A still from one of Chengdu J-20 videos

An email from Air Power Australia earlier today links to a series of You Tubes of China’s Chengdu J-20 fifth generation stealth jet which raises a whole set of questions for defence experts to consider.

Most of those questions are better discussed elsewhere, but there are broader matters of public policy that ought to be raised in the general community simply because it is difficult in our general media for stories that contradict an apparently faith based fixation on how the JSF Joint Strike Fighter is the answer to maintaining Australian air superiority to appear.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-zL42UKrnI&feature=related[/youtube]

The JSF project appears to own the available brain space in public policy discussions and in government and opposition to the exclusion of contrary voices.

This is unhealthy and dangerous, wherever such considerations may lead, and no matter whether they confirm or refute the arguments advanced by Air Power Australia, or anyone else.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LU6HkY7ews&feature=relmfu[/youtube]

We need a better and more candid level of oversight.

This is what the email, from Air Power Australia co-founder Peter Goon says.

The following are some recently released videos of the Chengdu J-20 Fifth Generation Fighter operations from the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation facilities at Chengdu.

The J-20 aircraft is quite a large aircraft and is shaping up to be akin to an F-111 on steroids, with about twice the thrust and Extreme Plus agility; not dissimilar to what is being observed in the designs of the Sukhoi Su-35S and T-50 PAK-FA.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTyIB6vUZNo[/youtube]

Notwithstanding the activities at Chengdu are likely public-display “theatre”, with the real developmental and operational flight testing being undertaken at China’s Flight Test Establishment at Yanliang in Shaanxi Province, the imagery data contained in these videos raise quite a number of valid Engineering and Operational questions.  Some of the more obvious questions include:

1. Why does this aircraft have the large deflection/high rate flight control surfaces in all three axes, as demonstrated during the flight control checks before aircraft taxi, that also add considerable complexity and weight to the design, unless these are to be used in flight?
2. What do such large deflection/high rate flight control surfaces say about the stability and handling as well as flying qualities/characteristics of this aircraft?
3.  Why does the J-20 have such a large speed brake when the quite powerful, fully articulated canted fins could be used for providing longitudinal deceleration in flight, as is the case with the T-50 PAK-FA, the F-22A, the Su-35S and the JSF, and the J-20 also employs brake chutes for arresting and minimising the landing rollout distance?
4.  Why are those large, downwards opening MLG doors so prominent in the directional axis; so fast in their actuation; and, as has been observed, are fully deployed during some take offs while closed during other take off iterations?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fd5Z8smq-jA[/youtube]

Then there is the question as to why the JSF aircraft, so far, have yet to demonstrate the kind of manoeuvres at low level the J20 can be seen doing in the first of these videos?

The same may also be asked about the low level manoeuvring demonstrated by the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA at the MAKS2011 air show back in August last year.

Therefore, the question remains:

How is the USA, let alone its closest allies like Australia, going to be able to retain the technological and strategic edge to maintain and sustain air superiority in the post 2015 stealth-on-stealth world wherein highly advanced, lethal counter stealth anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapon systems abound and the multiple airborne reference threats they support and protect are big, nasty, fast and mostly stealthy twin engine machines with extreme agility, lethal persistence and large survivable diverse weapons loads specifically designed to counter and defeat the F-22A Raptor?

Perhaps these questions at a general level can be simplified in this way:

Where does this aircraft fit into China’s response to the often hinted at future naval blockade to curb China’s trade based global influence?

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