Like the US forces’ F-35 fighter jet, China’s Chengdu J-20 loses some of its stealth capability when it carries a load of larger weapons — this is jokingly called “beast mode.”
Recently, the J-20 has been spotted equipped with pylon adapters under its wings, indicating a new range in combat capability, The Global Times reported.
A J-20 prototype taking a test flight had two external pylon adapters, one under each side of its wings, and could carry a total of four extra missiles, Shanghai-based news website eastday.com reported, citing a recent photo widely circulated on Chinese social media.
Judging by a performance flight at Airshow China 2018, a single J-20 can carry at least four PL-15 missiles in its main weapon bay and two PL-10 short-range combat missiles in its side weapon bays, when not using external adapters, The Global Times reported.
Usually, stealth aircraft hide their weapons in bays to keep a low radar profile, making them difficult to be detected, and using external pylons to carry weapons will make them less stealthy but more powerful, a Chinese military expert who asked for anonymity told the Global Times on Wednesday.
The warplanes can choose different types of loadouts according to different mission requirements, the expert said.
This is similar to the US’ F-35 fighter jet, which has a “stealth mode” that can only carry a small amount of internal ordnance and a “beast mode” that can carry a lot more internal and external ordnance, the eastday.com report said.
Stealth aircraft can use “stealth mode” to seize aerial superiority, and once the sky is clear and safe, they can ditch stealth and switch to “beast mode” by carrying more munitions via external adapters and launch extended attacks, the report said.
The photo indicates that the J-20 could enter a “beast mode” like the F-35 when engaged in low-risk and low-threat missions, eastday.com reported, noting that the J-20 could also carry external fuel tanks for extended range.
According to China Power, the J-20 is believed to be equipped with subsystems and field signature reduction technology that collectively meet the internationally-accepted classification of a “fifth-generation” aircraft.
This refers to military aircraft featuring the general requirements of stealth technology, supersonic cruising speed, and highly integrated avionics.
The J-20 is the first Chinese aircraft to fit this description, and it may serve as a critical asset for both the air force and the navy, China Power reported.
As these branches have different areas of responsibility, how the J-20 is ultimately utilized is likely to vary.
In broad terms, the PLAAF is China’s mainstay for air operations and is responsible for homeland air defense, while Naval Aviation is tasked with fleet air defense and defending the territorial waters and coastline of China.