China ‘on track’ to develop 6th generation fighter jets; The United States must deploy its NGAD before the PLAAF

There are rumors that China may be working on a sixth-generation aircraft program, much like its western counterpart. As the rivalry between the two sides intensifies, the upper echelons of the US military begin to raise the bar.

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The head of the US Air Combat Command (ACC), General Mark Kelly, said the US Air Force must ensure that it the fields its next-generation fighter for the first time since China is “on track” to produce a sixth-generation fighter.

Last week, he spoke at the Air and Space Force Association’s Air, Space and Cybersecurity Conference, noting, “I can’t tell you today what’s going on in China, except they are planning their 20th National Party Congress. [in October]. But I can tell you what’s not happening. They don’t have a debate about the relevance of six-generation aerial dominance. And I can also tell you that they are on the right track.

The comments come as the US pursues the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program in earnest. At the heart of the NGAD is a sixth-generation stealth fighter aircraft with advanced and never-before-seen capabilities.

The Air Force must “ensure that we achieve six-generation air dominance at least one month ahead of our competitors,” Kelly said. This is indicative of concerns among senior USAF brass about an unknown sixth-generation Chinese program, nothing of which is in the public domain.

File Image: NGAD Concept

China is actively working on its second fifth-generation combat aircraft, the Gyrfalcon FC-31a fifth-generation twin-engine aircraft currently at the prototype stage.

China has been even more tight-lipped about its initiatives than most countries, including the United States, which has shared little information about its sixth-generation fighter program.

The American NGAD was described as a system of systems, meaning that the aircraft flown would be associated with or supported by numerous auxiliary and auxiliary aircraft. We know it will be compatible with emerging technologies, which can be integrated over time without disrupting the aircraft’s primary flight system.

What to expect from next-gen fighters?

According to Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, the U.S. Air Force is currently on track to deploy its Next Generation Air Dominance family of systems by the end of the decade, becoming the premier user of sixth-grade fighters. generation. In 2020, the service successfully tested a manned NGAD prototype.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. said there could be two versions of NGAD, one with long-range missions for the Indo-Pacific (for operations in China) and the other with shorter ranges between potential combat zones in Europe. The US Navy and Air Force each have their own NGAD programs.

Kelly said during the roundtable that the Chinese idea of ​​a sixth-generation fighter seemed to be similar to the American idea.

According to him, in general, the Chinese see things the same way as the United States in terms of exponentially reducing the signature and exponentially accelerating the processing power and meaning, as well as the ability to iterate in terms of open mission systems, to be able to reprogram at the speed of relevance essentially.

Chengdu Aerospace Corporation’s chief designer Wang Haifeng claimed in a 2019 interview that China is conducting preliminary research on a next-generation fighter to have a new capability ready to “protect the sea and the sky.” by 2035.

Although Wang did not elaborate on China’s design, he did mention several features he said would distinguish American fighter capability in the future, including the ability to work with drones, the use artificial intelligence, advances in stealth and omnidirectional sensors.

He added that the designs could use “less certain” disruptive technologies like drone swarms, lasers and adaptive engines.

On the issue of a sixth-generation fighter, a military expert told the world times, “The Chinese tradition is to have a generation in service, a new one in development and a next generation in study. Now that the J-20 is already in service, the development of a new aircraft is also underway.

d-20
File Image: J-20

While the United States’ recognition of China’s sixth-generation fighter capability is significant, it has often accused Beijing of building a fifth-generation fighter by stealing American military technology. Against this backdrop, military experts take China’s ability to build a next-generation fighter jet with a pinch of salt.

Military expert and senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), Abhijit Iyer Mitra, told EurAsian Times: “The Chinese still haven’t embraced fifth-generation technology in the sense of own. We don’t even know what components would make up a sixth-generation fighter jet. When the United States defines them, China will only catch up. They will claim they have all of these capabilities without first defining what constitutes a next-generation aircraft.

EurAsian Times previously reported that the NGAD fighter jet is depicted as having a triangular shape and no vertical tail in the artist’s rendering. The NGAD program will have a fighter jet with improved speed, maneuverability, stealth technology and AI-assisted data processing.

File Image: The US Air Force’s research lab has released a sixth-generation NGAD aircraft concept

The NGAD is also being developed to perform unmanned missions and participate in manned autonomous teams, in which human pilots collaborate with drones and unmanned platforms like Loyal Wingman aircraft. One would expect China’s sixth-generation fighter jet to adopt those same characteristics largely defined by the USAF.

According to Philippine-based military analyst Miguel Miranda, “China has a new carrier-based twin-engine fighter in development called the J-35 that improves on the previous J-31, which was offered for export as FC-31.

However, I see no evidence of a different multirole fighter in the works, other than vague comments about Chinese aerospace R&D. The J-20 is here to stay. Many of its upcoming features are already known: Teaming up with combat drones similar to Boeing’s “Loyal Wingman” program,

New attack capabilities are enabled by real-time interactive data fed to the pilot’s interface, external changes to his airframe and cockpit (note the two-seater variant tested), and 100% Chinese-made engines.

No matter how successful the development, testing and production of the NGAD, it cannot diminish the reality of China’s air power in all its aspects – combat, logistics, precision strike from a distance.

According to General Kelly of the American ACC, China often gradually transforms one fighter variant into another, as it did with the J-16, a locally manufactured aircraft modeled on the Su-27 and Su-30 Russians. The design of American aircraft, on the other hand, is distinguished by significant increases in capacity.

“As a nation, we tend to let go of the trapeze and jump to the next rung. Our Chinese enemies tend to iterate,” he said, adding, “It makes it easier for them to grab the echelon when they step out of the field.

Vijainder Thakur (Retired), a former Jaguar pilot and veteran Indian Air Force Squadron Leader, told EurAsian Times: “Perhaps it is easier to speculate on 6th Gen capabilities than the Chinese fighter will not feature.

China lags behind the West in aircraft engines. So we can safely say that the Chinese sixth-generation fighter will not have capabilities that require a powerful and efficient engine. These features include exceptional range and improved electrical power generation capability.

“The United States would rule powerful directed energy weapons. Based on China’s advances in avionics, its sixth-generation fighter is likely to feature drone control, multi-spectral radar and optics, optional manpower and a unified electronic warfare system. The fighter would also likely feature wideband infrared and RF stealth missiles and longer range air-to-air missiles.

While ambitious, China’s ability to launch a 6th generation aircraft by the mid-2030s is likely to be less than what the UK or US might have by then. Beijing will likely continue to catch up as it makes its most significant progress.

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