).

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The WP-14 Kunlun is a 78kN turbofan with thrust to weight ratio of 7:1 designated for the Shenyang J-8III fighter that was cleared for production in May, 2002. At the 2006 Zhuhai Air Show, a new 95KN engine was reported as under development and designated WS-14. The 'mysterious' mockup engine seen at the 2008 Zhuhai Air show may be this WS-14 model, a high thrust variant of the WS-10 designated WS-10D. The inlet fan engine appears to be influenced by RD-22/93 and maximum thrust to 155KN can be predicted.

China / WS-10 turbofan engine
China – WP-14 Kunlun engine-1
Photo- Chinese Military Aviation

"The new, modernised version of the Shenyang J-8 fighter, designated the J-8T, which will also receive a new engine. The 8,160 kg (80 kN) LYAC WS-12 Taishan engine will be replaced by a LMAC WP-14C Kunlun-3 with 8,360 kg (82 kN) thrust. The same engine will also be installed in the Chengdu J-7 fighter and Guizhou (GAIC)/Chengdu JL-9/FTC-2000 jet trainer.”

China / WS-10 turbofan engine
China – WP-14 Kunlun engine-2
Photo- Mzak - Chinese Turbofan Engines (Czech)

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China - WS-18 turbofan
China – CEGC WS-18 turbofan
Photo- China Defense Mashup

Likely, D-30KP-2 engines will be installed on H-6K bombers and the IL-76MD Transporter fleet.

China - WS-18 turbofan
China - 9500kgf turbofan engine
Photo / Diagram - fyjs.cn

The configuration of the 9500kgf thrust class turbofan consists of a 3-stage Fan without VIGV ,a 7-stage HPC, each driven by a single stage turbine, a single annular combustor,a radial augmentor ,an AVEN nozzle and FADEC system. This engine is derived from a base core developed by CGTE(No.624 institute) with a corrected airflow of 19kg/s class,T4~1650K and/or ... derived from the WS-13 with a corrected flow of ~15kg/s.

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Russian Gsh-6-23 23mm Gatling Gun

Assumed armament for the J-14 includes: six barrel Gatling gun which may be a new Chinese design derived from the Russian Gsh-6-23 23mm that is installed on the MiG-31 and Su-24. Installed just above the canard surface on the upper right fuselage, a permanently open firing port creates a 'spot' for radar reflection.

FBC1 Gatling Gun on JH-7
China – FBC1 Gatling Gun on JH-7 attack bomber
Photo - Air Force World

Russian Missiles for the PLAAF -

China-Russia_R-77 AA
China-Russia_R-77 AA
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation

The R-77 has small wing span and lattice control wings that can be folded forward to be flush with the body of the missile. Relax stealthiness in other models and under wing stations can carry additional weapons or fuel tanks.

China-Russia R-27ET AAM
China-Russia R-27ET AAM
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation

The R-27ER1 (AA-10C) has larger rocket motor that allows for an engagement range up to 66km withh a maximum speed of Mach 4.0. Apparently, 124 R-27ER1 were acquired in 2000 to be carried by the J-11/J-11A. An upgraded fire control radar (N001VE) allows the aircraft to fire the R-27ER1 from a target distance of 60km. The PLAAF also appears to have R-27ET1 IR-guided AAMs.

China - KH-31A ASM
China - Zvezda-Strela KH-31A ASM / cf Su-30MK2
Photo -
Chinese Military Aviation

The anti-ship version (Kh-31A) is believed to be carried by the PLAAF's newly acquired Su-30MK2.

China KH-31 ASM
China KH-31 ASM(two) / Su-30MMK
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation

These two KH-31 ARM missiles are adjacent to other Russian made PGMs (KH-59ME, KAB-1500KR) in front of an Su-30MKK fighter. The KH-31 has four ramjet engines which give it a range of 70km to 130km at high cruise altitude, and a speed of Mach 3.5. There is an anti-radiation version of KH-31 which is expected to be produced in China as the YJ-91. KH-31P can be carried by the Su-30MMKK, JH-7A and J-8G with new fire control systems. The anti-ship version is believed carried by the Su-30MK2. These missiles give the PLAAF and PLAN surgical strike capacity against land and sea targets.

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In the stealth design that western analysts are attempting to discern for the J-14 fighter, there are several possibilities for weapons arrangement. Three weapon bays could carry the main armament in an arrangement cloned from the American F-22. Two small weapon bays would carry short range AAMs. If there were a large under fuselage bay with twin doors, then four AAMs could be stored. The PLAAF now deploys clipped wing AAMs such as the PL-8 and Russian R-73 for short range attacks, and the R-77 and PL012 for medium range combat scenarios.

China PL-8 AAM
China PL-8 missiles
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation

China – PL-12, SD-10 AAM
China – PL-8 missiles on J-8-11 Finback interceptors
Photo - Air Power Australia

China – PL-12,F SD-10 AAM
China – PL-12/SD-10 AAM, 2009
Photo - Zhenguan Studio / Air Power Australia

The Chinese PL-12/SD-10 claims to use the seeker and other components from the Russian R-77 series against which it is competitive. The PL-12 is expected to be deployed on the Chinese manufactured Su-27SK, Su-30 and the indigenous J-10 fighter series. The PL-12 closes the gap with Western BVR missiles. (© 2009, Zhenguan Studio).

The export version of the PL-12 is the SD-10 which was first disclosed to the public during the 2002 Zhuhai Airshow is believed to have been under development at the LETRI/607 Institute since the early 1990s. Its active seeker may be traced back to the Russian 9B-1248 seeker and datalink for the R-77. The specially designed tailfin of the PL-12 should confer lower drag for greater speed, and higher torque for improved maneuverability. Two datalink antennas are next to the nozzle for mid-course correction. Dielectric strips along the middle section of the warhead may house the radio proximity fuse. The PL-12 completed its development testing in December, 2004. It is now deployed on the J-8F, J-10 and J-11B and soon with the Pakistan Air Force on the JF-17/FC-1. Specifications include: length 3,850mm, diameter 203mm, wing span 674mm, weight 180kg, max g-load 38g, max speed 4M, max range 70km.

China-YJ-83K AshM
China-YJ-83K ASM
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation

The J-83K is a turbojet powered ASM with a new frequency agile radar seeker and sea-skimming capability. It also has a datalink and range of 180km, cruising altitude of 20-30m, cruising speed of 0.9 Mach, The J-83K weighs 715kg and carries a 165kg warhead. It is deployed to the naval JH-7/JH-7A fighter bomber, H-6G bomber and Z-8 helicopter.

Chengdu J-10 w/ Thunderbolt AAM
China – Chengdu J-10 w/ Thunderbolt AAM
Photo - Air Force World

Chengdu J-10 display w/missiles
China – Chengdu J-10 display w/missiles
Photo - China Defense Mashup

Chengdu J-10S  w/missiles
China – Chengdu J-10S flight w/missiles
Photo - China Military Aviation

Chengdu J-10S loading missiles
China – Chengdu J-10 loading missiles
Photo - Military News Sina

China J-11B MAWS
China – Shenyang J-11B Missile Approach Warning System
Photo - China Military Aviation

China J-11B Prototype w/ missiles
China – Shenyang J-11B 1st Prototype w/ missiles
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation


H-6 bomber KD63-air-to-ground-missile
China Xian H-6 bomber w/ KD63-air-to-ground-missile
Photo - Chinese Military Aviation

China – Xian H6A bomber w/ missile
China – Xian H6A bomber with KD-63 missile
Photo - sinodefence.com

China H6D bomber w/YJ-6 missiles
China – Xian H6D bomber w/YJ-6 missiles
Photo - Federation American Scientists

Flying Leopard / China's most versatile weapons delivery platform

JH-7A and 7B / Advanced Multi-role Attack Bomber is able to carry a diversity of precision guided Air-to-Air, Air-to-Ground and Air-to-Ship Missiles. Think of the Flying Leopard as China's most versatile weapons delivery platform.

China – missiles  on Xian JH-7
China – YJ-81-YJ-83K ASMs on Xian JH-7
Photo - www.milchina.com / Chinese Military Aviation

"The number of the external stores stations on the JH-7A has been increased from seven to eleven, with six under wings, two on wingtips, one under-fuselage centre line, and two forward under-fuselage located near the air intakes ““The aircraft is able to deliver a range of precision strike munitions, including the YJ-91 (Kh-31P JianHong-7 designed for the JH-7, FBC-1, Flying Leopard; anti-radiation missile, the KD-88 TV-guided air-to-surface missile, and the 250kg laser-guided bomb (LGB). The two forward under-fuselage stations can carry various navigation and targeting pods for all-weather, day/night operations. Additionally, the JH-7 in service with the PLA was also seen carrying electronic warfare and countermeasures (EW/ECM) pods."

The JH-7A pod plug derives from the 607 Blue All Weather, Low-Altitude Navigation Pod and integrates wit the 613 Design Institute Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) Laser Aiming Module. The list of items available for various configurations at 10 hard points is: retention of 23-3 23mm cannon double-barreled; use of anti-ship missile 801/803 may also be used prior to the introduction of the Kh-31A (AS-17) supersonic anti-ship missile and Kh-31P anti-supersonic radiation missile. Integration of Chinese-made cruise missiles first tested during development in the early 1990s, but their integration and that of laser guided bombs, into combat ready aircraft will be delayed. The 014 Research and Development Center is developing the 613 Feibao Pod, which was displayed on a model ASM (?FILAT) at a 2002 Air Show. Other Chinese weapons development projects include: Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM); Joint Outside Weapons (JSOW) – multi-function air-launched weapojs.

It may be intended to be an “escort when fitted with jamming equipment, for the PLAAF's Su-27SK and Su-30MKK that are armed with the Zvezda-Strela Kh-31 anti-ship missile : that is fitted with jamming equipment. The JH-7B could also carry the KD-88 air launched cruise missile. There are further modifications that could convert the JH-7B into a two seat attack bomber.

China – MBDA ASRAAM Meteor AAM
China – ASRAAM short-range and Meteor long-range AAMs
Photo - www.milchina.com / Chinese Military Aviation

China – PL-5E-II-AAM MgFl seeker window
China - PL-5E-II-AAM MgFl seeker window
Photo - Air Power Australia

China - PL-5E-II-AAM R-13
China- PL-5E-II-AAM R-13
Photo - Air Power Australia

China - PL9C_AAM
China - PL9C_AAM
Photo - Air Power Australia

The Near Future -

Xian H6K_bomber ALLV
China – Xian H6K_bomber ALLV / 50kg payload into Low Earth Orbit
Photo - Strategy Center

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Chinese made advanced avionics are now present with excellent specifications and anticipated good performance. The next few years will see an increased preference for indigenous avionics.

China - J-10 cockpit
China – Chengdu J-10 cockpit
Photo - Air Force World

China - J-10 cockpit  w/ Pilot, Li Feng
China – Chengdu J-10 cockpit w/ Pilot Li Feng
Photo - China Defense Mashup

On March 7, 2009, Li Feng successfully landed a J-10 fighter after an engine failure with a 1400 meter long taxi down a runway. The PLAAF awarded Li medals for outstanding performance. Li Feng had become a national hero and photos were allowed to be taken of the J-10 cockpit.

China - J-J-11B cockpit
China – Chengdu J-11B cockpit
Photo - Military News Sina

PAF-China FC-1 cockpit
PAF-China FC-1 cockpit
Photo - Air Force World

The advanced, innovative features of the JF-17 are in the radar, cockpit and avionics. “The JF-17s in service with the PAF are fitted with an Italian Grifo S-7 multi-track, multi-mode, pulse Doppler radar radar. The radar has 25 working modes and a non-break-down time of 200 hours, and is capable of “look-down, shoot-down”, as well as for ground strike abilities.” .. “The FC-1’s avionics architecture is supported by two mission computers based on Multi-Bus System (MIL-STD-1553B). The heart of the system is a 32-bit Weapon and Mission management Computer (WMMC) which performs mission computations . . ."

Pakistan / China - J-17 FC-1 cockpit-2
China - J-17 FC-1 cockpit instruments-2
Photo - Air Force World

Pakistan / China - J-17 FC-1 radar
China - J-17 FC-1 radar
Photo - Air Force World

Pakistan / China – JH 7A / C-1 cockpit
China - J-17 FC-1 cockpit
Photo - Air Force World

Pakistan / China – JH-7A Radar w/Doppler Flight Control
China – JH-7A Radar w/Doppler Flight Control
Photo - Air Force World

"The JH-7A is fitted with a JL-10A pulse-Doppler multi-functional fire-control radar with 11 working modes including medium-range interception, close-range air combat, surface/sea attack, navigation, etc. The X-band radar has a maximum detection range of 80km and tracking range of 40km, with the “look-down, shoot-down” capability. The original analogue FBW on the JH-7 has also been replaced by a dual-redundancy digital FBW system, that is correlated with the aircraft’s radar to enable terrain-following capability over land and the ability to deliver precision strike weapons." The JH-7A also features an improved ‘glass cockpit’, with a head-up display (HUD) and two large LCD multi-functional displays (MFD).

China – H-6 bomber / radar dome
China –Xian H-6 bomber / radar dome
Photo - Air Force World

Inside the radar radome, the H-6K would be equipped with a powerful PD radar that integrates navigation, terrain, following and aiming data for launching missiles as received from KJ-2000 AWACS. The electro-optical detecting pod that replaces the cylindrical radome under the nose is likely a forward looking infrared system for navigation and object recognition.

China – H-6 bomber  pilots, gunner
China –Xian H-6 bomber cockpit / pilots, gunner
Photo - Air Force World

This latest China's long range strategic bomber - Xian H-6K - features state-of-the-art avionics that integrate power, flight and fire control. In the few photographs available, rear of the cockpit there are 2-3 blade antennas. These may be part of a datalink systems for launching the 'ultra-long range “ShaShoujian” Air to Air missile.

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For the near future, sophisticated avionics needed for the weaponry and attack capability in a Chinese stealth fighter will be dominated by product from Russia, Israel, Italy and/or Germany. Cockpit instrumentation is expected to be based upon Helmet Mounted Display Sight (HMD/S) even though HUD appears in first photos. Three or more Multi Function Displays (MFD) are likely and the pilot would have survey a complete tactical situation. A real time data link would enhance situation awareness. The projected needs of the J-14 would integrate with Russian avionics that are based on optronic devices (FLIR - with integrated laser ranger finder), The dual rear booms could carry a rear-facing radar.

J-20 may also incorporate an advanced FBW system integrated with fire-control and engines. Fire-control radar is expected to be AESA (Type 1475/KLJ5?) and the aircraft may feature an IRST/LR as recently revealed by Sukhoi on the Su-35 test bed aircraft. Many of its subsystems are being tested on board a J-10B fighter reserved for this purpose.

Su-30MK firing missiles
Russia / Su-30MK firing missiles
Photo - Sukhoi

>Sukhoi 30MK2 testbed / Irbis-E phased array radar
Sukhoi 30MK2 testbed / IrbisE phased array radar
Photo - Sukhoi News / August 29, 2007

"The core of the Su-35 armament is a new radar control system with a phased antenna array (Irbis-E). It features unique capabilities in terms of the target detection range. This is a development V V Tikhomirov Research Institute of Instrument Production. In design, this is an X-waveband multi-role radar with a passive phased antenna array (PAA) mounted on a two-step hydraulic drive unit (in azimuth and roll). The antenna device scans by an electronically controlled beam in azimuth and angle of elevation in sectors not smaller than 60ᄚ. The two-step electro-hydraulic drive unit additionally turns the antenna by mechanic means to 60ᄚ in azimuth and 120ᄚ in roll. Thus, in using the electronic control and mechanical additional turn of the antenna, the maximum deflection angle of the beam grows to 120 degrees."

"Irbis-E radar control system detects and tracks up to 30 air targets, retaining continuity of space observation and engaging up to eight targets. The system detects, chooses and tracks up to four ground targets in several map-making modes with various resolution at a range of up to 400 km, without stopping to monitor the airspace. Irbis-E radar detects air targets with an absolute cross section of 3 m2 on a head-on course at a range of up to 400 km."

“Being an improvement on radars with a PAA, Irbis has much better capabilities: expanded (by more than twice) operating frequency band, increased from 70? to 120? target detection and tracking zone in azimuth, substantially (by 2-2.5 times) increased effective range, improved anti-jamming capability, etc. In this aspect, Irbis is comparable to the best foreign counterparts, outperforming most of the US- and West-European-made radars with passive and active PAA.

“The Research Institute has been developing Irbis since 2004. By now, the engineering prototypes of the system have passed the required bench trials. The first of them has been installed on the Su-30MK2 flying laboratory and is undergoing flight tests. The first flight of the flying laboratory with Irbis onboard occurred in early 2007 at Gromov Flight Test Institute. During the flight, the laboratory proved the superior performance of the new radar in the air-to-surface operating mode."

Su-35B Cockpit
Su-35B Cockpit
Photo - Sukhoi/KnAAPO / Air Power Australia
A small number of Su-35s are in service with the Russian Air Force with 12 deployed as of 2008.

Sukhoi continually improves the maneuverability of its latest fighters and has a major ongoing program to continually advance avionics. An Information Management System (IMS) is the core of a new suite of instruments which integrates information and software to ensure a seamless interface with the crew. Two central computers, 'commutation' and data devices are integrated in the data display within an all glass cockpit. This photo shows two color multifunctional, liquid crystal MFI displays (9” x 12”) and a multi-function panel with with built in display processor. On board TV sensor data is integrated with synthesized numeric, alphabetic and symbolic information. A wide angle, collimator display on the windshield monitors space beyond the cockpit and has a viewing angle of 20x30 degrees.

In the new cockpit of the Su-35B, these on board systems and weapons are controlled by buttons and switches on the joy stick, engine control levers and an array of buttons on the MFIs. These systems are developed by the Instrument Design Bureau of Ramenskoye, and affiliated companies of Tekhnokompleks Research and Production Association.

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Stealthy Fighters evaluated / limiited production

J-10B - The maiden flight of the J-10B occurred in December 2008. Test flight of May 29, 2009 photos on Internet. More than one 'prototype is presumed to be flying for advanced evaluation and testing before production. 

J-11B - Yanliang Flight Test Center currently has three J-11B under testing (No 521, No 523 and No 524), as of December, 2009.

JF-17 / FC-1 - Six prototypes were built for evaluation, and eight aircraft manufactured for Small Batch Production. Serial Production has begun with Pakistan's first squadron of JF-17 / FC-1 fighters scheduled to be deployed at Peshawar in late spring/summer 2010.

5th Generation Stealth Fighters / prototype / technology demonstrator - ?maiden flight

J-15 B - ?One technology demonstrator aircraft built and flying.

J-20 - ?One technology demonstrator aircraft built and flying.

Advanced Stealth Fighters in design phase

J-14 -

J-19 -

Stealth Bomber /Xian H-8 - One technology demonstrator is presumed to have been built. ?Flight trials started winter, 2008.


The first upgraded Su-35BM came out of the 'black' and into the 'white' at the MAKS-2007 airshow, and the first prototype flew on February 19, 2008. The next two Su-35BM aircraft are nearing completion at KnAAPO (Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Production Association), with possible delivery to first customers at end of 2010. The improved radar stealth reduces the reflectance of the Su-35 in the X radio waveband and in the angle range of ±60°.”

Sukhoi T-50 PAK is Russia's first deep stealth fighter. It is designed with a very advanced avionics that features a phased array radar and an extensive use - perhaps 90% - of composite materials. The T-50 has a profile with "an unprecedented small radar cross section". One prototype completed its first maiden flight in late January, 2010, a 47 minute subsonic test of basic systems that was flawless. Two additional prototype aircraft are nearing completion. With program costs far below that of the USA F-35, and a walk through assembly to first flight that is believed to have been routine and w/o major problems, the T-50 is positioned to be a major competitor to the F-35, if large scale production can be financed and implemented.


Until the recent and severe economic recession, the United States maintained an insurmountable dominance of the military skies. Deep financial commitments allowed the most advanced aircraft to be produced in numbers much larger than possible for any other country. In 2010 that financial muscle has been forced to undertake a severe retrenchment. Originally planned for more than 1,000 air frames,, the F-22 Raptor will now have its production limited to 187 aircraft. The F-35 Lightening II is plagued with design problems, parts supply shortages, and costs that have risen to the 'stratosphere'. Realistically, dates for production and deployment are now unavailable. An unforeseen opportunity to compete with the United States for air power dominance has arisen for the first time in history. Both China and Russia are reconsidering their capabilities and financial resources that might allow for competition with the United States.

Stealth Fighters in Production and Deployed

Lockheed Martin's F-117 has been produced (64 aircraft), deployed and retired (April 28, 2008). The subsonic Sky Hawk was the first operational stealth fighter and a success from birth to retirement. Lockheed's 'Skunk Works' created an innovative flat panel fuselage design (facets) that scattered 99% of the radar signals impacting the aircraft. Design, testing, management and production were efficient and cost effective, as was maintenance. The USAF denied the existence of the F-117 until 1988 when a first, grainy photo was released. In 1990 two F-117s flew to a public air show and were witnessed by thousands of people. China may have acquired pieces of the fuselage of an F-117A that was shot down in Serbia in March, 1999 (Kosovo War). It may never be known if the Chinese learned anything from the F-117 flat panel design that was never utilized on another stealth aircraft.

Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor- production to be stopped at 187 aircraft.

Boeing F/A 18C Hornet - United States Navy had 409 F/A-18A/B/C/D Hornets in operation as of late 2008. United States Marine Corps had 238 F/A-18A/B/C/D Hornets in service as of late 2008. NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center operates four F/A-18s. For other countries see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F/A-18_Hornet.

Boeing F/A – 18E/F Super Hornet - 400th aircraft delivered to Navy, July, 2009 which is planning to procure a minimum of 548 aircraft. Unit cost is $USD 57 million.

Next Generation Stealth Fighters – prototypes

Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightening II has three variants customized for each major branch of the armed services: Air Force, Navy, Marines. Thirteen flight-test aircraft have been built and the first Low Rate Initial Production order for 15 aircraft is in place. Different figures for unit cost abound on the Internet, the highest of which is ~$235 million.

Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle is a proposed upgrade of the F-15E to a fifth generation fighter. Advanced features include an internal weapons carriage and radar-absorbent materials. More than 335 F-15 models have been built, many customized for export customers. 223 F-15Es are in operation with USAF as of November 2008.

Stealth Bomber -

Northrup Grumman Boeing B-2 'Spirit' is a long range, strategic stealth bomber, extremely expensive and only 21 aircraft are deployed and mission certified. Versatile, proven and very successful, albeit maintenance is also costly.

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For several years, the highly respected Jane's All the World's Aircraft had no doubts that China has been developing a “heavy weight” stealth fighter for many years. The same may be said for the USA Office of Naval Intelligence starting in 1988. In February, 2010, this author predicted that China already has built flying prototypes for two stealth aircraft. 1. A fighter that adheres to the concept presented here for the Shenyang J-14. 2. A long range strategic bomber – the Xian H-8. The West would not have access to indisputably, genuine photographs until the Chinese government decrees that is advantageous to their propaganda and policy, a decision apparently made for the stealth fighter in late December, 2010.

Until the last few years, the United States Air Force was considered to have no competition. The USAF dominated the military sky with refined cutting edge technology, diverse, well designed aircraft and a production capacity that no other country could match. These parameters have changed rapidly in recent years because of the global recession and new American policy and priorities for its air force that include shutting off production of the F-22, the only production, fully operational stealth fighter at this time. The F-35 program has become a trillion dollar boondoggle, as be the problem design flaws or cost overruns. This aircraft appears to be second rate at best. Whether or not, the present configuration can be significantly improved, and then cost effective production initiated is not at all clear.

With extraordinary debt, and a currency under attack, the United States no longer has unlimited funds to spend on weapons programs. Under President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has implemented a severe reduction in F-22 production with cap now set at 187 aircraft. Furthermore, 'all the eggs have been placed in one basket'. The expensive and flawed F-35 program forges slowly ahead, forever behind schedule and with no end in sight to escalating costs at Lockheed Martin. To place the future of the United States Air Force entirely on the 'shoulders' of several versions of the F-35 has left most military aviation experts aghast. Costs continue to rise, and production problems to appear. Russia has responded by making production of the latest Sukhoi fighters, particularly the Su-35B, a national priority. Developments in China reported in this article are diverse and strong. If they are accompanied by high production of fighters such as the J-10B and J-11B, plus continued priority accorded the stealth fighter and bomber programs, it is possible that the PLAAF may soon be able to launch many more squadrons of advanced fighters than the United States, fighters whose design and performance might well exceed that of the F-35. At this time, China has achieved a numerical superiority in the sky, albeit with aircraft that do not have the capability of those in the USAF. Russia is far behind the USA in the numbers of deployed fighters, but latest model Sukhoi are considered to be the finest combat aircraft in the world.

Stealth Fighter and AWAC
China – Shenyang JXX Stealth Fighter and AWAC - concept
Artist- Chang Yu Hu / blog.sina.com.cn

Combat aircraft design priorities at AVIC and its subsidiaries, particularly CAD, SAC and the 606 and 611 Design Institutes, think first about air combat with India and the United States. Second in priority would be an attack capacity against powerful USA aircraft carrier battle groups that can launch state of the art naval combat fighters with awesome destructive potential. Such carrier groups are – in effect – sea borne movable attack platforms of size and scope never before seen in history. Diverse specialized aircraft are potent force multiplier elements. Satellites, AWACS, aerial tankers and UAVs catalyze the destructive capacity of maximal attack aircraft but they also contribute additional targets most of which carry little weaponry and have almost no capacity for self defense. Chinese air to surface weaponry is not well developed, and within the designs of next generation military aircraft such as the J-14, J-15 and J-20, design changes to the weapons bay so that ASMs could be carried would compromise stealth capability. At this time, the most advanced Chinese fighter that is 'white' and in production is the J-10B, which is designed for air to air combat.

We now see the interface between stealth fighters and global power politics. Unitl this past year, the USA was alone in trmpeting the virtues of stealth fighters such as the F-22 and F-35. Russia has remained rather muted about exercising air power in this world since the first flights of their T-50 stealth fighter in January, 2010, perhaps because of sober reality check about the cost and difficulties that attend the production of such aircraft. China, however, tells another story. Unlike Russia and the United States, China's economy is swimming through the global financial crisis and recession with aplomb and an excellent financial profile. The economy is growing rapidly, particularly with respect to domestic parameters, an aggressive global search for energy suppliers is meeting with great success, and the country is confident and proud. Staging the maiden flight of the Chengdu J-20 over the head of the United States Secretary of Defense was calculated to send a provokative message because this visit of Gate's was designed to show a more conciliatory and tolerant America vs a vs Chinese values and policies. Ironically, the worst embarrassment was suffered by the Taiwan Secret who for their own reasons, and those embedded in the USA partnership, was charged with tracking stealth fighter developments in the PRC. The deputy chief of the general staff for intelligence at the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense, Shen Yi-ming, told Taiwan's legislature not long ago that photographs of the Chengdu J-20 prototype were all fakes. Taiwan will not receive upgrades to its fleet of 4th generation USA fighters, and is forced to prepare for a highly asymmetric war should China choose to invade thir island country.

With stealth fighter and bombers as central elements in their military capability, China might be able to achieve parity with the United States within a decade. This planet does not want to see a continuation of America as the world's sole superpower, nor China alone assuming first position by itself either. When neither country can achieve dominance, there is a bipolar world in which cooperation, rather than confrontation should be the foreign policy of choice. Ideally, trillion dollar weapons system programs should not have to be the route to such a peace. But the flawed history of humankind paints a complex reality.

Revised, expanded on October 14 2012.

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Best articles indicated by *.

China's Stealth Fighters / Today and Tomorrow -
1. China / People's Liberationm Army Air Force
2. China / Chengdu_Aircraft_Industry_Group
3. China / Shenyang Aircraft Corporation(1)
4. China / Shenyang_Aircraft_Corporation(2)
5. J-10, F-10-fighter-China
6. J-10 and 4th Generation Fightger News
7. Chengdu Aircraft Corp.'s J-10 multirole fighter
8. China / J-10 and 4th Generation fighter news
9. * *China / J-10A, J-10B, J-10S ('Vigorous Dragon);
Su-27SK/J-11/11A (Flanker) and
FC-1/JF-17 (Thunder Dragon/Thunder)
November 2009 to January 2010.
10. * Jian-10B Multirole Fighter Aircraft
11. *China / J-11B, 4th Generation fighter
12. * J-11B heavy air superiority fighter
13. China = FC-1/JF-17 Multirole Fighter - March 13, 2009.
14. Pakistan / JF-17 indigenous stealth fighter -
partnership with China, April 25, 2009.
15. JF-17 Thunder 'Fierce Dragon'
16. JF-17 Thunder 'Fierce Dragon' (2)
17. China's fifth-generation fighter flies
18. *China / Stealth Fighter J-14 - June 23, 2006.
19. *China / Stealth Fighter J-14 - June 23, 2006.
20. *F-20 maiden flight of China's fourth generation of stealth fighter. Air Force World.
21. *The Strategic Impact of China's J­XX[J­20] Stealth Fighter
Air Power Australia - January 24, 2011.
22. China / Overhaul activities on Varyag Aircraft Carrier
23. Ming Dynasty admiral spooks Taiwan
- China's First Aircraft Carrier ready for launch, April 13, 2011.

China - Stealth Fighters / Design Input fr USA -
24. *USA / Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III
25. *USA /Lockheed-Martin F-117 Stealth Fighter / History and Profile
26. *USA / Northrop and McDonnell Douglas, YF-23 'Black Widow II'(1) -
supersonic, agile, stealthy fighter prototype.
27. USA / Northrop and McDonnell Douglas, YF-23 'Black Widow II'(2)
28. USA / YF-23 vs F-22: Did the Air Force take 2nd best?
29. USA / F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter
30. USA / McDonnell Douglas-Boeing-Northrop, F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter (2)
31. USA / McDonnell Douglas, F/A-18E/F Hornet strike fighter
32. * USA / Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle -
Discussion at Aviation Forum (Key Publishing) Blog.
33. USA / McDonnell Douglas, F/A-18E/F Hornet strike fighter
34. USA / Boeing F-15SE videos at Flight Global
35. USA / Boeing F-15SE Fact Sheet at Boeing
36. USA / Boeing Looks to First Silent Eagle Flight - January 19, 2010
37. China-USA / cyberwar, especially F-35
38. USA / F-35 data ?not stolen by China, April 2009
39. *USA / Serious production delays for F-35 at Lockheed Martin - March 2010
40. *USA / GAO Report - Costs, Delays in the F-35 Program - March 2010 -
long, detailed, thorough
41. Sticker Shock / Canada and the F-35 - April 12, 2011

China - Stealth Fighter Design Input fr Russia and Europe -

42.Russia MFI MiG 1.42 'Flatpack' - September 20, 2009.
43. *Russia / Mikoyan Mig 1.42/1.44/MFI - June 10, 2003 (in French).
44. Russia / Sukhoi Su- 27
45. Russia / Sukhoi 34, heavy strike fighter
46.* Su-35 multi-role fighter / info page at Sukhoi
47.* Test Flight of Tu-50 PAK / news release fr Sukhoi
48.* Tu-50 PAK / Stealth Design Concepts
49. Germany / Horten Flying Wing - earliest stealth fighter
50. Germany / History and Development of the Horten Flying Wing
51. Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon
52. France / Dassault Rafale
53. Israel / Lavi - multirole fighter

China - Stealth Bomber -

54. *China / Xian H-6. long range-strategic bomber
55. China / Xian H-6H, late version -
miscellaneous developments with Chinese military aircraft.
56. It took only one photo to reveal the Xian H-6K
57. China uses H-6 bomber to blast ice blockages along Yellow River
58.China / Xian H-8 Stealth Bomber -
possible specifications, November 5, 2007.
59. *China / Xian H-8 Stealth Bomber -
possible specifications 2, November 10, 2007.
60. China / Xian H-8 stealth bomber profile
61. *China / Xian H-8 Stealth Bomber -
blog discussion, December 2007 to May, 2008.

China - Stealth Bomber / Design Input fr USA -
62. USA / Lockheed Boeing C-130 Spectre/Spooky gunship
63. Northrop Grumman / B-2 'Spirit, Stealth Bomber - Profile and History
64. China-USA / Noshir Gowadia, spy re USA B-2 stealth bomber
65. USA / Black Project - Advanced Stealth Bomber Program

China, Russia and UK / Turbofan Engines -

66. * Full steam ahead for China's engine designs / superb!
67. * Chinese Turbofan Engines (Czech)
68. *China / Indigenous vrs Russian turbofan engines
69. China / AVIC admits poor quality of Chinese turbofan engines
70. Russia / Saturn AL-31 turbofan engine(1)
71. Russia / AL-31 turbofan engine(2),(in Czech)
72. Russia / AL-41 turbofan engine, (in Czech)
73. UK / Rolls Royce Spey and other engines

Reprise -
74. List of Missiles by Country
75. * F-22 Program in Retrospect
76. * China's Fifth Generation Missiles
77. * China's Aviation Industry compared to Russia – in Chinese
78. * PLAAF status assessment fighters and vrs Taiwan
79. * China Tries to Steal a March
80. * Stealth fighter sneaks up on Taiwan

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