Sunday 26 May 2019, 12:38 PM
Chinese Stealth Fighter
By IANS | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 5/15/2011 12:00:00 AM

On 11 January 2011, the military aviation world was rocked by the news that a Chinese stealth fighter had successfully made its first flight - a brief 15 minute foray into the air. Ironically US Defence Secretary Robert Gates had just commenced an official visit to China that day and was not amused. Rumours of a Chinese stealth fighter had begun to circulate weeks before when local enthusiasts in Chengdu took cellphone photographs of an aircraft undergoing taxi trials at the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation airfield there. By the time authorities could intervene, the grainy images had already proliferated on the net. The world thus woke up to the news of a Chinese stealth fighter, now dubbed provisionally the Chengdu J-20, after Western experts had earlier pooh poohed China’s technological ability in this field. However, as soon as the first pictures came out, American ‘experts’ saw remarkable similarities to the American F-22, and claimed that espionage accounted for the resemblance.

China had decided that it needed to modernise its armed forces some time in the early eighties. This may have been prompted by the unexpected (to the Chinese) bloody nose that China received in its military adventure against Vietnam in 1979. The intention then had been to teach the Vietnamese a lesson for their temerity in ousting the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Unlike India in 1962, the Vietnamese administered the Chinese Army a lesson it apparently took to heart.

As everyone now knows, Deng Xiaoping, then General Secretary, had commenced his economic modernisation program in China in 1979. Since then as we have constantly been informed, China has grown at a spectacular annual average rate of around nine to ten per cent. While this growth rate too was initially dismissed in the West as Chinese propaganda, the evidence has grown increasingly hard to ignore. So it is evident that the Party must be doing something right. Since you cannot fault them on economic growth especially now, with the West in recession, the trend has been to point at China’s manipulation of its currency, it’s record on human rights and so on. However, this economic growth has provided China the means to build its military muscle.

Soon after the Communist party took power in China in 1949, the USSR started providing financial and technical assistance. The PLAAF (People’s Liberation Army Air Force) was equipped initially with MiG-15 fighters and Tu-28 bombers. Later came the MiG-17 and the MiG-19 fighters. In 1960, came the ideological split with Moscow, paralleled in India by the breakup of the Communist Party of India into the CPI and the CPI (M), with the latter paying ideological tribute to Beijing. From then on, China had to strike out alone. The first step was the reverse engineering of the MiG-19 and the MiG-21, which was cutting edge then. Then followed a series of fighters like the A-5, the ground attack version of the MiG-19, in service with the Pakistani Air Force. What it lacked in quality and modernity, the PLAAF made up in numbers, in keeping with Lenin’s dictum that "quantity has a quality all of its own".

Following the decision to modernise in the early eighties, China embarked on three major fighter development programs. The first was the FC-1, now renamed the JF-17 Fierce Thunder. This was supposed to be a replacement for the A-5, the Chinese developed ground attack version of the MiG-19 and the J-7, the Chinese version of the MiG-21. An agreement was signed with the US’s Grumman Aerospace in 1986 to upgrade the J-7 to the Super 7 standard. However, this was cancelled in 1989 after the Tienanmen massacre. Around the same time Pakistan also had its F-16 import cancelled due to its nuclear program. It then joined the program. Some technology was obtained from the MiG-33 program which had been cancelled by Russia. The Klimov engine bureau supplied the RD-93 engine a version of the MiG-29’s RD-33 engine. The aircraft has a glass cockpit and an indigenous mechanically scanned array radar. It was designed to have performance superior to the MiG-21/Mirage class it was replacing. Pakistan eventually proposes a buy of 250 and the first squadrons have already been inducted. Word is that the Russians are wary of supplying the RD-93 engines because the aircraft could compete in export markets with the MiG-29, which though superior in performance is more expensive at 35m USD a copy compared to the JF-17’s 10m USD.

However, the Chinese have not inducted any. They are probably thinking of only exporting the JF-17, reserving more advanced aircraft like the J-10 and the J-20 for their own air force. This is likely to retard the further development of this aircraft, since Pakistan does have the technological capability to do so on her own.

Interestingly, it is reported that in 2007, under pressure from India, the Russians stopped supply of the RD-93 engines. Further, the French, also hopeful of selling India more defence equipment like the Mirages and Agosta subs, declined to supply the Thales and MBDA radar and equipment. One up for our diplomats; it seems that they do something else abroad other than beating up their wives. (Courtesy : Purple Beret)

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