J-20 Zhuhai 2016 China Stealth Fighter
Two J-20s make the public debut of China's first stealth fighter, coming low over the Zhuhai runway. dafeng cao (@xinfengcao)

The 2016 Zhuhai Airshow began with a splash, with the J-20 stealth fighter making its first public debut. Right after the August First aerobatics squadron performance, a pair of J-20s appeared for a minute. They first came in low over the Zhuhai runway, then climbed vertically before one J-20 departed. The second J-20 stayed a bit longer, making a few sharp turns before climbing away.

China J-20 stealth fighter Zhuhai 2016 aircraft in flight

A Fighter for the 21st Century

The J-20 fighter has a powerful radar (both in the nose and at leading edges around the fuselage for 360 degree coverage), an infrared search and tracking sensor in a stealth housing under the nose, a series of cameras distributed around the fuselage to feed data to the pilot, missile warning systems, and electronic warfare equipment.

The public display points to China’s confidence in the system and its progress. With the prototype maiden flight in January 2011, the J-20 fifth generation fighter entered low rate initial production by mid 2016, so the first squadron of J-20s is likely to start flying next year. Already designed for air superiority, the J-20 is slated for further upgrades in 2019 and beyond to keep up with other fifth generation stealth fighters like the F-22, including most notably the supercruising WS-15 engine.

J-10B China medium Fighter Zhuhai 2016 & smart bombs and anti-ship cruise missiles


The J-10B medium fighter has a strong surface attack capability, as seen displayed at Zhuhai 2016 with a wide range of smart bombs and anti-ship cruise missiles, while remaining strong in aerial combat thanks to its AESA radar.

While the J-20 received the most international coverage, the airshow featured far more when it came to Chinese manned jets. Another Zhuhai debut was the multirole J-10B medium fighter, airframe number “0117” (painted number 10537). A development of the fourth generation J-10 fighter, the J-10B’s improvements include an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, a diverterless supersonic intake, and improved avionics such as electronic warfare equipment. “0117” was surrounded by long range munitions that included satellite-guided bombs and stealth cruise missiles, a sophisticated electro-optical pod for striking ground targets, and PL-12 medium/long range missiles on dual rail launchers. The J-10B’s high tech combat power against enemy surface targets and aircraft will make it a key platform for projecting Chinese air power for decades to come.

JF-17 Fighter China Pakistan Zhuhai 2016 aircraft in flight


Airframe number “13-149”, of the Pakistani Air Force’s No. 2 Minhas squadron, arrives in Zhuhai as China and Pakistan attempt to drum up more interest in the light fighter.
JF-17 Fighter China Pakistan Zhuhai 2016 KLJ-7A AESA Radar on display with a man walking behind it


Developed by the Nanjing Electronics Technology Research Institute, the KLJ-7A AESA radar is powerful despite its small size, with a range of 170km, and enough processing power and capability to track fifteen targets, while targeting four. Its addition to the JF-17 fighter will make it a much more attractive export prospect.

The PAF also flew in a JF-17 for display purposes at Zhuhai 2016. In contrast with the uncertain future its stealthy cousin the J-31 faces, the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 fighter (already in service with the Pakistani Air Force and reported for export sales to Nigeria) is receiving plenty of new upgrades. A model of the JF-17B dual seater was show with a refueling probe, pointing to an upgrade for longer range and thus greater utility for strike missions. More importantly, a new KLJ-7A AESA radar (170km range against a target of several square meters RCS) is planned for Block III builds of the JF-17; making it more lethal against air and ground, especially stealth, targets. The JF-17’s high performance radar and wide options of long range ground attack missiles would make it an export match for other light-medium late fourth generation fighters, like the Saab Gripen.

H-6K Bomber China Zhuhai 2016 aircraft while landing


The H-6K is currently the only bomber undergoing production in the world. While descended from a 1950s Soviet design, its updated engines, and modern avionics and weapons make it a very formidable foe for any surface target in the Western Pacific
CJ-10 DH-10 China Cruise Missile on the ground at rest

DH-10 at rest

Seen here is a DH-10 cruise missile being towed for arming a H-6 bomber. The DH-10’s flexibility, large payload and long range make it one of China’s most important strategic weapons.

The PLAAF also displayed a H-6K bomber, airframe number “11098”. This bomber is an updated version of the Soviet Tu-16 bombers, with digital avionics, airframe improvements and engines that increases its combat radius and payload to 3,500km and 12-15 tons. While older H-6 bombers were exported to Egypt and Iraq in the 1980s, China is unlikely to export such a strategic platform. Displayed around “11098” were multiple air launched CJ-20 cruise missiles, with a range of 2,000-3,000km, though “11098” had two older KJ-63H cruise missiles mounted to its wings. In addition to hunting enemy ships with supersonic cruise missiles like the YJ-12A and its massive radar, the H-6K can strike ground bases beyond the Second Island Chain of Guam and the Japanese volcanic islands.

China Z-11WB Scout Helicopter Zhuhai 2016 with smart bombs, laser guided anti-tank missiles, jamming pods and machine guns


The Z-11WB scout helicopter, despite its small size, has a wide range of armament choices, including smart bombs, laser guided anti-tank missiles, jamming pods and machine guns.
SW-6 Marsupial UAV China Zhuhai 2016 at rest at a military airport


The SW-6 UAV, with its folding wings, can be neatly fitted onto a hardpoint, or dropped en mass from cargo chutes, transforming even the smallest helicopter or largest cargo plane into a drone mothership that can use the SW-6s to scout for enemy targets, threats and even possibly conduct support like communications relay or jamming on future versions.
Z-11 Helicopter SW-6 UAV China Zhuhai 2016 on the ground

Flying Centuars

“Centaurs” made of pairing manned platforms with unmanned systems, like this combo of the Z-11WB helicopter carrying a SW-6 drone like a missile, could be the future of aerial combat as pilots and crew rely on distributed networks to locate the enemy and prepare the battlefield while avoiding danger.
Z-10K China attack helicopter Zhuhai 2016 in flight


China’s primary attach helicopter, the Z-10K has additional firepower and armor, compared to the original.
China Z-19E Z-19 helicopter Zhuhai 2016 on display at an exhibition


The Z-19E, China’s light attack helicopter, was developed from the Z-9 helicopter (itself a licensed copy of the French Dauphin). While less protected than the heavier Z-10 (and lacking an autocannon), it nicely fills the gap between the Z-10 and Z-11 scout.

Finally, a trio of combat helicopters were displayed. Making its public debut was the Z-10K attack helicopter. Its upgrades over the Z-10 include more powerful engines, additional cockpit armor, a new 23mm cannon and larger (19-rocket) 70mm rocket pods. The Z-19E light attack helicopter, a past Zhuhai attendee, was displayed with an impressive armament option of 8 HJ-10 anti-tank missiles (roughly equivalent to the U.S. Hellfire missile), along with light anti-ship missiles.

However, it was the little, single engine Z-11WB scout helicopter that packed the biggest punch. While weighing only 2.2 tons, the Z-11WB was surrounded by multiple payloads, including HJ-9 and HJ-10 anti-tank missiles, rocket pods, a gun pod, a mast-mounted radar, FT-9 laser guided bombs and a KG-600 jamming pod. Most interesting though, was a small drone, the SW-6, which was folded up and attached to the Z-11’s inner right pylon, meaning the helicopter would carry its own drone into action. The SW-6 can be deployed in flight by the Z-11WB to scout ahead and around for threats, especially enemy air defenses; presumably larger helicopters could carry multiple SW-6s to achieve swarming effects in an ‘manned-unmanned’ formation.

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