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Monday, September 17, 2012

China's Second Stealth Fighter?

As you may know, images of the suspected J-21 are going viral across the internet. Its too early to know if its real or not but I intend to keep a close eye on any developments. I planned to release my assessment of the J-21 early this week but due to new information I will withhold publishing the article with the hope of obtaining more information.

Much of what is publicly available is merely hearsay at this point. And very few actual clear photos exist of the alleged J-21 (or J-31) at this point. The aircraft depicted below has many similarities to both the F-35 and F-22. The second photo looks remarkably like an F-35. From the rear, the aircraft resembles the Raptor but lacks thrust vectoring engine nozzles.

Artistic CGI rendition of the J-21 done by Gaoshan retrieved via Chinese Military review: 

NOTE: Although Chinese Military Review has good pictures, they are not a trusted source. The website's author's are heavily biased in favor of China. 


More information:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters III: Emerging Threats (announcement)

Due to the popularity of the Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters series and by viewer request, I am now working on Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters III: Emerging Threats. The focus will be on upcoming foreign stealth fighter designs that have yet to be built but are underdevelopment. I plan to post the article sometime next week if things work out.

A few points must be made however regarding the topic before I post the actual article. One, the number of speculative and plain false stealth fighters (especially of Chinese origin) is staggering. Manipulated images posted often on web forums account for many of the rumored stealth aircraft. For example, the second image claims to depict a low observable variant of the JF-17 Thunder. I will only assess stealth aircraft that likely to exist or are well known and are likely fake. The usual sources I use have little information on the upcoming jets. New sources found with preliminary research are in the language of the native country of the rumored stealth jet. I can read a tiny bit of Chinese but highly technical concepts are way beyond my abilities. I do not know Russian at all nor do I know Japanese etc. (I do know a bit of German though :D ) If the source seems legitimate I might opt to use a translated copy of the source but I'm always wary of this method as I am unable to verify the authenticity of the translation. I'll mark translated sources in the reference section incase anyone wants to provide a better insight or notify me of any issues. So bear with me.

The rest of the post is just about the fake JF-17 and a little about faked/manipulated aircraft images in general.

Image 1: Real JF-17 Thunder. This is likely the original image unmanipulated image.

Image 2: Manipulated image depicting fake low observable JF-17. Do not let the changed air intakes, candid tails, and different placement of personnel fool you, this is indeed a fake. Also note the same ID number used for both aircraft, 116. An acquaintance of mine can manipulate images in a similar manner given the right software and enough time.

Faked images such as the one above range in quality from poor to nearly undetectable to the untrained eye. Google was able to pair the unaltered original image with the manipulated image merely by searching for similar images. This is done by dragging your mouse over the over the manipulated image (in search image selection) and look for the search for similar option near the more sizes.

This is not a foolproof technique but its fairly quick and easy to do and is worthwhile if you suspect the image is a fake. Occasionally you will get lucky. This method does not work for computer generated models of fake aircraft, drawings, etc as there is no original unaltered image in those types of fabrications.

A trademark sign of a faked aircraft is the design is not wholly consistent across many images as different digital artists created the images with their own unique renditions and design features. Many times the individuals manipulating the images are not familiar with basic aircraft design techniques let alone know how low observable features work. The image below is clearly a fake and incorporates many design differences from the rendition of the low observable JF-17 shown above. This image is essentially a F-35 with a the Pakistani flag taped on the tail.

If all else fails, use common sense and or your knowledge of aircraft. One cannot simply make a "stealth variant" of a standard fighter design. The only legitimate case of a stealth variant of a conventional fighter aircraft is the F-15SE which is still underdevelopment. Even the F-15SE is not a true stealth aircraft and only maintains a low frontal rcs. Stealth generally has to be built into the design from its conception, it can't be added in latter due to the extremely unforgiving nature of radar e.g. planform alignment oriented flight surfaces, room for internal weapon bays, etc. Another problem with a hypothetical stealth JF-17 is China would not share a stealth aircraft with Pakistan, at least not in the immediate future. I am not an expert on the inner workings of diplomatic relations between China and Pakistan. From what I do know, Pakistan largely wants go increase ties rapidly but China is more reserved in the pace in which it seeks to improve relations. Furthermore, if China were to sell/co-develop a stealth aircraft for or with Pakistan, India would immediately denounce China.

In summary, unless the aircraft in question is validated by reliable sources, don't take some guy's word for it on a forum or trust that the picture is real. Especially if the jet is supposed to be from/related to China.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Red Flag 2012: Did the Raptor Seriously Just Get Owned?

Image 1: Luftwaffe Eurofighter Typhoons (Image Credit: Copyright Eurofighter - Geoffrey Lee - retrieved 2012)

In the American training exercise, Red Flag Alaska 2012, scores of pilots and fighter aircraft took part in a series of intense simulated combat scenarios. This year marked the first appearance of the Luftwaffe's advanced 4.5 generation Eurofighter Typhoons. The Germans did not disappoint. In mock dogfights between single Luftwaffe Eurofighter Typhoons and USAF F-22A Raptors, the Luftwaffe claimed several aerial victories over their American counter parts. One German pilot went so far as to say, "Yesterday we had Raptor salad for lunch" Many American news networks and even some defense related news sites reported the complete failure of the Raptor. The following was taken from ABC news:

"The United States has spent nearly $80 billion to develop the most advanced stealth fighter jet in history, the F-22 Raptor, but the Air Force recently found out firsthand that while the planes own the skies at modern long-range air combat, it is 'evenly matched' with cheaper, foreign jets when it comes to old-school dogfighting." - Lee Ferran, ABC News, 2012

The Eurofighter Typhoon is no doubt an exceptional aircraft and maintains its position as the premiere 4.5 generation fighter. Yet, from the perspective of one who is familiar with the capabilities of both aircraft, these results seem questionable for many good reasons. I did my own "investigation" into these reports and tried to determine exactly what happened, if the Luftwaffe claims in regard to the Eurofighter's performance were genuine, and the circumstances in which the F-22 and Eurofighter pilots fought, and why the results occurred the way they did. This is what I found.   

According to German pilots, the Eurofighter's and Raptors squared off in one vs. one engagements (Basic Fighter Maneuvering or BFM) at visual range. Luftwaffe pilots got as close to the raptors as possible and squared off in the merge. 

"As soon as you get to the merge … the Typhoon doesn’t necessarily have to fear the F-22”- Major Marc Grunene 

Luftwaffe pilots claim that they were able to achieve several Raptor kills in mock dogfights at visual range. At visual range, the Luftwaffe pilots noted that they were fairly evenly matched with the Raptor. Using their HMD's and simulated off bore sight missiles, the German pilots were able to score several Raptor kills. It is unknown how many Raptors the Germans actually managed to "kill" and how many Eurofighter's were lost in the effort. At least four Raptors were killed (three Raptor kill markings on one Eurofighter and a single kill marking on the second) judging from photographs taken by Dietmar Fenners posted on the The Aviationist website.

Image 2: A Luftwaffe Eurofighter with three Raptor kill markings painted near the canopy. (Image Credit: Dietmar Fenners, 2012; retrieved via The Aviationist) 

Nearly every mainstream media account of the engagements did not feature the input of American pilots. The American media has a tendency to report what will get attention and sell newspapers which is not necessarily the truth. The only reporter to get the input of American Raptor pilots that I found was Flight Global reporter Dave Munjar. Not surprisingly, American accounts differ substantially from their German counterparts.  

"It sounds as though we have very different recollections as to the outcomes of the BFM [Basic Fighter Maneuvering] engagements that were fought...We ended up with numerous gunshots" -  Unnamed USAF pilot

"I did review the HUD footage, a lot of gun shots from the F-22's to the Eurofighters and not a whole lot coming back" - Unnamed USAF pilot

"USAF sources say that the Typhoon has good energy and a pretty good first turn, but that they were able to outmanoeuvre the Germans due to the Raptor's thrust vectoring. Additionally, the Typhoon was not able to match the high angle of attack capability of the F-22." - Dave Munjar 

Without the rules of engagement, complete list of step by step maneuvers employed by both aircraft in every engagement, kill ratios, HUD cam footage, etc. being reported, these results are of limited use in determining the effectiveness of the Eurofighter vs. the Raptor. More broadly, arguments contending to use this series of mock dognfights as evidence that 4.5 generation fighter are able to counter 5th generation fighters are moot until more details are known. 

The American accounts suggest that the Raptors inflicted a heavy toll on the Eurofighters. Even if the Typhoons and Raptors exchanged evenly (which I doubt), it would indicate the strength of the base Raptor configuration rather than its weakness. From what is known about the rules of engagement, the Eurofighter was given every possible advantage. No beyond visual range missile shots were allowed. Subsequently the Raptors were forced to get in close to the Typhoons which thereby negated the Raptor's stealth advantage. At visual range, the stealth of the F-22 becomes much less of a factor meaning the Eurofighter can either attempt a IR guided missile lock or position itself for a gun kill. Furthermore, the Raptor in its current configuration is not equipped with a helmet mounted display (HMD) meaning it cannot make full use of off boresight missiles e.g. the AIM-9X. I cannot overstate the importance of the helmet mounted display and off bore sight missiles. The combination of these two technological developments makes the Eurofighter considerably more lethal in vr engagements than earlier 4th generation fighters. Despite the lack of an HMD and having to engage in visual range, the Raptors killed off many Eurofighters. (Once again, no kill ratios released)

Image 3: Eurofighter pilot equipped with HMD system.

Despite the strength of the base Raptor configuration, it can and must be improved. It should be noted that many view the F-22A with God like attributes in terms of aerial combat prowess. Although the Raptor is the culmination of nearly a century's worth of American aerospace engineering, it is not invincible. This is not the first incident in which a Raptor was "shot down" by other less capable aircraft. (At least two prior to Red Flag Alaska 2012) With a fleet of only 187 Raptors in the USAF arsenal, every single plane will matter in a future air war. Though no amount of upgrades will make the Raptor invulnerable, the implementation of an HMD system for the Raptor is a necessity. At the moment, no plans are underway to upgrade the Raptor with an HMD. It is possible that the HMD will be proposed as part of the possible increment 3.3. upgrade package which if pursued would take effect some time after 2020. (Defense Industry Daily, 2012) Plans to upgrade the F-22 with an HMD should be accelerated. In addition, the Raptor needs an IRST. With the advent of other 5th generation fighters, an IRST will prove to be an invaluable tool for the Raptor. Plans to equip the Raptor with an IRST were shelved as part of an initiative to save costs. Given the already expensive price of the Raptor, a few extra million dollars to make them significantly more effective against 5th generation fighters is a worthwhile investment.

As a ending note, the ABC news reporter quoted in the beginning of this article had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

Related Articles: 

The Benefits of Stealth and Situational Awareness
Quick Thoughts: F-22s in Syria
The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part I Introduction
The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part II Adaptations to Budget Cuts
The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part III Upgrades



Saturday, September 1, 2012


I"m back from my two month break from writing articles. Stay tuned. New blog articles will be posted shortly. If anyone has any topics they'd like me to write on/research in the future, let me know in the comments or send me an email.