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  • New J-20, Soaring Dragon Images
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 5:20 PM on Oct 03, 2011

    Via the invaluable Secret Projects board, some new images from China. First, the Chengdu J-20.

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    These pictures don't change the basic understanding of the aircraft. There has been a lot of debate about its size, but much of it hinges on comparisons of overall length with the F-22, which misses a crucial point:  The F-22's overall length includes its tailbooms and horizontal stabilizers, which extend far beyond the exhausts. Where it counts, from nose to nozzles, the J-20 is substantially longer.

    However, the more I see of the aircraft the more I am convinced that dismissing it as a pure X-plane is misguided. It's not the question of the fit and finish, but of the design details. There are symmetrical, tidy and stealth-contoured apertures on the sides of the forward fuselage, just behind the radome. The main landing gears don't come from any other aircraft (as is pretty common with X-planes). And, above all, if you were building an X-plane, what's the value in putting working side weapon bays on both sides?

    Also new are a photo and video of the Chengdu Soaring Dragon UAV, this time on its wheels and apparently being prepared for flight test.

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    The video gives an idea of scale because there are people in the shot, particularly around the 1:30 mark.

    Given the state of China's known UAV technology up to now, this is an ambitious project -- a radical aerodynamic/structural concept, a hint of stealth technology and satcoms. Large UAVs have other basic challenges: one of them is that reliability and system integrity become more important (because you don't want to lose vehicles) at the same time as the vehicle gets more complicated and hence more prone to failures. And systems redundancy is only part of the answer on a UAV: it needs vehicle management and flight control systems that can detect the fault and take corrective action.

    That in turn suggests that the Soaring Dragon has an important mission -- and consider that for geographical, doctrinal and strategic reasons, China doesn't need a Global Hawk. My bet is still on maritime reconnaissance and targeting, not only for anti-ship ballistic missiles but in support of ship-launched cruise missiles, from platforms such as the Type 022 missile boat.

    Tags: ar99, china, J-20, UAV, unmanned, tacair

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