During the recent Joint Sword-2024A exercise, which simulated an invasion of Taiwan, the Chinese stealth fighter jet J-20 demonstrated its capabilities. Global Times posted a video on its X account last Friday, showcasing the jet’s involvement in the exercise.

According to the social media post, “The J-20 stealth fighter jet, termed ‘cross-Straits lethality’ by the PLA Eastern Theater Command, showcased high stealth, supersonic cruise, and enhanced situational awareness during the drills.” The 55-second video, released by the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command, highlights their assertive military activities around Taiwan. The video, now viral on social media, features various angles including in-cockpit shots.

One clip shows two J-20s taking off simultaneously, while another shows a pilot ready for action in the cockpit. At the 0:21 mark, four fighters fly in formation with dramatic audio in the background. Although the video captions are in Mandarin, the first caption translates to “deadly across the strait” in English. The video emphasizes the J-20 Mighty Dragon’s key attributes: stealth, supercruise, and situational awareness, stating, “The J-20 excels with its high degree of stealth, supersonic cruising capabilities, and superior situational awareness.”

The video was released in conjunction with the PLA’s extensive military exercises, which followed Taiwan’s new president Lai Ching-te’s inaugural speech on May 20, reaffirming Taiwan’s independence and sovereignty. China has frequently labeled President Lai as a “separatist.”

The J-20, also known as the Chengdu J-20, is a fifth-generation stealth fighter aircraft developed by China’s Chengdu Aerospace Corporation for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). It is designed to compete with other advanced fighters such as the American F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. The J-20 first flew in 2011 and was officially introduced into service in 2017.

The J-20 is approximately 20.4 meters (66.9 feet) long, with a wingspan of around 13.5 meters (44.3 feet) and a height of about 4.45 meters (14.6 feet). These dimensions contribute to its stealth and aerodynamic capabilities, enabling it to perform various roles including air superiority and ground attack missions.

The propulsion system of the J-20 has been a topic of much discussion and development. Initially powered by Russian-made AL-31F engines, China has been developing indigenous engines such as the WS-10 and the more advanced WS-15 to enhance the aircraft’s performance in terms of speed, range, and maneuverability.

The J-20 is equipped with a sophisticated suite of avionics aimed at enhancing its combat effectiveness. This includes an advanced radar system, likely an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, providing superior tracking and targeting capabilities. Additionally, the aircraft features an Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) and advanced communication systems to support network-centric warfare.

The J-20’s equipment includes state-of-the-art stealth technology, incorporating radar-absorbent materials and an airframe designed to minimize its radar cross-section. It also utilizes advanced electronic warfare systems to disrupt enemy radar and communication systems, boosting its survivability in contested environments.

The J-20 can carry a variety of weapons both internally and externally. Its internal weapons bays can house air-to-air missiles such as the PL-10 and PL-15, designed for short and long-range engagements, respectively. Additionally, the aircraft can be equipped with air-to-ground munitions, including precision-guided bombs and anti-ship missiles, making it a versatile platform for various combat scenarios.

The Chinese Shenyang WS-15 engine, despite its reputation, faces significant challenges that are not widely discussed in China. One primary issue is the engine’s reliability, with reports indicating it has not yet achieved the necessary operational stability, leading to frequent breakdowns and maintenance difficulties. This unreliability affects the J-20’s consistent performance in various operational conditions.

Another major problem is the engine’s thrust performance. The WS-15 is designed to provide high thrust to enable the J-20 to achieve supercruise capabilities, which means flying at supersonic speeds without afterburners. However, the engine has struggled to meet these performance benchmarks, limiting the aircraft’s overall effectiveness in combat scenarios.

Thermal management is another critical concern with the WS-15 engine. The engine tends to overheat, which not only affects its performance but also poses a risk of damage to the aircraft. Effective thermal management is essential for maintaining the engine’s longevity and ensuring the safety of the aircraft and its pilot.

Fuel efficiency is another area where the WS-15 engine falls short. Its current design leads to higher fuel consumption, which reduces the J-20’s operational range and endurance. This limitation impacts the strategic deployment of the aircraft, particularly for missions requiring long-range capabilities.

The WS-15 engine also faces challenges regarding its stealth capabilities. The design and materials have not yet achieved the low observable characteristics necessary to minimize the aircraft’s radar signature. This shortcoming undermines one of the key advantages of the J-20 as a stealth fighter, making it more detectable to enemy radar systems.