China rolls out new J-20B fighters with TVC

A modified version of China’s copycat F-35 fighter jet, the J-20B has formally entered mass production, with upgrades earning it a place as a new generation fighter jet, according to a military source close to the project.

The moment was marked at a ceremonial unveiling of the modified J-20B fighter jet on last Wednesday attended by many senior military leaders including Central Military Commission (CMC) vice-chairman General Zhang Youxia, the source said.

Zhang is the second-ranked vice-chairman of the CMC and is in charge of weapons development for the People’s Liberation Army.

“Mass production of the J-20B started on Wednesday. It has finally become a complete fighter jet, with its agility meeting the original criteria,” the source said. The most significant change to the fighter jet is that it is now equipped with thrust vector control.

Engine Problems Plagues J-20 Fighters

China rushed its first domestically produced fighter jet into service ahead of schedule last year, using stopgap engines, in the face of rising security challenges in the region, according to SCMP.

But that means its capabilities will be severely limited, affecting its manoeuvrability and fuel efficiency as well as its stealthiness at supersonic speeds.

In 2018, China debuted its J-10C multirole fighter – fitted with a WS-10 Taihang engine – at the China air show in Zhuhai, putting the aircraft through its paces in a performance that indicated that China had succeeded in thrust technology. 

Thrust vector control (TVC) allows pilots to better control the aircraft by redirecting engine thrust.

While the TVC technology had been applied to the fighter, the J-20B would still use Russian Saturn AL-31 engines because more work needed to be done on China’s WS-15 engine, the source said.

Chinese engineers have been developing high-thrust turbofan WS-15 engines for the J-20, but that work has fallen behind schedule.

“The Chinese engine designed for the J-20s still failed to meet requirements, but its development is going quite smoothly, and it may be ready in the next one or two years,” the source said.

Earlier Version of J-20

Not A stealth fighter

Fifth-generation fighters are defined by their stealth technology, supersonic cruising speed, super manoeuvrability, advanced AESA radar and highly integrated avionics. The J-20 lacks a modern engine, internal weapons bay capable of carrying new generation missiles and bombs. The J-20 is carrying PL-10 missiles at external pylons making it exposed to detection by even fourth generation fighters. The Russian-made engines of J-20 fighter’s are exposed to heat seeking missiles due smoke and over heated engine nozzle.

The earlier version of the J-20 and current J-20B were described by Western media as a “dedicated interceptor aircraft” because of its lack of supercruise capability.

J-20B: A Formal Induction to PLAAF

“The launch of the J-20B means this aircraft now is a formal fighter jet of PLA Air Force ” the military source said, adding that Chengdu Aerospace Corporation (CAC), which manufactures the J-20s, had received “large orders” from the PLA.

CAC set up its fourth production line in 2019, each one with a capacity to make about one J-20 a month.

“The ultimate goal is to equip the J-20B fighter jets with domestic engines.”

China was thought to have built about 50 J-20s by the end of 2019, but problems with the jets’ engines delayed further production plans.

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