J-20 5th Gen Fighter Thread VI


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Inst

Senior Member
There's an ancient post citing CCTV stating that the J-20 costs around 110 million to produce (from around 2017 / 2018). Unfortunately, the post is impossible to find, the picture was discussed on Sinodefenceforum and usual nationalistic posters claimed that it was "just LRIP costs!!111".

Put another way, consider that the J-20's mass is roughly comparable to that of the F-22, and that it's likely to include metamaterials (advanced composites) in which China is still catching up. And the cost for the J-10, compared to the F-16A, is roughly the same, when using the same generation of radar and engines. In other words, China has no cost advantage in advanced airframes because labor is less important as a cost factor than capital goods (large-scale 3D printer for titanium, for instance) and materials.
 
There's an ancient post citing CCTV stating that the J-20 costs around 110 million to produce (from around 2017 / 2018). Unfortunately, the post is impossible to find, the picture was discussed on Sinodefenceforum and usual nationalistic posters claimed that it was "just LRIP costs!!111".
So the "usual nationalistic posters" bizarrely said that the given cost of an aircraft currently in LRIP is the LRIP cost but you're more level-headed than them so you think that a purported $110M price tag revealed during LRIP translates to a $117M price tag for full swing production?
Put another way, consider that the J-20's mass is roughly comparable to that of the F-22, and that it's likely to include metamaterials (advanced composites) in which China is still catching up. And the cost for the J-10, compared to the F-16A, is roughly the same, when using the same generation of radar and engines. In other words, China has no cost advantage in advanced airframes because labor is less important as a cost factor than capital goods (large-scale 3D printer for titanium, for instance) and materials.
Yeah, I don't think so. We don't ascertain aircraft costs based on the (unknown) mass. We're not price-guesstimating shipments of cabbages...
 
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Inst

Senior Member
I think the 110 million price is reasonable (it's not said whether it's LRIP or final production cost) given that the J-20 is a heavywegiht fighter that doesn't cut corners like the Su-57. The J-20 has, or eventually will, receive a metamaterial stealth coating that will likely be expensive as it's a type of composite (and China is technologically backwards in composites, it's the Americans and Japanese who run the show).

The other three factors are:

-Stated known Chinese unit prices, for comparable capability, is about the same as it is globally. You have to remember that Chinese defense manufacturers are state-run, unlike privately-run firms like Lockheeed Martin. Within the Chinese defense establishment, they are well-aware that private sector firms can do their job more cheaply, but the trust issue comes up. For instance, would a privately-run firm decide to gauge on quality? Or would a privately-run firm decided to do a Lockheed Martin impression and instigate cost overruns in order to increase profits?

-Initially, it was claimed that the F-35 was not cheaper than the F-22, despite the mass difference, and this was during the era wherein the F-35 program was heavily lambasted by media (when, in general, the F-35's cost during that period was comparable to that of European 4th gens, for instance, the Eurofighter ran 100 million and had a similar weight). In reality, the F-35A's price has come down to about 80 million, which is still 33% higher than the originally targeted 60 million, but on track once inflation is considered.

-The mass, at the end of the day, matters. If we compare apples to apples (within the same defense establishment), would you end up claiming that the J-20 would be cheaper than the J-31? No, you wouldn't, but you inject factors like China's low labor prices (cancelled out by capital-intensive and high-tech goods, as well as SOE inefficiency) to try to weasel out and get the J-20 to be of the same price as the F-35 or cheaper, something far harder given that the F-35 has seen massive cost reductions since its first LRIP days.

Ultimately, the final proof comes in two stages. One, once the J-20 reaches full-scale production phases, what are official sources going to leak about the unit costs? That gives us decisive information as to whether the J-20 is buildable for less than the F-35 or at comparable costs (hint: labor costs are RISING in China as the labor pool is shrinking due to an aging population!). Second, if we don't have that, how many J-20s go into the air? If the J-20 is in fact as cheap as your side is claiming, the final unit numbers aren't going to be 400-600 as rumored production figures claim. It's going to be closer to 1200 units, since that's what the US will be fielding in F-35s in the East Asia region.
 

Gatekeeper

Captain
Registered Member
Gentleman, I can't resist any more, and must inform both of you that it is pointless discussing about cost per unit, when we don't even know the planned production rate and acquisition number!

As an accountant, I can tell you the research and development cost and production rate have a big effect on the unit price!

Which is why, the soviets was having such difficult time in competing with western nations. Their production rate was too low for military and commercial airlines alike to decrease their unit price to a competitive level.

And this is one of the reason why Trump and western nations are afraid of China industrial muscle. China's unit price can/is lower than the western nations combined simply because of size of the home market alone!
 

Gatekeeper

Captain
Registered Member
I think the 110 million price is reasonable (it's not said whether it's LRIP or final production cost) given that the J-20 is a heavywegiht fighter that doesn't cut corners like the Su-57. The J-20 has, or eventually will, receive a metamaterial stealth coating that will likely be expensive as it's a type of composite (and China is technologically backwards in composites, it's the Americans and Japanese who run the show).

The other three factors are:

-Stated known Chinese unit prices, for comparable capability, is about the same as it is globally. You have to remember that Chinese defense manufacturers are state-run, unlike privately-run firms like Lockheeed Martin. Within the Chinese defense establishment, they are well-aware that private sector firms can do their job more cheaply, but the trust issue comes up. For instance, would a privately-run firm decide to gauge on quality? Or would a privately-run firm decided to do a Lockheed Martin impression and instigate cost overruns in order to increase profits?

-Initially, it was claimed that the F-35 was not cheaper than the F-22, despite the mass difference, and this was during the era wherein the F-35 program was heavily lambasted by media (when, in general, the F-35's cost during that period was comparable to that of European 4th gens, for instance, the Eurofighter ran 100 million and had a similar weight). In reality, the F-35A's price has come down to about 80 million, which is still 33% higher than the originally targeted 60 million, but on track once inflation is considered.

-The mass, at the end of the day, matters. If we compare apples to apples (within the same defense establishment), would you end up claiming that the J-20 would be cheaper than the J-31? No, you wouldn't, but you inject factors like China's low labor prices (cancelled out by capital-intensive and high-tech goods, as well as SOE inefficiency) to try to weasel out and get the J-20 to be of the same price as the F-35 or cheaper, something far harder given that the F-35 has seen massive cost reductions since its first LRIP days.

Ultimately, the final proof comes in two stages. One, once the J-20 reaches full-scale production phases, what are official sources going to leak about the unit costs? That gives us decisive information as to whether the J-20 is buildable for less than the F-35 or at comparable costs (hint: labor costs are RISING in China as the labor pool is shrinking due to an aging population!). Second, if we don't have that, how many J-20s go into the air? If the J-20 is in fact as cheap as your side is claiming, the final unit numbers aren't going to be 400-600 as rumored production figures claim. It's going to be closer to 1200 units, since that's what the US will be fielding in F-35s in the East Asia region.

What a lot of waffle without any ideal how costing works! Gee!
 

Inst

Senior Member
Gentleman, I can't resist any more, and must inform both of you that it is pointless discussing about cost per unit, when we don't even know the planned production rate and acquisition number!

As an accountant, I can tell you the research and development cost and production rate have a big effect on the unit price!

Which is why, the soviets was having such difficult time in competing with western nations. Their production rate was too low for military and commercial airlines alike to decrease their unit price to a competitive level.

And this is one of the reason why Trump and western nations are afraid of China industrial muscle. China's unit price can/is lower than the western nations combined simply because of size of the home market alone!
The rumored production rate is about 48 / year. In fact, the main problem with J-20 production is that the mass production variant hasn't been finalized (or was only recently finalized), so it doesn't make sense to assume that there's 200 J-20s in the air. The J-20 only recently hit frontline duty, so we should assume that actually hitting mass production rates has either already begun or will start soon.

The rumored acquisition count is 400-600 units.

So we do have the numbers.

I'll also point out that the Soviets had (and I'll dig out the source) a comparative advantage in terms of production costs:

Second, to defend the truth the Soviet government would have to disclose far more than was originally intended: "One would have to go into the differences in labor and material costs in the USSR compared with abroad and the social channels of redistribution of part of the income in the USSR, and compare the purchasing power of the ruble and dollar."

Third, full disclosure would complicate the market position of the Soviet Union in the global arms trade. Currently, Akhromeev pointed out, Soviet exporters "work at world prices and get a good profit." Informing buyers honestly about the "low production cost" of Soviet military equipment, Akhromeev argued, would undermine the prices they could command.
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I think the 110 million price is reasonable (it's not said whether it's LRIP or final production cost) given that the J-20 is a heavywegiht fighter that doesn't cut corners like the Su-57. The J-20 has, or eventually will, receive a metamaterial stealth coating that will likely be expensive as it's a type of composite (and China is technologically backwards in composites, it's the Americans and Japanese who run the show).

The other three factors are:

-Stated known Chinese unit prices, for comparable capability, is about the same as it is globally. You have to remember that Chinese defense manufacturers are state-run, unlike privately-run firms like Lockheeed Martin. Within the Chinese defense establishment, they are well-aware that private sector firms can do their job more cheaply, but the trust issue comes up. For instance, would a privately-run firm decide to gauge on quality? Or would a privately-run firm decided to do a Lockheed Martin impression and instigate cost overruns in order to increase profits?

-Initially, it was claimed that the F-35 was not cheaper than the F-22, despite the mass difference, and this was during the era wherein the F-35 program was heavily lambasted by media (when, in general, the F-35's cost during that period was comparable to that of European 4th gens, for instance, the Eurofighter ran 100 million and had a similar weight). In reality, the F-35A's price has come down to about 80 million, which is still 33% higher than the originally targeted 60 million, but on track once inflation is considered.

-The mass, at the end of the day, matters. If we compare apples to apples (within the same defense establishment), would you end up claiming that the J-20 would be cheaper than the J-31? No, you wouldn't, but you inject factors like China's low labor prices (cancelled out by capital-intensive and high-tech goods, as well as SOE inefficiency) to try to weasel out and get the J-20 to be of the same price as the F-35 or cheaper, something far harder given that the F-35 has seen massive cost reductions since its first LRIP days.

Ultimately, the final proof comes in two stages. One, once the J-20 reaches full-scale production phases, what are official sources going to leak about the unit costs? That gives us decisive information as to whether the J-20 is buildable for less than the F-35 or at comparable costs (hint: labor costs are RISING in China as the labor pool is shrinking due to an aging population!). Second, if we don't have that, how many J-20s go into the air? If the J-20 is in fact as cheap as your side is claiming, the final unit numbers aren't going to be 400-600 as rumored production figures claim. It's going to be closer to 1200 units, since that's what the US will be fielding in F-35s in the East Asia region.
What you think is reasonable has nothing to do with what the cost might be. Nobody's here for your personal guesstimate on a machine you have no classified information on. The facts are that there was a media report that that cost is $110M during LRIP, which is the LRIP cost. (I'd like to see the report in order to determine how reliable it might be but it seems you can't find it.) Denying that is the weaseling. I've never weaseled at anything here, claiming A is cheaper than B or vice versa when I don't have any idea what a J-20 costs. Just like on the weight of the J-20, "my side" wants to see official claims and sources (or reliable leaks, semi-official evidence, etc...), not your amateur waste-of-time pencil and paper calculations and guesses.
 

Inst

Senior Member
What you think is reasonable has nothing to do with what the cost might be. Nobody's here for your personal guesstimate on a machine you have no classified information on. The facts are that there was a media report that that cost is $110M during LRIP, which is the LRIP cost. (I'd like to see the report in order to determine how reliable it might be but it seems you can't find it.) Denying that is the weaseling. I've never weaseled at anything here, claiming A is cheaper than B or vice versa when I don't have any idea what a J-20 costs. Just like on the weight of the J-20, "my side" wants to see official claims and sources, not your amateur waste-of-time pencil and paper calculations and guesses.
See, that's the problem. The report never said whether it was LRIP or target costs. And the original claim was on Chinese TV (news reportage), so while it's possible for me to do exhaustive digging (the report was posted onto SDF), I'd prefer not to.

As far as Gatekeeper goes, the F-35 has a 85% experience curve. Applying it to the F-22 (as a reference point), the F-22 would have dropped down to about 130 million per unit in 2020 dollars had the production lines been kept online and running. If it had reached 400 units, it'd have been about 150 million. A 110 million cost for a J-20 at 400 units actually ALREADY incorporates your price reductions compared to the F-22 in FY2020 dollars; i.e, to get to like 80 million for the F-35 on a heavyweight fighter, the J-20 would be essentially espousing a 50% cost savings relative to a 400 unit F-22. A ZTZ-99 is around 2.5 million a piece, an Abrams is about 4.3 million a piece, or 40% cheaper, but the ZTZ-99 incorporates cheaper ERA and alumina composite armor compared to the boron carbide armor on the Abrams. And that's ground forces, not aviation forces.

A different argument you could make would be JF-17 Block III (purportedly 32 million unit costs) vs Gripen E/F, but the thing is, Gripen and European aircraft in general tend to be twice as expensive as American and Russian equipment. See the Eurofighter, for isntance, which is a middleweight fighter that costs more than the Su-35S (100 million procurement cost vs 50 million procurement cost).
 

Inst

Senior Member
Basically, what kind of figures do you want? 80 million? 30-40 million? There's people who've floated the latter figure.

When you look at the J-20, the first thing you notice is that it's heavyweight. Roughly 20.4 x 12.9, comparable in size (but not mass) to an F-15 Eagle and slightly smaller than a Flanker, J-11 or Su-27.

Going heavyweight is a choice. A heavyweight fighter, with all other factors being equal, is going to cost more than a middleweight or a light fighter. And fighters aren't like tanks, wherein the heavier your tank, the more survivable your tank is. It only takes a single missile to knock down a F-15, just as much as it takes only a single missile to knock down a F-16.

So when you go heavyweight, you take on drawbacks of cost, but to go heavyweight you also want advantages that justify this cost.

As I've said before, traditionally, a heavyweight fighter, in order to pay for itself, had to achieve good kill-loss ratios versus light and middle-weight fighters. This comes in via the BVR advantages of the heavyweight fighter.compared to the lightweight fighter, although in the 5th generation, differences in IR emissivity can cancel out this factor.

But this is crucial when you look at the J-20. If the J-20 is equal to the F-35 in terms of cost, it becomes viable for the J-20 to counter the F-35 simply by massing the aircraft. A 1:1 kill-loss exchange rate doesn't matter, because eventually the opponent runs out of fighters, or both sides run out of aircraft.

However, if the J-20 is more expensive than the F-35 in terms of cost, it becomes imperative that the J-20 has a qualitative edge over the F-35. There are various dimensions where this is true; i.e, the J-20 will eventually have significantly better dogfighting ability than the F-35 (increased thrust, TVC, canards), and its larger radar and potentially larger IRST system gives it an edge in BVR over the F-35.

In other words, it is DESIRABLE for the J-20 to be more expensive than the F-35. Remember the old design of the J-31? That one incorporated only an EOIRST, and ditched the EODAS to achieve cost savings. If the J-20 is stuck, irredeemably, as more expensive than the F-35, the corner cutting business is NOT a valid strategy for competition. Leave that to the Russians with their Su-57, where the stealth is questionable (i.e, intended to break radar locks by missiles but not to get a detection advantage).

110 million as a target price for the J-20 is actually a very excellent price at this rate. It's 38% more expensive than the current F-35, meaning that it's not wildly more expensive, but neither is it cheap enough to push it into a plane spam category ("I'm going to fly 3,000 J-20s and outnumber your F-35s!).

===

I think there's one other way you might consider looking at it.

The F-22 is a joke. It's no longer in production, it's somewhat antiquated (jammed by F-35s), it won't have an IRST until later updates, and is basically orphaned by the USAF. The USAF's strategy is going to be spamming F-35s until the PCA / NGAD enters service.

Now, according to American nationalists, the F-35 can beat the J-20, hands down, because of things like sensor fusion, stealth, etc, and all this stuff the Chinese, according to them, can't figure out.

Their assumption is basically that the Chinese will go to a mass strategy, i.e, get the J-20 cheap and down closer to the cost of an F-16 or F-15, and that the only way the J-20 can win is via numbers.

But that's the shocking thing about the J-20, isn't it? It's a heavyweight fighter. Heavyweights, as I've stated above, are meant to dominate lightweights and middleweights. The Americans can retort that it's a paper plane, and there's this post on the forum stating that the J-20 is more likely to cost $40,000 because it's a paper plane. But if it's $110 million, the strategy is now obvious, that the J-20 is intended to dominate the F-35 just like a heavyweight is supposed to dominate a middleweight or lightweight factor.

Don't play into stereotypes of the Chinese relying on numbers only. The CCTV claim is reasonable and credible because, first, CCTV is unlikely to go into detail about what LRIP is and how LRIP means the J-20's going to be ultra cheap once it hits mass production. Second, by giving a high figure of 110 million, it states that the J-20 was more expensive than the F-35 LRIP in FY2017 (vs 90 million).
 
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ZeEa5KPul

Junior Member
Registered Member
Gentleman, I can't resist any more, and must inform both of you that it is pointless discussing about cost per unit, when we don't even know the planned production rate and acquisition number!

As an accountant, I can tell you the research and development cost and production rate have a big effect on the unit price!

Which is why, the soviets was having such difficult time in competing with western nations. Their production rate was too low for military and commercial airlines alike to decrease their unit price to a competitive level.

And this is one of the reason why Trump and western nations are afraid of China industrial muscle. China's unit price can/is lower than the western nations combined simply because of size of the home market alone!
It's the classic SDF circlejerk - a "fact" of unknown origin and highly dubious veracity gets beaten to death, resurrected, then beaten to death again for 10 pages. The J-20 unit cost is actually $25 million. How do I know this? Exactly the same way some here know that the price is $110 million. Let's discuss for 10 pages.
 
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