Some high-resolution images of a new Chinese stealth jet fighter have leaked online over this weekend. The images appear to be genuine and do not seem to have been tempered, and given the trend observed 2 years back — when images of J-20 were leaked online and then after a week, J-20’s existence was officially acknowledged — things seem to fit into the picture perfectly. The leaked images show a stealth jet that matches the characteristics of the long-rumored Chinese J-21 stealth fighter and is likely a J-21 prototype. The jet seems to have a stealth profile as it strikingly resembles USAF’s F-22 Raptor which is currently the only stealth jet fighter in the world to be in active service (although it is currently choking its pilots due to some unknown mysterious reasons).
Leaked Images of J-21 Chinese Stealth Jet
J-21 (we will refer to this jet by this name from now on) is now the second Chinese manufactured stealth jet after the earlier J-20 which took to the skies in early 2011. Currently, it is not known whether these two jets are competing with each other (like the YF-22 and YF-23) for PLAAF’s contract or not. It can’t be ruled out that both these jets are being developed for independent production but most likely due to budgetary issues, PLAAF will choose either J-20 or J-21 for full-scale production.
Is J-21 a Stealth Fighter?
Due to the scarcity of information regarding the stealth capabilities of J-21, we have to deduce conclusions just from the leaked images. The twin-engine trapezoidal winged jet seems to have inherited a lot from American F-22 Raptor design as J-21’s nose and twin tails are quite identical to Raptor’s airframe. However, modern stealth technology relies on much more than simply the airframe of an aircraft.
The special Radar Absorbent Material (RAM) coating along with high-end avionics plays a crucial rule in making an aircraft stealthy. Moreover, stealth technology is not limited to radar only, a modern fifth-generation stealth aircraft has to avoid threats in the infrared region also and has to defeat all technologies that are put against it for its detection. It is, therefore, safe to assume that a working Chinese stealth jet is no less than five years away at least, if not more.
When will J-21 be Operational?
One thing is clear, Beijing now seriously wants a stealth jet fighter to end American air supremacy which is mainly pillared on its armada of stealth aircraft. Beijing is, therefore, ramping up it’s spending on 5th generation jet development to get an operational squadron of 5th gen stealth jets by 2025. Solid proof is the existence of another leaked image of a stealth aircraft called F-60 which appeared in this June. There are also reports of another project called Super-10 (an advanced 5th generation variant of J-10) which is going on in parallel with other projects.
Despite a serious Chinese attempt for possessing stealthy aircraft within the next decade or so, the odds are still great. It took the United States 19 years to push a stealth technology demonstrator jet (test flight made in 1977) to production line (F-22 Raptor production started in 1996) therefore it is no less than a challenge for both China and Russia (Su-PAK FA took its maiden flight in Aug 2011) to achieve this feat within the next decade (and not screw things up like the Raptor which is killing its own pilots).