So just what do we call the new Chinese stealthy fighter? Conventional nomenclature calls for it to be named J-XX, the XX being a yet-to-be-identified number. Many in the West have taken to calling it the J-20.
Just as interesting is the aircraft nickname. It appears Chinese bloggers may have been the first to tag the aircraft with the nickname “Black Eagle.” A black eagle is a Asian bird of prey; certainly fitting for a cutting-edge Chinese fighter. However, I cannot help but laugh that some American bloggers have taken to referring to the plane as the “Chengdu Chicken.”
Being a wargamer, I am curious how to simulate the airplane in a combat scenario. The recently published Clash of Arms game Persian Incursion has a simple yet demonstrative air combat system as well as the American F-22 and F/A-18 E/F as well as the Chinese J-10 and J-11A (Su-27 Flanker copy). So let’s play a little what if….
In the game, if a J-10 tries to shoot down an F-22 it can use the PL-12 Active Radar Homing (ARH) or PL-8 Infrared Homing (IRH) missiles. Although the PL-12 can usually engage a target in “BVR Zone 3” – ranging from 31-40nm, against a Stealthy target it cannot engage until it gets to “BVR Zone 2” (21-30nm) because it cannot see the target. At this range, the game rates the PL-12 with a 15% chance of a hit. If using a PL-8 IRH missile, an engagement must take place within the “Dogfight Zone” at a range of 10nm or less. Here, the PL-8 is credited with a mere 2% chance of a hit.
On the other hand, an F-22 trying to shot down a J-10 can use its AIM-120C-7 ARH missiles at a range of 41-50nm with a 75% chance of a kill. In a dogfight, the AIM-9M IRH can be used with a 50% chance. In a F-22 vs J-10 dogfight, the F-22 has a tremendous advantage.
But if you must engage a stealthy target – like the J-20 – the AIM-120C-7 can engage no further out than 21-30nm or the same range a PL-12 can engage your stealthy F-22.
Now we don’t know what sensor suite is on the J-20. It may not be that advanced, like Airpower Australia points out:
The intended sensor suite remains unknown. China has yet to demonstrate an AESA radar, or an advanced indigenous Emitter Locating System (ELS). However, these could become available by the time this airframe enters production. Suitable Russian hardware is currently in late development and/or test.
The problem is the Chinese may be able to offset their poor airborne sensor with ground-based systems. Again, from Airpower Australia:
In the Western world, most intellectual and development effort in air defence radar and missiles since 1991 has been concentrated into two discrete areas, specifically to provide TMD (Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence) capabilities at the upper end, and C-RAM (Counter Rocket Artillery Mortar) capabilities at the lower end. Capabilities to intercept and destroy high performance low observable aircraft and guided munitions have received little if any attention.
Conversely, Russia has since 1991 invested most of its intellectual and material effort in air defence radar and missile development into two very different areas. At the upper tier, counter-stealth radars exploiting VHF-band technology have been developed and some exported, while at the lower end, the focus has been firmly on providing C-PGM (Counter-PGM) capabilities to defeat Western smart munitions. China has followed the Russian lead in IADS capability development, with indigenous and imported Russian technology.
So there is a good chance that if the J-20 was to come out and fight, our air defenses may not know it is there until the Chinese missile hit.
Interpolating some of the data in Persian Incurison, an F/A-18E/F taking on a J-20 would get to trade shots at the same initial range, 21-30nm. The FA-18 would have something like a 20% chance of getting the J-20 (assuming the stealth is not quite as good as the F-22) whereas the J-20 has a 60-85% chance of getting the FA-18.
Hmm…wouldn’t want to be Hornet driver in that scenario….