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Discussion in 'Navy' started by Deino, Sep 19, 2017.
New update from PB19980515 on when we might see the J-XY prototype:
Q: "When can we see the actual aircraft?"
PB19980515: "Second half of 2019 to the first half of 2020, with an error of approximately half a year."
x post from CDF
So, now that it seems to be increasingly likely that FC-31 will be the basis of the carrier based 5th gen fighter to emerge in the next year or so, I think now would be a good time to start speculating how the project may run.
The interesting thing about the carrier 5th gen project (sure let's call it J-XY), is that SAC have been flying a pair of full size stealthy tech demonstrators for a while now, with the first TD flying for over half a decade. These airframdes obviously are not TDs that for carrier related studies, but they certainly are certainly good generic 5th gen fighter TDs. In terms of size and in terms of being aerodynamically representative of the J-XY that will emerge, I think they are far closer to the likes of J-20 prototypes 2001 and 2002, or the YF-22 airframes, than the Japanese X-2 for example.
In other words, when considering the potential timeframe of development for the J-XY, I believe that it would be fair to cut down a few years for the extensive R&D and data that would've been collected from the two FC-31 TDs.
However, there are additional complications that may lengthen the development timeframe of the aircraft, namely being a carrier based fighter. While SAC has had experience with carrier based fighters in developing J-15 and continuing to develop J-15 variants, combining the demands of a carrierborne aircraft with a stealthy 5th generation aircraft will nevertheless be demanding.
... yet on the other hand, it goes without saying that many of the subsuppliers for 5th gen aircraft (materials, avionics, etc) will likely be far far more mature now than they were over 8 years ago when J-20 s/n 2001 took off for the first time, meaning the products they can offer should be much more directly applicable on prototypes.
So, I have a pair of underlying assumptions:
A: that the first J-XY prototype we see next year will be a "prototype" akin to the J-20 201X aircraft, where subsequent prototypes will not see significant modifications. This can be judged based on whether it has certain features like folding wings/tails, nose gear catapult bar, tail hook, certain specific sensors (like chin EO IRST etc) -- some of those such as catapult bar and tail hook might be added onto the first prototype later, or it might be only present on the second J-XY prototype, however it is important that it must be easily "added on" to qualify for being a "prototype" rather than "tech demo"
B: that J-XY will primarily be a carrier based fighter for PLANAF primarily, and that it may evolve into a land based fighter eventually for PLAAF (with the requisite modifications) however that would be some years down the line.
Using those two assumptions, I make three projections:
-Best case, 3-4 years: where SAC was able to take significant data and info from the two FC-31 TDs, and combine it with experience in developing J-15, and further combine that with AVIC's overall experience in developing J-20, to significantly mitigate risks and develop the aircraft more or less without hiccups, resulting in an overall development timeframe similar to that of the J-20 201X prototypes to when J-20 was introduced. That is to say, a ~4 year development time between the first prototype flying and initially being introduced (similar to J-20 -- s/n 2011 flew in early 2014, and entered service in late 2017 with initial combat capable units receiving their first aircraft earlier this year). If J-XY makes its maiden flight in late 2019, then it would begin to be introduced in late 2023 or early 2024, right when 003 would begin to enter service.
-Moderate case, 5-6 years: similar to the above, but where various unforeseen hiccups happen, causing some delays to happen for various reasons. Likely due to complexities of combining 5th gen features with demands of carrier operations. May also be complicated by PLAN demands for "new" 5th gen features that were not present on the original J-20 (a result of both technological complexity and minor programme management difficulties). In this case, the aircraft would enter service around 2025, 2026, after 003 would've been in service for a few years.
-Worst case, 8-10 years: this is very much F-35 levels of delay, and would be a result of SAC incompetence, or significant mismatch between various suppliers, or unrealistic programme demands, or additional technological demands, industry incompetence, concurrency, and so on, or a mixture. Needless to say, such an aircraft would only enter service in the late 2020s or even early 2030s.
Completly agree, but IMO the biggest issue and most likely reason for delays is still the engine. I cannot think of a true fifth generation type still relying on RD-93 or even WS-13. Mayve for the first true prototypes at best, but surely not for the preserials and how far development of the WS-19 has already progressed is at leasg for me a complee mystery.
The J-20 is undergoing the same issue right now. It's not a problem IMHO if the engine industry can ensure that at some point their products can be successfully developed. I think "PB19980515" did mention that the WS-19 prototype has already undergone testing, with eventual thrust goals reaching as high as 110 kN. Sure, dual WS-13s may not be as good as a single F135, but that is better than having no functional fighter.
Agreed on most points, AVIC did say back in 2014 that they can aim for a ~2025 (can't recall the exact year) IOC date assuming that a production prototype flies in 2019.
I can kind of imagine WS-13 powering J-XY even up to the first batch or so, as that would not be too different to what J-20 is currently facing. It seems like they are definitely aiming for WS-19 to be the eventual powerplant for J-XY/FC-31 and we haven't heard too many details about it but considering we've heard very little about WS-15 for the last few years as well this isn't really a surprise.
However I'm more confused as to WS-13 -- is it essentially just a Chinese produced RD-93, and is it a license produced one? Who produces it, which aircraft are they used on, and when did work start on it...
That's exactly my concern. The early J-20s were powered by AL-31FNs, the later - and I'm almost sure now - by some sort of a specialised development but still AL-31-based but with quite a decent thrust - and only the definitive ones will get the WS-15 is some years. Point is however that the AL-31-or-whatever at least matured to a decent suitable engine; something I won't say about the WS-13 and even less about the RD-93.
We know next to nothing on the WS-13, even the FC-1 powered by one secretly disappeared ...
Well, I imagine if the PLA did end up choosing FC-31 as the basis for the 5th gen carrier fighter as the consensus seems to be, there must be some kind of satisfactory engine solution even if it is an interim one.
There is the RD-33MK engine used in the MiG-29K. There are even versions with TVC. The engine manufacturer has a low enough production rate that I think the Chinese could get a purchase order on the condition they do not export the engines elsewhere and compete with the MiG-29K. Heck the FC-1 is likely their major customer right now as it is. The engine should have less IR emissions than the RD-93 at least and some performance and fuel consumption improvements because of materials improvements and FADEC. That should be good enough for the LRIP until the Chinese make their own engine.
Depending on the timeframe and the platform(s) it will be deployed in it will also change the airframe design. For example catapult launched aircraft need more reinforcement to withstand the loads than a STOBAR aircraft (albeit this might be minimized in some EMALS type catapults). They at least need a reinforced landing gear to withstand touch and go tests. The tailhook is less of an issue than reinforcing the airplane structure to withstand the hook procedure.
If the aircraft is used in a catapult equipped carrier that should be good enough to make it competitive with US legacy fighters as long as they keep the weight down. I think this can be done with 3D printing of parts. Still they need a real 5th gen engine eventually.
That sounds about right to me.
Although I would say that an Air Force version would be a high priority once the carrier version was in service.
The number of Chinese aircraft carriers means only a few hundred planes would be required.
But a smaller stealth fighter than the J-20 would be more cost effective in the counter-air / CAP role.
So the Air Force version of the J-31 may actually be produced in larger numbers than the carrier version.