China’s two major fighter aircraft manufacturers, Shenyang Aircraft Industry Co. (SAC) and Chengdu Aircraft Industry Co. (CAC), are both working on advanced 4th generation fighter designs that could enter the PLAAF service as early as 2015. While Shenyang has been engaged in a brand new F/A-22-class stealth fighter design known as J-12, Chengdu has been focusing its development effort on an enlarged twin-engine stealth version of its J-10 fighter possibly designated J-13. Both development projects are believed to have benefited from Russian aviation and weapon technologies.
SHENYANG J-12 PROGRAMME
The Chinese aviation industry began the preliminary research for China’s 4th generation fighter programme in the mid-1990s. In 1998 the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) reported that an advanced F/A-22-class twin-engine stealth fighter known as J-12 was under development at Shenyang. Later in 2003 an Internet source photo revealed a fighter mockup for wind tunnel test which may be linked to the J-12 project. As more details of the fighter began to emerge, it was understood that the fighter will also be fitted with an internal weapon bay and possibly active phased array radar.
Considering China’s track record in combat aircraft development, a project like the J-12 may prove challenging. It will involves technology advancement in a number of fields including materials, high-performance aviation engine, electronics, flight control software, and stealth technologies. A project of this scale will also require huge amount of investment and considerable knowledge of complex project and manufacturing management. While China may be able to benefit from some “off-the-shelf” dual-use technologies available in the commercial market, it will almost definitely seek assistance from its traditional military technology suppliers such as Russia and Israel. However, none of these two countries possess the experience of developing an advance fighter of this class.
Russian Sukhoi Company (JSC), which has developed close ties with Shenyang over the licensed co-production of its Su-27SK fighter as J-11, has been reportedly working with Shenyang in developing the next-generation fighter technology and sub-systems. Although Russia has yet been able to develop an operational stealth fighter, the J-12 project may benefit from its technologies in two particular areas: thrust vectoring engine and stealth design. China may also seek potential partners from Russia, Israel and Europe to co-develop avionics and weapon suites for its 4th-generation fighter aircraft.
CHENGDU J-13 PROJECT
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Following the successful development of the J-10 fighter, Chengdu and its subordinated 611 Aircraft Design Institute began to work on an enlarged twin-engine version of the J-10 to compete with Shenyang’s J-12 project for the PLAAF’s 4th generation fighter programme. The new fighter, which was reportedly designated J-13, inherited the J-10’s canard delta design and resembles the Russian Mikoyan MiG MFI (Project 1.44) fifth-generation fighter demonstrator in many aspects. The J-13 design is less radical in terms of design and technology compared to the Shenyang J-12, and therefore may stand a better chance of becoming successful.
It was reported that Russian MAPO-MIG has been working with Chengdu since the late 1990s to develop a new generation fighter based on the J-10 design. The J-13 may be powered by two improved AL-41 turbofan engines with thrust-vectoring nozzles and possibly supersonic cruise capability too, giving a maximum take-off weight of 20t. If this is proven to be true, the J-13 will be a high-performance heavyweight fighter superior to the European EF-2000 Typhoon and French Rafale, though it may not be as capable as the F/A-22 Raptor