The added capability of thrust vectoring has been debated by the War Zone, but as the J-20’s designer stated, it could reduce the J-20’s canard deflections during flight. Fluttering flight control surfaces are not good for a stealthy aircraft’s radar signature. Furthermore, the J-20 is unlikely to have the power required to achieve supersonic speed without afterburner, also known as supercruise, in its current configuration. That important ability is only considered possible once the aircraft receives the powerful WS-15.
The addition of thrust vectoring and major configuration changes would involve significant work, but Chinese military technology is moving fast. The J-20B could go further than just being an engine upgrade. It will likely include avionics enhancements and sensor improvements. There have even been rumors that it could feature a new outer mold line.
Removing the big canards and re-certifying the complex flight control system would be a huge undertaking for the CAC engineers, but doing so could dramatically enhance the J-20. In addition to removing the canards, cleaning up the empennage strakes, refining the wings, and other small low observable (LO) tweaks would substantially reduce the aircraft’s radar signature, especially in the radar frequency bands beyond the X-Band that is used by most fire control radars.
Thrust vectoring could help compensate for these changes and, along with the slew of other tweaks, it could still render the fighter somewhat nimble. It is also possible that we could see a more dramatic iteration of the original J-20 design, similar to what is described here, in the future, once the powerplants have been upgraded and smaller enhancements have been made.
Regardless, it seems ever more likely that China’s Mighty Dragon will get much more mighty in the near future.
Contact the author: Jamie@thedrive.com