China’s first stealth fighter, the Chengdu J-20 “Mighty Dragon” is the pride of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, but in general it was still seen as an aircraft in the early stages of operation.
However, according to official Chinese media reports, the J-20 would be “ready for combat”. The proof is a video from CCTV, the country’s state television, that showed a fighter without the Luneburg lens, a device installed at the bottom of the fuselage and that intentionally exposes the aircraft to radar.
The device is used for safety on training flights and in civilian airspace, when the Chengdu fighter needs to appear to avoid possible accidents.
According to experts heard by the Global Times website, this change would mean that the J-20 has entered a new stage of combat readiness.
Since last year, some fighters have been flying close to the Taiwan border as part of Chinese military exercises conducted in response to the US presence in the region.
But because they are equipped with the Luneburg lens, the J-20s are easily identified, hiding their potential for stealth. That would have been the reason why India recently claimed that it could locate the stealth fighter, ignoring the existence of the device.
The J-20 is currently China’s most advanced known military aircraft. The prototype of the 5th gen fighter flew for the first time ten years ago and since then Chengdu has sought to improve the project, which has not yet reached the definitive stage.
Fighter engines, for example, have been a very draining and mysterious aspect. The first prototypes and series airplanes would have been equipped with the Russian engine AL-31FN while more recent aircraft use the WS-10 turbofan, a project developed based on the western model CFM-56 and which also equips the J-16, a variant enhanced location of the Russian Flanker.
The definitive engine for the J-20 will be the WS-15, a powerful turbofan with 44,000 pounds of thrust, but undergoing several developmental problems.
If the J-20 may not be very-low-observable (VLO) as the F-22 and the F-35, it is certain that the PLAAF fighter is by far the most fearsome aircraft in China to date. And now in fact stealthy.