J-20 vs F-22: how China's Chengdu J-20 'Powerful Dragon' compares with US' Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor
China’s most advanced jet is one of the few fifth-generation fighters in active service. Here’s how it compares to its closest US counterpart
China’s new J-20, officially named Weilong or powerful dragon, is one of the world’s most advanced fighter jets and the country’s answer to the American F-22 Raptor.
In mid July the PLA Airforce released a video of a nighttime training exercise involving the stealth fighter as a demonstration of its combat readiness.
The Chinese warplane was developed by the Chengdu Aerospace corporation, which began testing them in 2011 before the first planes entered service in March 2017.
So far a few dozen J-20s have been produced for the PLA although the manufacturer is continuing to build more.
The F-22 Raptor was developed by Lockheed Martin for the exclusive use of the US Air Force. Exports even to America’s closest allies are banned to protect its stealth technology.
Its maiden flight was in September 1997 and it entered service in December 2005. In 2011 production was terminated because of the high costs involved and lack – at the time – of any aircraft that could challenge its dominance.
America is planning to upgrade the fighter in future but for now it remains, along with the Weilong, one of the most advanced fifth generation fighters in the world.
Both single-seat fighters have stealth capabilities, which means they are designed to avoid detection by radar. Here is how the two compare.
The J-20 and F-22 are a similar size. The J-20 is 20.3 metres (66.6ft) long and has a 12.9 metre wingspan compared with the F-22’s 19m length and 13.6m wingspan.
Made of advance alloy materials, they also have similar empty weight of around 19,000kg.
The J-20’s loaded weight is slightly heavier, of around 32,000kg compared with the F-22’s 29,000kg, however the American fighter can take off with a maximum weight of 38,000kg, 2,000kg more than the J-20.
Both planes have a ceiling of 20km and a maximum speed of over Mach 2 (2,470km per hour) – faster than the speed of sound. The F-22 has a comparatively shorter range – with a combat radius of 800km, while the J-20’s large internal fuel tank can sustain a longer combat radius of 1,100km.
The F-22 is powered by afterburning turbofan F119-PW-100 engines, which enable it to super cruise at a speed of Mach 1.82. The engines have vectoring nozzles which enable it to perform agile manoeuvres event at supersonic speeds.
However, the engine is the J-20’s weakest link. Plans for China to develop its own advanced turbofan engines fell behind schedule. This meant the manufacturers had to rely on inferior engines – either the Chinese WS-10B or Russian-made AL-31FM2/3 – which severely affects its manoeuvrability and stealth capacity at supersonic speeds.
However, the new WS-15 engine, which is expected to be available next year, will go a long way to addressing this problem.
The J-20’s frontal and side stealth capacities are believed to be excellent. But it is thought to be more vulnerable to radar from the rear compared with the F-22.
To maintain stealth, both fighters carry their weapons in internal bays. The J-20 can carry up to six air-to-air missiles, fewer than the F-22. But thanks to larger space in each bay, the J-20 can carry longer range missiles and the LS-6 precision-guided bomb.
So far it has not been confirmed to have any guns, although some analysts believe it would be able to carry extended guns.
The F-22 can hold up to eight short or medium-range air-to-air or air-to-ground missiles. It also has an M61 Vulcan gun in addition to four under-wing drop tank points, which allow it to carry extra fuel or missile launchers.
Both aircraft possess highly integrated avionics and sensor equipment, featuring a low-observable, active electronically scanned array (AESA) that can track multiple targets in any weather.
It was reported by Shenzhen TV that the J-20’s Type AESA radar system is “totally similar” to the F-22’s AN/APG-77 system.
The F-22 production was axed because of its high cost – US$62 billion for the whole project, which equates to US$339 million per aircraft.
The J-20’s research and development cost was estimated to be more than 30 billion yuan (US$4.4 billion), with a cost per aircraft of US$100-110 million.