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J-20 Fighter First Pictures
December 31, 2010 6:54 PM   Subscribe

The first pictures of China's "5th generation" fighter prototype were leaked this week. The aircraft, believed to be the J-20, is expected to have its first flight in early 2011.

This aircraft, in addition to the Russian PAK FA that had its first flight almost a year ago, pose a threat to the US's air dominance due to the existing F-22 Raptor and the upcoming F-35 Lightning II (JSF). In particular, the F-22 production run was cut off at 187 aircraft (despite warnings from the Air Force leadership) and the F-35 is experiencing numerous delays.
posted by Simon Barclay (50 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
The comments in the Aviation Week articles are really interesting (for fighter aircraft geeks).
posted by Simon Barclay at 6:54 PM on December 31, 2010


See, this can easily scare a lot of people, but on the other hand, the Russian air force is falling apart, and and mainstay of the Chinese air force is still a practically ancient interceptor. Air forces are not simple things to maintain.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:15 PM on December 31, 2010


Sixth generation to be remote controlled.
posted by Brian B. at 7:18 PM on December 31, 2010


Engineer: You must think in Chinese. You cannot think in English and transpose. You must think in Chinese.
Clint Eastwood: Aw, $(#!.
Engineer: Do you smoke?
Clint Eastwood: No, not for years.
Engineer: [throws a pack of cigarettes onto the table] Learn again, now.
posted by crapmatic at 7:28 PM on December 31, 2010 [16 favorites]


Great Firefox reference, @crapmatic.
posted by SeanMac at 7:30 PM on December 31, 2010


Air forces are not simple things to maintain.

Apparently so. Ginger Baker's only lasted two years.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:30 PM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sorry, but after decades of being lied to about the looming doom by the Pentagon and their hardware buddies (also known as the military/industrial complex) I'm really not in the market. Take your toys elsewhere...
posted by jim in austin at 7:32 PM on December 31, 2010


We fear change.
posted by Senator at 7:45 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't forget the shiny new supercomputer
posted by FuturisticDragon at 7:48 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Adm. Willard was a bit concerned but about these coming on-line. It is nice to know that Rear Admiral Chen likes Lady Gaga.
I'm thinking Poker Face
posted by clavdivs at 8:36 PM on December 31, 2010


Fighter jets are a doomed species. The limits on their weight, acceleration, cost, and agility are all due to having a big squishy sack of water inside a suit inside a glass bubble at the front. Why we spend billions on fighter jets when fighter UAVs are just around the corner is beyond me.
posted by miyabo at 8:36 PM on December 31, 2010 [8 favorites]


It was interesting that the first few pictures of this aircraft were thought to perhaps be part of a PRC misinformation campaign, or Photoshop mockups by Chinese aviation fanboys. For the first few days when the pictures surfaced, the commentary was quite dismissive.

Now the discussion has switched to the implications of the ongoing Chinese military modernization (cf. aircraft carrier program), as exemplified by these aircraft. Personally, I thought Bill Sweetman's comments in this blog post at Aviation Week was quite good (and his rundown here as well).

(And yet, the U.S. isn't willing to even let Taiwan submit a Letter of Request for 66 new F-16:s...)
posted by gemmy at 9:00 PM on December 31, 2010


We spend billions on fighter jets because they cost billions and the people who build them really enjoy the cash flow...
posted by jim in austin at 9:01 PM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


Fighter jets are a doomed species. The limits on their weight, acceleration, cost, and agility are all due to having a big squishy sack of water inside a suit inside a glass bubble at the front. Why we spend billions on fighter jets when fighter UAVs are just around the corner is beyond me.


Profit?
posted by the noob at 9:48 PM on December 31, 2010


It's very Joint Strike Fighter, e.g. ugly as he'll.
posted by Artw at 9:57 PM on December 31, 2010


(damn you autocorrect)
posted by Artw at 9:58 PM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Fighter jets are a doomed species. The limits on their weight, acceleration, cost, and agility are all due to having a big squishy sack of water inside a suit inside a glass bubble at the front. Why we spend billions on fighter jets when fighter UAVs are just around the corner is beyond me.

The water sacks eventually get big and/or squishy enough to become generals who then make decisions about what kind of war machines to buy.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 10:09 PM on December 31, 2010 [17 favorites]


All's fair in love and war. Or so I've been taught to expect.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:20 PM on December 31, 2010


Why we spend billions on fighter jets when fighter UAVs are just around the corner is beyond me.

In an environment were radio signals will be actively jammed, which aircraft is likely to remain flying? The one where the pilot is sitting at a console in Nevada or the one where the pilot is in the front seat of the aircraft?
posted by three blind mice at 10:22 PM on December 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


Utterly pointless. The Americans are four generations deep into unmanned drones, splitting out fighters, bombers and ground-attack craft, and the Russians two, focusing now on fighters and ground-attack.

But don't let that deter the media from claiming the Chinese, Any Day Now, will have a second-hand Soviet aircraft carrier ready to sail! Send more money to the Mercenaries to keep us safe from the Chinese!

Stupid and pathetic.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:31 PM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


(And yet, the U.S. isn't willing to even let Taiwan submit a Letter of Request for 66 new F-16:s...)

It's basically over for Taiwan as an independant nation. It's really just a question of whether the historically nonsensical idea of them as an "integral part of China" is a Hong Kong style handover from a faded imperial power to a rising one, or... messier.

It will be interesting to see if China then starts insisting that Vietnam is a historically integral part of China because the Mongols conquerored it, which is basically the basis for the claim on Tibet, within my lifetime.
posted by rodgerd at 10:58 PM on December 31, 2010


Seems pretty long in the fuselage t'me. I bet it'll take a lot to haul it around 180.
posted by Relay at 11:00 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


n an environment were radio signals will be actively jammed, which aircraft is likely to remain flying?

The one with HERF-shielded electronics and autonomous fire authority... which is where the US is now. The robots will keep flying and try to kill you even if they can't reach a human to ask for permission. The chinese fighter with meat inside will need to somehow keep control and ask home base for permission to fire, and then keep their maneuvers meat-friendly. American fighters will simply pull the eleven g's, as there is no meat inside.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:00 PM on December 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


Will these aircraft sit empty like their ghost cities? How ouch of this buildup is sustainable as the population ages and the economic pressures of hyperinflation and environmental Cora up weigh them down.
posted by humanfont at 11:11 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


...the Chinese are also very actively involved in drone development.
China's New Drones Raise Eyebrows (WSJ - Nov 18, 2010)
posted by Auden at 12:15 AM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yep. Which would you rather? Cut the link to the human, and the computer starts flying the plane.

Given the choice, would you rather have your enemy be a computer who will fire on the target once it is within range and sight, no matter what the circumstances, or a human who might hesitate to fire, or take other factors into consideration that would lead to him choosing not to fire the weapon? Similarly, if you're flying a highly advanced UAV, would you rather have a lighting-fast computer be at the controls, or a comparatively slow human?

Jamming the control signals of a modern UAV won't take away its ability to destroy a target. It'll simply take away the commander's ability to tell it to not to destroy the target. (Then there's the small issue that "radio jamming" is nowhere remotely as easy as the movies make it seem to be). Unless you are 100% confident that you can shoot it down, it is not in your best interest to jam those signals.
posted by schmod at 1:01 AM on January 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


China has entered the era of high-speed rail
posted by cheenhao8 at 3:59 AM on January 1, 2011


From Auden's link:

This year's models in Zhuhai included several designed to fire missiles, and one powered by a jet engine, meaning it could—in theory—fly faster than the propeller-powered Predator and Reaper drones that the U.S. has used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
posted by mediareport at 6:00 AM on January 1, 2011


Neeeeeeeeowm!
posted by dougrayrankin at 7:06 AM on January 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I actually think it's kind of unlikely that China will fight a war over Taiwan anytime soon. What, exactly, is in it for them? Relations between the mainland and Taiwan are actually pretty good, with Taiwanese companies owning factories in China and so on.

Maybe 20 years ago there was a plausible reason why China might want Taiwan, but now why would they care? They have a booming economy and with high economic integration they already benefit from it's economy. They wouldn't actually get anything they don't already have at the cost of an expensive war and a sever strain on it's international good image.

China and Taiwan are looking at more of a EU style economic integration then any kind of actual 'takeover'
posted by delmoi at 7:54 AM on January 1, 2011


I'm gonna agree with the chorus of "this is sweet fighter jet porn but robots dude, robots."

Oh you have a jet powered drone that flies faster? My prop driven one costs less and I don't care if you blow them up. Robot war is ALL about the zerg rush. Cheap, destructive, expendable. (Choose all three!)

American PSYOP have prepared the population for this eventuality:
"The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots."

posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:00 AM on January 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Given the choice, would you rather have your enemy be a computer who will fire on the target once it is within range and sight, no matter what the circumstances, or a human who might hesitate to fire, or take other factors into consideration that would lead to him choosing not to fire the weapon? Similarly, if you're flying a highly advanced UAV, would you rather have a lighting-fast computer be at the controls, or a comparatively slow human?

You've just illustrated the core premise of Maximum Overdrive.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:01 AM on January 1, 2011


The comments in the Aviation Week articles are really interesting

Airpower wrote:
...It's impossible to dismiss the advances that China has made in airpower technology, thinking and practice over the last five, 10 or 15 years. Modern China is working with a level of industrial skill and technological access that the Soviet Union never had, driven by a collective will and bottomless funding of the kind the Russians lost 30 years ago. Unlike the Soviet Union, China does not seek to take on or control the rest of the world - just the parts of the world where it sees its interests are at stake. A very methodical and well-thought-out plan to put that capability in place is unfolding before your eyes. China seeks the ability to do what wants, when it wants, with the minimum of hinderance. China is not automatically the bad guy, but *is* moving to be the biggest guy in the room...
Power comes off the bows of U.S. aircraft carriers across the globe, but that manifest destiny may stop in the East China Sea. From the Winter 2010 issue of Orbis magazine, How the United States Lost the Naval War of 2015 (PDF):
Abstract: Years of strategic missteps in oceans policy, naval strategy and a force structure in decline set the stage for U.S. defeat at sea in 2015. After decades of double-digit budget increases, the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) was operating some of the most impressive systems in the world, including a medium-range ballistic missile that could hit a moving aircraft carrier and a super-quiet diesel electric submarine that was stealthier than U.S. nuclear submarines. Coupling this new asymmetric naval force to visionary maritime strategy and oceans policy, China ensured that all elements of national power promoted its goal of dominating the East China Sea. The United States, in contrast, had a declining naval force structured around 10 aircraft carriers spread thinly throughout the globe. With a maritime strategy focused on lower order partnerships,and a national oceans policy that devalued strategic interests in freedom of navigation, the stage was set for defeat at sea. This article recounts how China destroyed the USS George Washington in the East China Sea in 2015. The political fallout from the disaster ended 75 years of U.S. dominance in the Pacific Ocean and cemented China’s position as the Asian hegemon.
We have always been at war with Eastasia.
posted by cenoxo at 9:23 AM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, sounds like we need to give more money to defense contractors to prevent that.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:27 AM on January 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I mean, if there is any plausible reason ever that we should be at war with China.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:28 AM on January 1, 2011


The Pacific Ocean comes to mind. [Why and] How We Would Fight China from The Atlantic, June 2005.
posted by cenoxo at 10:38 AM on January 1, 2011


How about this: Hey China! Don't fuck with Hawaii or we will unleash a nuclear holocaust!

Not sure why you would want to fuck with it, ever, because are economic partnership is making us both ridiculously rich, but there ya go!

There, ocean saved.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:42 AM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yep. Which would you rather?

Neither, thanks.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:44 AM on January 1, 2011


*Are/Our is seriously very hard.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:46 AM on January 1, 2011


I think that a remotely operated, disposable cruise missile with a bomb and camera will dominate any future wars. They can be made in a short time and be used for almost everything, no carriers needed except maybe a distant mother plane to launch them.
posted by Brian B. at 2:43 PM on January 1, 2011


I think that a remotely operated, disposable cruise missile with a bomb and camera will dominate any future wars. They can be made in a short time and be used for almost everything, no carriers needed except maybe a distant mother plane to launch them.

It depends on who you want to fight. USA-China wpuld just be a mutually assisted suicide. No tech will enable that to be a conflict we could bear. On the other hand a big aircraft carrier might be just the thing if the Argentines assert sovereignty over the Maldeves again. Good thing the Brits have Harriers and whoops, well eventually they will have the JSF and the new carrier. I guess they could always use the Trident.
posted by humanfont at 3:21 PM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Man, is it me or does any kind of large-scale nation-state war just seem... Well, silly at this point? Given that it's usually far easier and more profitable nowadays to distribute and redistribute resources via cooperative rather than destructive means?

Ego-driven ideological conflicts never made any sense, of course.

Also I saw something a while back where a fighter designer was saying that if they took the pilot out of the plane they could go to 20G immediately with existing materials. Ain't no human gonna be able to dogfight something that can turn at 20G, ever.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:45 PM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Man, is it me or does any kind of large-scale nation-state war just seem... Well, silly at this point?

Absolutely. That's why we had The War to End All Wars from 1914-1918 and there has not been a major armed conflict between nation states since then.
posted by Justinian at 6:41 PM on January 1, 2011


There hasn't been anything close to WWII since WWII. If we are at war with China the world ends, nukes are a game changer.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:47 PM on January 1, 2011


OMG Chinese.
posted by elder18 at 9:13 PM on January 1, 2011


"There hasn't been anything close to WWII since WWII."

I agree, and to respond to Justinian, since WWII actual "hot conflict" has been (in comparison) very limited "small-theater" wars, some as proxy fights between Communism and the West and others more or less unrelated to the Cold War. As nasty as Korea, Vietnam, Falklands, Iraq vs. Iran, Congo, Desert Whatever Episodes I-IV, etc. etc. have been, they just don't compare to WWI and II. In that sense I don't consider them "large nation-state wars." The appearance of nukes really has been a game-changer for the whole world.

There are of course always going to be some number of smaller conflicts going on all the time, but the kind of war that you fight with hundreds of billion-dollar super-cruising high-stealth air superiority fighters on both sides hasn't happened and doesn't seem to really want to happen... perhaps since all the players that can field that kind of hardware (at all, let alone in a sustained way) also have nuclear weapons and some kind of ballistic missile delivery system.

So as much as I'm an airplane fan, as much as the teen in me thinks Mach 2 fighters are awesome, as much as I understand the desire (and possible necessity) for all the "big boys" to have a reasonably level techno-weapon playing field, I feel like keeping up this race at this pace is a bit much. Barring crazy ideologues taking power in one or all of the "superpowers," I don't see NATO vs. Russia or China happening in the big fat "World War" scenario, because the only way that will end is with nuclear weapons being used. Thankfully, at the nation-state level we still seem to be sane enough to not want to do that.

But given everyone's developing UAVs, what's the possible war scenario? Robot weapons vs. military and infrastructure targets, with other robot weapons attempting to intercept? How do you figure out who wins a war where each side wipes out each other's hardware and industrial capacity? Used to be, you won your war when your troops were standing in enough of the other guy's territory that he couldn't fight you anymore. That does still happen in these smaller conflicts to an extent, but we're finding that winning that kind of "my army fights your army until one side can't fight anymore" war leads to very long and messy asymmetrical warfare against non-state actors.

If the US got into a fight with China and each side knocks out the other's relevant "conventional" weaponry and bases, what's next? Do the Chinese put 20 million troops on barges and storm the shores of California? Seems unlikely.

We've been borrowing trillions from China, in substantial part to build all our nifty Raptors and Nimitz-class supercarriers, haven't we? Doesn't that seem awkward? Wouldn't it be easier for them to just call us on that? "Hey, you guys owe us a lot. Give us USS Ronald Reagan, USS George Bush and USS Gerald R Ford with full planeload each and we'll call it square."

I can see why anyone would feel they need to keep up the technological weapons race, but who, really, do the Chinese or the Russians need a front-line super-modern jet fighter to fight?

We here in the USA probably keep it up for economic and intimidation reasons, on top of the "gee whiz" factor of having the best toys. If the last 60 years have taught us anything here, it's that producing weapons as if you're going to fight huge wars without actually fighting them is one effective way to keep the economy going.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:30 PM on January 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


furiousxgeorge: "I mean, if there is any plausible reason ever that we should be at war with China"

Never happen; WalMart is entirely dependent upon Chinese manufacturing at this point.
posted by bwg at 5:04 AM on January 2, 2011


Justinian: That's why we had The War to End All Wars from 1914-1918 and there has not been a major armed conflict between nation states since then.

There's a bit of a gap — allow me one minor correction: That's why we had The War to End All Wars from 1914-1945 and there has not been a major armed conflict between nation states since then.

And how we've missed it. Rag-tag foreign or domestic terrorists (of all stripes) simply aren't an efficient substitute for recycling all that warware, soft or hard.

Our economies may need each other, but nationalism is also dear to our hearts. Clearly nations and races can find a way to accommodate war and peace without destroying each other in clouds of radioactive fallout. With global management, computerization, and full spectrum technology, surely major players could arrange wars on a regular schedule?

Just imagine the media rights and advertising revenues...
posted by cenoxo at 12:34 PM on January 2, 2011


Power comes off the bows of U.S. aircraft carriers across the globe, but that manifest destiny may stop in the East China Sea. From the Winter 2010 issue of Orbis magazine, How the United States Lost the Naval War of 2015 (PDF):

Is Tom Clancy ghostwriting for Orbis? Whoever writes this tripe is a grade A shill for the military industrial complex. I find it hard to believe that Mr. Kraska hasn't heard about the DOD's plans to implement a prompt global strike doctrine. Carriers and non-drone aircraft are going the way of the dodo. Low earth orbit along with cyberspace will become the dominant battle spaces.

Also, obligatory Southpark link: The China Problem
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:32 PM on January 2, 2011


A video released by CCTV of this plane seems to have been stolen from Top Gun.

(No one is suggesting the jet is fake, just some of the pictures.)
posted by miyabo at 9:28 AM on January 31, 2011


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