J-20, F-35, F22: How China developed its fifth generation stealth fighters

This is probably oversimplified, but Yang is certainly an influential individual in the development of China’s modern military aircraft. Beckhusen argues that Yang has basically invented the Chinese evolutionary approach to designing and building combat aircraft. Instead of designing and building a brand-new aircraft from scratch, it “borrows” from other countries’ design, integrate some imported and/or indigenous technology, and produces it at a fraction of the price.

The J-20 is a good example of this. This aircraft is designed with foreign technology, by way of stealing the blueprints for the Lockheed-Martin F-35 and the F-22 Raptor. There is much speculation surrounding the combat effectiveness of both these aircraft, but one thing is for sure; the J-20 is probably going to be cheaper than its American counterpart. While no numbers are available for what the J-20 is going to cost, another, related Chinese stealth fighter, the J-31 Gyrfalcon, is reported to land at about $75 million. How much the F-35 will end up costing is anyone’s guess, but according to Robert Farley, somewhere around $100-120 million is a possibilty.  …

In the case of the JF-17, Yang’s philosophy shines through in a different way. This aircraft is designed on the venerable MiG-21, but has been massively upgraded by the incorporation of advanced imported and indigenously designed tech, and is supposed to be comparable to older models of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Again, not a revolutionary aircraft, and probably in the bottom half of the current fourth generation fighter ranking, but considering the price tag at $25 million, quantity becomes a quality in itself.

Meet Chengdu’s Ace Fighter Designer

The original detailed account:

This intersection of engineering genius and lavish spending appears to have produced an ace designer in China. In recent years, an obscure engineer named Yang Wei has rapidly risen to the leadership of the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute — a major warplane manufacturer responsible for quickly churning out Beijing’s top warplanes. …

In other words, what Yang seems to have done is establish an alternative philosophy to Western fighter design — illustrated by the stealthy, butexpensive and problem-prone F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. China now builds fighters cheaply, quickly and simply. This is not to say Yang’s fighters are perfect or even fundamentally new. …

But it does represent a major leap for Chinese stealth airframe design — which had heretofore been unable to produce a fighter of this kind at all. The Pentagon, for its part, drastically underestimated the timeline; it didn’t expect a stealth fighter until later this decade at the earliest. China revealed it to the world in January 2011. …

Now step back for a moment. This is not a game-changing warplane. But in a little more than a decade, China went from having no stealth warplanes to entering the select club of countries in the fifth-generation fighter business. That’s no small feat.

We can expect, owing to Yang’s design philosophy, that whatever the J-20 becomes will not be radically different from what we’ve seen already.

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