China’s pursuit of military prowess has reached a notable milestone as recent footage unveiled the J-20 stealth jet firing a missile for the first time.
This landmark event showcases how far Beijing has reached in terms of advancing its combat readiness and marking a significant stride in its defense capabilities.
The Evolution of the J-20
The Chengdu J-20, also known as Mighty Dragon, is a formidable symbol of China’s aerospace advancements and has gradually evolved toward operationalization since its maiden flight more than twelve years ago.
The Chinese stealth jet first emerged in the late 1990s J-XX program, and by 2008, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) sanctioned the Chengdu Aerospace Corporation’s what was then called Project 718.
Chengdu Aerospace leveraged previous design concepts, such as the double-canard configuration seen in the canceled J-9 from the 1970s and the successful J-10, in conceptualizing the J-20.
J-20 Fighter In-flight Refueling | YY-20A Tanker | No-blurry Closeup of Refueling Probe • PLA Air Force pic.twitter.com/goI2og4xpp
— David Wang (@Nickatgreat1220) November 10, 2023
Through the years, the company continued to draw from past design experience, which led to the evolution and distinct characteristics of what we now know as the stealth fighter Mighty Dragon, cementing its place as a technological milestone in China’s aviation advancements.
Notably, its journey encompasses the introduction of a two-seat variant, successive production batches incorporating modifications, and its active deployment in live-fire exercises. August 2022 witnessed the J-20’s involvement in drills around Taiwan following former US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island.
Encounters with American-built F-35 fighters over the western Pacific have underscored the J-20’s growing prominence.
Furthermore, reports highlighting increased production numbers suggest that China has navigated past the techno-industrial challenges encountered by the F-35 or the F-22 Raptor.
The PL-10: Precision in Close Combat
Meanwhile, the PL-10 air-to-air missile is a formidable weapon in China’s military arsenal, specifically designed for close-range engagements.
Renowned for its high maneuverability and potential high-off boresight capability, this missile is notably compact, allowing it to be deployed from the side bays of the J-20 stealth jet.
The PL-10’s innovative launch mechanism extends rounded rails from the jet’s side bays during close dogfights, enabling swift firing while maintaining the aircraft’s stealth profile.
Its precise targeting capabilities and agility make it a potent asset for combat scenarios requiring rapid response and close-range precision.
Milestone Moment: J-20’s Missile Firing Captured
The recent video clip, aired via a state-run channel, portrays the J-20 releasing a missile while in level flight—a momentous capture validating its combat readiness.
The one-second footage also features two J-20s trailing behind a Y-20 aerial refueling tanker, showcasing complex aerial maneuvers.
First ever footage of J-20 launching PL-10 and also AAR 👀 pic.twitter.com/65bQaaeNrK
— Húrin (@intel1osint100) November 10, 2023
The revelation of the J-20’s previously concealed probe hatch adds to the significance of this footage.
At the Zhuhai air show, observers and media captured the fighter jet from various angles, shedding light on its design.
However, the probe’s actual shape remained enigmatic until this recent video, which unveiled a curved structure.
Deciphering the Fired Missile: PL-10 or PL-15?
Amid conflicting claims, experts analyzing the J-20’s design configuration have weighed in on the nature of the fired missile.
Insights from the 2019 Zhuhai air show, where the J-20 exhibited its internal weapons bays, revealed crucial details.
— WarshipPorn (@WarshipPorn) November 11, 2018
These bays showcased four PL-15s in the underbelly compartments and one PL-10 on each side.
The launch mechanism for the PL-10, activated during close dogfights, involves the opening of side bays and extending rounded launching rails.
This tactical deployment allows swift firing while minimizing the jet’s radar signature.
Observations from the recent footage suggest that the fired missile traces its trajectory to the side bay, indicating the likelihood of it being the PL-10.
For the first time, the footage of J-20 launching a missile, a PL-10 in this case, is released. pic.twitter.com/uQ2uwCItQ6
— 蜜柑🍊 (@KushigumoAkane) November 10, 2023
Significance Amid Geopolitical Tensions
Beyond its technical implications, this recent event serves as a powerful tool for political propaganda.
China aims to position itself as a leading force in defense technology and scientific research, engaging in a multifaceted great power contest, particularly against the US.
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) November 12, 2023
However, some experts advise against overstating the importance of this video. While it does reveal the J-20’s capabilities, the real test lies in how efficiently it performs in real conflict situations.
Operational discipline, strategic planning, and tactical execution are crucial factors that will determine the jet’s actual combat effectiveness.
Military analysts and active officers also warn against overestimating the video’s significance, stressing the necessity for a thorough evaluation that goes beyond showcasing technological advancements.
The proper assessment of the J-20’s capability hinges on its effective deployment and integration into practical combat scenarios.
Future Trajectory: Challenges and Expectations
The captured video depicting the J-20 releasing a missile marks a watershed moment in China’s military narrative. It signifies the nation’s quest for technological parity and strategic dominance in the global arena. However, while this display of firepower is significant, its practical implications in real-world conflict scenarios remain the ultimate litmus test for the J-20’s combat readiness and effectiveness.
As China and the US continue their complex dance of military strategies and technological advancements, the J-20’s role in this great power contest remains a focal point, promising continuous scrutiny and analysis from defense experts worldwide.