China made it official this week that J-20 is coming to Zhuhai air show. All of this is quite interesting when one compares this to how long before J-10 made its first visit to Zhuhai Air Show. Clearly, China has taken a more confident and transparent approach in its military programs in the past 10 years. At this point, J-20 has started Low rate initial production batches, but has yet to achieve IOC. To that end, AVIC must be confident enough in the progress of flight-testing program to allow J-20 to appear in China’s most prominent aerospace exhibition.
A couple of years ago, PAK-FA had an epic failure when one of the prototypes had fire damage while delivering a flight performance in front of IAF officials. Certainly, the pilots were most likely instructed to put on a show to impress PAK-FA’s largest export client, but the aircraft was also clearly not up to task. The result of that embarrassing incident was extensive delays in the flight-testing program while that prototype was getting repaired. More recently, Russia finally officially adjusted the initial induction of PAK-FA to 2018. It had been obvious for quite a long time that they were not going to make end of 2016, since the fixed up prototype and new prototypes have just recently surfaced. I have not kept up to the progress of J-20 units, but it seems like the first LRIP frames may have already arrived at FTTC. FTTC should very soon start training with this new aircraft. IOC may be achieved by late next year. Of course, engine remains to be a major concern for the J-20 program. It’s still not known at this point what is powering aircraft. It would seem to be a special variant of AL-31FN, but this will be an interim solution until WS-15 is ready. At its induction, J-20 will be quite underpowered.
Aside from J-20, other big-ticket items like J-10B, KJ-500, Y-20, Z-10K and H-6K will all be physically displayed in the air show. Since a real J-10B came, the serial number was finally allowed to show. Maybe after this appearance, China will allow J-10B pictures to be published without the serial numbers photoshoped. Zhuhai air show has traditionally been an occasion for China to show its latest UAV and missiles (many of which are still in conceptual stage). It will certainly be the case again this time around. While we have already seen well know UAVs like CH-5 and Wing Loong-2, we are also seeing new concepts that could very well make their mark in the export market. The latest one we saw is Cloud Shadow UAV which looks a lot like SkyWing UAVs that have already test flied.
Finally, a recent national day parade in Turkmenistan showed that all of its SAMs, missiles, radar systems and UAVs are all imported from China. All of this is quite unexpected since Turkmenistan has traditionally been under the overwhelming presence and influence of Russia. At this point, China is clearly making inroads against Russia in many export markets.