Future PLA combat aircraft composition


tamsen_ikard

Junior Member
Registered Member
How many modern 4th gen + 5th fighter do you guys think that China needs to effectively dominate East Asia Air space and ensure that even US+Japan+Taiwan combined will be beaten thoroughly by China? I am only considering the first island Chain here.

i was doing a numbers count on wikipedia, this is the number that I found about these countries:

US: 1700 Air force (1000 F-16) (400 5th gen) and 560 for Navy (Almost entirely 4th gen for now) = 2360 4th gen+ fighters

Japan: 300 4th gen+ fighters (12 f-35)

Taiwan: 170 (F-16 and Mirage 2k)

They have total count of around 3000 planes.

However, US is far away from this region. And it has many interests and empires to defend around the globe. So, I think the maximum fighter count they can ever devote to a fight with China will be about 50% of the total.

50% of US fighters + entire Japan and Taiwan fleet = 1650 (200 5th gen)

Considering the fact that Chinese J-10 and and J-11 fleets are much more newer than whatever they have, mostly 20-30 year old F-16 and F-15. How big should China's fleet be to achieve complete air superiority?

I know in a battle a lot factors will come into play including naval ships, China's ground based missiles and so on. But let's discount all of that for simplicity and focus on purely fighter numbers and quality.

Can we assume that China will achieve Air dominance in East Asia if they have 2000 4th gen+ fighters (400 J-20)?

What would be realistic timeline for China to achieve that number based on the current production rate of Chinese fighters and any future ramp of J-20?

Currently they have 1200 4th gen+ fighters. Can they get to 2000 by 2030?

What would be your estimate of how many fighters China needs to achieve complete air dominance over East Asia?
 

Totoro

Captain
VIP Professional
Here are more precise and up to date tables:

US
500 fifth gen fighters
1200 fourth+ gen fighters
1200 fourth gen fighters (f16s and legacy hornets)
120 third gen (capability wise) harriers
220 A10 (with no real A2A capability)

China
50 fight gen fighters
500 fourth+ gen fighters
750 fourth gen fighters
100 third gen (capability wise) J8
550 J7 and JH7 with very little A2A capability

Japan has some 320 fighters (290 are 4th gen or better)
Taiwan some 340 fighters (260 are 4th gen or better)
Australia 120 fighters
South Korea 550 fighters (240 are 4th gen or better)

And potentially even Britain might get involved to an extent, with some 160 fighters

I really won't go into politics, as to who will get involved and to which extent. Even though those decisions are absolutely crucial and would very much shape the conflict and possibly even decide the winner.

I also won't go into just what percentage of whose forces would be likely to be present.

But lets just say that if 50% of US and UK forces are present, and if all other mentioned countries are present at 100%,
China would be looking at 3030 fighters. Of which some 460 being 5th gen and further 2170 are 4th or 4th+ generation.

Facing some 1950 Chinese combat jets, of which 50 would be 5th gen and further 1250 4th/+ gen.

Getting closer to enemy controlled territory (with their radars, SAMs, ships) means a lot, so either side would be hard pressed to actually go over the other side's territory. But that also includes the first island chain.

Frankly, if the said figures ARE applied, i don't think China today can project its power over the first island chain line. somewhere to the mid distance from China to first island chain - yes, probably. But not much farther than that. Likewise, despite the numerical and technological superiority (9 times more 5th gen fighters and close to 2 times more 4th gen ones) the opposing side would likely be losing more planes than China if it tried to operate over the Chinese coastline.

Then again, the opposing side just might afford to do that for some time, given its numerical advantage. And that doesn't even take into account the fact we've here used just 50% of US forces. Over a longer war period, if one counts a higher percentage, of say 75% US planes,
China could be facing up to 3840 fighters. Of which some 560 being 5th gen and further 2770 are 4th gen/+.
That'd constitute 11 times more 5th gen and 2.5 times more 4th gen fighters.

Once again, the calculus is NOT that simple in reality, but IF such a big coalition is applied in a model, and if most of US forces participate, China of today would be very hard pressed to defend its shores. The fact it might down more enemy planes that it'd lose itself would not help much in the long run.
 

tamsen_ikard

Junior Member
Registered Member
Here are more precise and up to date tables:

US
500 fifth gen fighters
1200 fourth+ gen fighters
1200 fourth gen fighters (f16s and legacy hornets)
120 third gen (capability wise) harriers
220 A10 (with no real A2A capability)

China
50 fight gen fighters
500 fourth+ gen fighters
750 fourth gen fighters
100 third gen (capability wise) J8
550 J7 and JH7 with very little A2A capability

Japan has some 320 fighters (290 are 4th gen or better)
Taiwan some 340 fighters (260 are 4th gen or better)
Australia 120 fighters
South Korea 550 fighters (240 are 4th gen or better)

And potentially even Britain might get involved to an extent, with some 160 fighters

I really won't go into politics, as to who will get involved and to which extent. Even though those decisions are absolutely crucial and would very much shape the conflict and possibly even decide the winner.

I also won't go into just what percentage of whose forces would be likely to be present.

But lets just say that if 50% of US and UK forces are present, and if all other mentioned countries are present at 100%,
China would be looking at 3030 fighters. Of which some 460 being 5th gen and further 2170 are 4th or 4th+ generation.

Facing some 1950 Chinese combat jets, of which 50 would be 5th gen and further 1250 4th/+ gen.

Getting closer to enemy controlled territory (with their radars, SAMs, ships) means a lot, so either side would be hard pressed to actually go over the other side's territory. But that also includes the first island chain.

Frankly, if the said figures ARE applied, i don't think China today can project its power over the first island chain line. somewhere to the mid distance from China to first island chain - yes, probably. But not much farther than that. Likewise, despite the numerical and technological superiority (9 times more 5th gen fighters and close to 2 times more 4th gen ones) the opposing side would likely be losing more planes than China if it tried to operate over the Chinese coastline.

Then again, the opposing side just might afford to do that for some time, given its numerical advantage. And that doesn't even take into account the fact we've here used just 50% of US forces. Over a longer war period, if one counts a higher percentage, of say 75% US planes,
China could be facing up to 3840 fighters. Of which some 560 being 5th gen and further 2770 are 4th gen/+.
That'd constitute 11 times more 5th gen and 2.5 times more 4th gen fighters.

Once again, the calculus is NOT that simple in reality, but IF such a big coalition is applied in a model, and if most of US forces participate, China of today would be very hard pressed to defend its shores. The fact it might down more enemy planes that it'd lose itself would not help much in the long run.

I don't think your numbers for US are upto date. I got my number from Wikipedia. And according to that. US certainly does not have 2400 4th and 4.5 gen in service. US stopped service of a lot older 4th+ fighters to save money to buy more F-35.

Your numbers for other countries are also incorrect and exaggerated when I look at Wikipedia numbers. Taiwan most certainly does not have 340 fighters

Current number for Taiwan is: 115 F-16, 46 Mirage, 105 FCK, 25 F-5. I don't consider FCK to be a 4th gen fighter. But even including that, the number comes to 266 4th gen and 280 total.

I also don't think UK and Australia is a factor in a war with China. There is just no way and reason why UK would get involved in such a war. Same thing Australia. Their forces are too far away and tiny. They don't have any reason to get involved in a war with China if it remains limited to the first island Chain.

Korea is also not likely to be involved because they are completely checked by North Korea. They have no reason to fight China when that might lead to North Korea also getting involved.
 
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Totoro

Captain
VIP Professional
Why do you think that?
I mean specifically, do you think something has changed in terms of technology or PLA procurement practices or rumours that would suggest the PLAAF has ruled out procuring an FC-31 derivative sometime in the future?
No, I don't think there's been any change.
I do think there's been no news suggesting PLAAF has decided either of the three possible ways.
To operate just FC31 derived design.
To operate just a single engine J10 successor.
Or to operate a mix of the two.

Because while nothing is set in stone, I could see a land based derivative of J-XY/J-35 being developed for the PLAAF -- and would likely not be too difficult as it would be a matter of reducing the additional carrier related strengthening and modifications -- while being able to keep much if not all of the same subsystems in terms of avionics and weapons suite.
The ability to reduce development costs and shared operational costs -- and more importantly being able to reduce the time taken from starting development and entry into service -- would be immense.
There could definitely be a PLAAF variant of JXY. There are certain benefits to such a decision.

I also think that until there is some news about PLAAF making their decision, there's a case for going the single engine fighter route as well. It all depends on what PLAAF wants - both in 2030 when such a fighter might be ready but also in 2050.

If PLAAF will need a certain number of planes which will not have in their mission set a requirement similar to J10 - to carry moderately sized air to ground weapons but only a requirement to carry, say, 4 AAMs or some small form air to ground weapons like SDB series, British SPEAR and such (basically max loadout of F-35B);
and if PLAAF would find it worthwhile to have a stealthy plane whose RCS is optimized against the frontal sector only and perhaps even against higher frequencies only, and IF those decisions would make the plane easier and cheaper to maintain and procure
- then a stealthy single engine fighter might be worthwhile developing.
Especially if by 2030 and later PLAAF alone operates well over 2000 combat planes, possibly approaching 2500.

Then having more types of planes might pay for itself, operationally.

Maybe PLAAF will not require ALL of its planes have a long reach as well. On the other hand, a single engine should waste less fuel than two engines of similar combined thrust and similar tech level - so overall internal fuel quantity could be made even a bit smaller, resulting in further weight savings.

With requirements so limited, then having a suitably designed plane, instead of using an overdesigned plane for those certain missions - could be advantageous.

Please note that F35B comparison was just about loadout. I do believe that without the STOVL requirement the whole design could be made simpler and cheaper.

Having JXY in PLAAF is great due to the fact it's half developed, as mentioned. So if the need is urgent, then it's quite possible we'll see it. but if PLAAF grows to big numbers, the fact JXY is in use does not necessarily preclude a single engine design to appear in the future as well.

The likelihood of that is unknown but until we get some news of both PLAAF's future requirements, goals, etc - it's hard for me to make a firm statement.
 

Bltizo

Lieutenant General
Staff member
Super Moderator
Registered Member
No, I don't think there's been any change.
I do think there's been no news suggesting PLAAF has decided either of the three possible ways.
To operate just FC31 derived design.
To operate just a single engine J10 successor.
Or to operate a mix of the two.


There could definitely be a PLAAF variant of JXY. There are certain benefits to such a decision.

I also think that until there is some news about PLAAF making their decision, there's a case for going the single engine fighter route as well. It all depends on what PLAAF wants - both in 2030 when such a fighter might be ready but also in 2050.

If PLAAF will need a certain number of planes which will not have in their mission set a requirement similar to J10 - to carry moderately sized air to ground weapons but only a requirement to carry, say, 4 AAMs or some small form air to ground weapons like SDB series, British SPEAR and such (basically max loadout of F-35B);
and if PLAAF would find it worthwhile to have a stealthy plane whose RCS is optimized against the frontal sector only and perhaps even against higher frequencies only, and IF those decisions would make the plane easier and cheaper to maintain and procure
- then a stealthy single engine fighter might be worthwhile developing.
Especially if by 2030 and later PLAAF alone operates well over 2000 combat planes, possibly approaching 2500.

Then having more types of planes might pay for itself, operationally.

Maybe PLAAF will not require ALL of its planes have a long reach as well. On the other hand, a single engine should waste less fuel than two engines of similar combined thrust and similar tech level - so overall internal fuel quantity could be made even a bit smaller, resulting in further weight savings.

With requirements so limited, then having a suitably designed plane, instead of using an overdesigned plane for those certain missions - could be advantageous.

Please note that F35B comparison was just about loadout. I do believe that without the STOVL requirement the whole design could be made simpler and cheaper.

Having JXY in PLAAF is great due to the fact it's half developed, as mentioned. So if the need is urgent, then it's quite possible we'll see it. but if PLAAF grows to big numbers, the fact JXY is in use does not necessarily preclude a single engine design to appear in the future as well.

The likelihood of that is unknown but until we get some news of both PLAAF's future requirements, goals, etc - it's hard for me to make a firm statement.

Well, I think the question over whether the PLAAF will pursue a single engine 5th generation fighter is probably better first asked as whether the PLAAF will pursue a medium weight 5th generation fighter.
If the answer to the above is yes, then what naturally follows is whether such a medium weight 5th generation fighter will be single engine or twin engine.

If it's single engine, well the PLAAF will inevitably have to cough up time money for a clean sheet design to be developed. It might be able to share subsystems with J-20 and J-XY/J-35, but the airframe overall will have to be clean sheet.
If it's twin engine, well it's a lot easier because J-XY/J-35 is already there and can be adapted to land based operations with far less time and resources than developing a clean sheet single engine fighter. Commonality of subsystems and upgrades will likely be far more synced as well.


Whichever option the PLAAF chooses (assuming they choose one), neither option will be ready for service before the mid to late 2020s anyway.
I can't see a land based J-XY/J-35 variant entering service before 2027-28 and that's assuming the PLAAF commits to a land based variant tomorrow. The carrier based variant will naturally still take priority and the naval variant won't be ready for production until 2025-26 most likely.
A clean sheet single engine 5th gen will likely take even longer than a land based J-XY/J-35 variant, and may only be ready 2030-2032 if the PLAAF commits to it tomorrow.


Then there's engines -- we know that both WS-15 and WS-19 are being pursued.
WS-15 is needed for J-20, and a variant of it may end up powering the first iterations of the 6th gen fighter effort
WS-19 is of course used for J-XY/J-35 for the carrier variant, and if there's a land based variant it will be fine for that as well.

However a single engine 5th gen design will inevitably need an uprated WS-15. Given WS-15s will be needed for producing quite a number of J-20s from until its production finishes (as far as the early 2030s?) and given the 6th gen fighter will likely have first dibs for WS-15 variants (2030 onwards?), I don't think using such a valuable resource for a much lower capability single engine fighter makes sense, when they have WS-19 available.


That is to say, putting it all together, assuming that it would be 2027 onwards (for a land based J-XY variant) or 2030 onwards (for a clean sheet single engine design) that a medium weight land based fighter could roll out, and assuming J-20 production continues into the early 2030s, and assuming a 6th gen effort will start production in the early 2030s, I think on balance if the PLAAF wants a medium weight 5th gen aircraft, at this stage the overwhelmingly most sensible platform would be a land based J-XY variant.



This isn't to say that single engine combat aircraft have no role -- on the contrary I think a large fleet of single engine, non AB WS-10 powered large flying wing UCAVs could very much serve in the role you describe, acting as loyal wingman, bomb and missile truck, EW, ISR, depending on how a configurable mission bay is organized, and would be large and long range enough as an unmanned flying wing to more affordably serve as an affordable, attritable, and spammable sensor and weapons platform. It would naturally be complemented by other stealthy UCAVs of other weight classes (e.g.: slightly smaller sized aircraft powered by non AB WS-13s), and LO HALE drones etc.
All of course adequately supported by a manned fleet of J-20s, and carrier and land based J-XY/J-35 variants, and 6th gen aircraft (going into the 2030s).


If the goal is to seek a more attritable, less gold plated and mass producible stealthy aircraft, IMO UCAVs are the way to go.
 
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ZeEa5KPul

Senior Member
Registered Member
Given WS-15s will be needed for producing quite a number of J-20s from until its production finishes (as far as the early 2030s?)
Why would the J-20's production end in the early 2030's? That's about a decade from now, that would be remarkably short run for a fighter. For context, the F-16 began around 1980 and is expected to end in 2025.
 

latenlazy

Colonel
Why would the J-20's production end in the early 2030's? That's about a decade from now, that would be remarkably short run for a fighter. For context, the F-16 began around 1980 and is expected to end in 2025.
They might move to 6th gen by 2030s. A lot depends on future force planning structure that could be open ended.
 

ZeEa5KPul

Senior Member
Registered Member
They might move to 6th gen by 2030s. A lot depends on future force planning structure that could be open ended.
Yeah, but 4th gens are still in production concurrently with 5th gens, there's no reason to believe 5th gens wouldn't still be produced in overlap with 6th gens.
 

Bltizo

Lieutenant General
Staff member
Super Moderator
Registered Member
Yeah, but 4th gens are still in production concurrently with 5th gens, there's no reason to believe 5th gens wouldn't still be produced in overlap with 6th gens.

J-XY (carrier and potential land based variant) will likely still be in production going into the mid 2030s at minimum.

I can see J-20 production continuing into the early 2030s, but assuming CAC starts producing their first 6th gen efforts around 2030 I could see J-20 production being stopped in favour of 6th gen.

Continued production of 4th gen aircraft is as much a reflection of delays and costs of 5th gen aircraft than anything.
Whether the same will hold true in the exact same way for the 5th gen and 6th gen relationship is another matter.

I wouldn't get too caught up in the details.
 

gelgoog

Captain
Registered Member
I think a twin engine stealth fighter as a replacement for the J-10 would just be too expensive to produce in enough numbers.
The cost to develop a new airframe wouldn't be that high. They will already have most of the components available.

China needs an aircraft which will be cost effective against the JSF.
 

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