Is China Developing a VSTOL Fighter?
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI - China may have test-flown the J-18 Red Eagle vertical short takeoff and landing (VSTOL) fighter earlier this month, if chatter on Chinese-language military blogs is accurate.
China's defense industry is largely opaque and it is difficult to substantiate Internet chatter. However, Chinese-language military blogs reported the first test flight of the stealthy J-20 Black Eagle fighter in January, much to the surprise of the Western media.
Now there are reports emerging of a test flight of the J-18. Tests were supposedly conducted earlier this month and the fighter is similar to the Sukhoi Su-33 carrier-based fighter.
"In 2005, a Chinese aviation industry source told me the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation was considering a F-35B-like program," said Richard Fisher, vice president of the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center. "Given the PLA's naval power projection ambitions, it is probable there is VSTOL or STOVL [short takeoff and vertical landing] fighter program."
There are "many alleged programs in the Chinese blogosphere," Fisher said.
These include a J-16 built by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC), which is a stealthier dedicated attack version of the J-11B (Su-27) multirole fighter with active electronically scanned array radar and an internal weapons bay, which will "reportedly emerge this summer," he said.
China is expected to begin sea trials for its first aircraft carrier this summer. Analysts believe the J-15 Flying Shark, a copy of the Sukhoi Su-33, will be China's first carrier-based fighter. SAC procured an earlier prototype of the Su-33 from the Ukraine in 2001 and the J-15 reportedly conducted its first test flight in mid-2009.
There has also been questionable Chinese-language military blogs providing sketchy reporting on J-17 and J-19 fighter programs. Reportedly, the J-17 is long-range fighter-bomber based on the Russian Sukhoi Su-34 and the J-19 is a heavy multirole fighter based on the J-11B.