A photo from a Chinese aerospace exhibit, posted on an Internet forum, provides the first new evidence in more than six months regarding the role and capabilities of China’s first stealth fighter prototype.
The photo depicts the underside of a scale model of the Chengdu J-20, showing the angular fighter’s three weapons bays open and eight air-to-air missiles mounted inside. The missile loud-out includes one short-range infrared-guided missile in each of two small side bays, plus six medium-range missiles packed into the single, large, belly bay.
Since shortly after the J-20 made its public debut on Christmas Day, the consensus among Western observers has been that the new fighter is optimized for air-to-ground attacks against heavily defended targets. That belief stems from the J-20’s apparent large size: up to 70 feet long and 40 tons fully loaded, compared to 62 feet and 32 tons for the US F-22 stealth fighter. The J-20’s basic dimensions most closely match the F-111 bomber retired from service in the late 1990s.
Beijing’s emphasis on pre-emptive military doctrine seemed to support the J-20-as-bomber theory. Many of China’s most impressive weapons developments in recent years, including the long-range ballistic missiles of the Second Artillery Corps plus surveillance satellites, have been driven by the People’s Liberation Army’s “Joint Anti-Air Raid Campaign” doctrine.