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Thursday, January 14, 2016, 10:13

Prototypes pave the way for PLA Air Force boost

By Zhao Lei
Prototypes pave the way for PLA Air Force boost

The People's Liberation Army Air Force will soon receive a significant boost to its aerial combat and transportation capabilities, according to military observers.

The fifth-generation J-20 jet fighter and the Y-20 heavy-lifting transport plane are about to enter the initial production stage, the observers said.

In late December, photographs showing a new prototype of the J-20 stealth fighter were published by aviation enthusiasts on Chinese military websites.

The aircraft, coated with yellow primer paint and bearing the serial number 2101, was reported to be under going taxiing tests at an airfield operated by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group.

In early January, enthusiasts posted photos on the Internet of the two latest prototypes of the Y-20, numbered 785 and 788, saying they were undergoing flight tests.

Wang Ya'nan, deputy editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said the newest J-20 prototype must be tested to examine technical changes designers made to it based on test results from earlier prototypes.

"The appearance of the 2101 indicates that the Aviation Industry Corp of China is preparing for the low-rate initial production stage," Wang said.

This stage is where the manufacturer carries out tests and the end-user gets to understand a product's capabilities before production starts.

"Once the tests are carried out successfully, small-scale production will begin and the PLA Air Force will become the world's second user of a fifth-generation stealth fighter (following the United States Air Force)," Wang said.

He anticipates that the first of the J-20s will be delivered to the military around 2017.

Urgent need

China staged the maiden flight of the J-20 in January 2011 and has produced 10 prototypes, including the 2101, since then. Before the 2101, all prototypes were coated with dark-colored paint that experts suggested had stealth capability.

"I think the reason the 2101 was not painted with stealth materials is simple," Wang said. "First, such materials must have been successful in previous prototype tests, so that further tests are not necessary. Second, stealth paint is very expensive and should not be wasted in tests. Finally, it would be easier for designers to see how the plane's primer coating wears after flights."

GaoZhuo, a military observer in Shanghai, said the newest J-20 is likely to be used by PLA pilots to familiarize crew with the cutting-edge aircraft.

He said China will soon face a big challenge in Asia-Pacific airspace from the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II stealth warplanes to be deployed by the US and Japan, and this is why China is developing its advanced aircraft so quickly.

Wang also said the Y-20 is needed badly by the PLA because it lacks "a fast and reliable platform" to project its power overseas.

He said the appearance of two new prototypes shows that development of the Y-20 is progressing well and that mass production of the plane can start, enabling it to be delivered to the PLA in 2017 at the earliest.

zhaolei@chinadaily.com.cn

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