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China May Be Flight Testing A V/STOL Fighter

by John Reed on April 22, 2011

We heard a little chatter about this earlier in the month; apparently China is test flying its own vertical/short take-off and landing fighter jet dubbed the J-18. According to my old colleague Wendell Minnick at Defense News, the jet is similar in appearance to Russia’s Su-33 carrier based evolution of Sukhoi’s famous Su-27 line.

(The image above is a Soviet-designed Yak-141 VTOL fighter; recognize that rotating rear nozzle and forward lift-fan design?)

While the flight of a Chinese V/STOL aircraft is unconfirmed, the aircraft’s existence would make sense as Minnick’s article ably points out.

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.”

We’ll see if this is true but, it does seem plausible given the fact that the PLAN is working to begin sea trials with its first carrier, the ex-Soviet Varyag, now known as the Shi Lang, soon. Yes, that ship might use the J-15, a Chinese version of the Su-33, as its carrier flight ops guinea pigs but who’s to say the PLAN doesn’t want to look into V/STOL operations off the ship as well.

Also, keep in mind that V/STOL jets like the F-35B and AV-8B Harrier are well suited for smaller carriers like the U.S. Navy’s Tarawa and Wasp class ships which are used to support amphibious assaults far from home. While the PLAN is rumored to be fielding at least three big deck carriers based on the Shi Lang, the arrival of a S/TOVL fighter may be a hint that Chinese officials are interested in developing smaller, expeditionary assault carriers as one more tool to ‘protect what is theirs,’ whatever that means. Remember, China is already refining the ground component of its amphibious assault force.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

J4rh34d April 22, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Uh, that is not a lift fan up front. It has two additional jet engines in there.


Tim April 22, 2011 at 4:24 pm

"Protect what is theirs" means using force to overwhelm the much weaker neighbors and confiscate the islands/shoals that clearly never belonged to China and hope that over time those islands/shoals would become "theirs". It is much like the case of Tibet, except on the seas.

Politics aside, it's hard to believe China could do anything to compete with Western jets until it can master the engine. They are still struggling to copy the Su-27 engine for their J-10s.


Hot Dog April 8, 2012 at 3:19 am

Using force to overwhelm the much weaker nations and confiscate their raw matterials like Afganistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria, yes. That is the American way who likes to gang up on small defenceless nations as such. Even as small as Afganistan, Iraq, and Libya, the Americans can't even go it alone, they have to gang up with the other nations. 20 Giants to 1 tiny defenseless country is what I called a spineless act of the West.


jenny_mexico February 2, 2013 at 10:57 pm

ha ha, what us is doing to Mexico is not much worse. Utah, california, Texas are just taken from them. Are you trying to tell me you are a saint?


Zap April 22, 2011 at 5:50 pm

That is a strange article , I think you might have 2 different things mixed up .
I think the J-18 is meant to be a copy of a old Ukrainian version of SU-33 naval aircraft , not a VTOL , that found its way to China a few years ago .
this one http://spotters.net.ua/file/?id=2831


Targ April 22, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Supposedly the Yak-141 VTOL was a joint project with LockMart, so that explains that.


Husker April 22, 2011 at 10:11 pm

The Yak-141's were re-named Yak-41M's that started flying in '87…I give LM a lot of "thinking out of the box" credit, but partnership the then-USSR seems a tad unlikely


mat April 23, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Yak was hired for development of the nozzle design for LM back in 1995
F35B main engine nozzle that can swivel 90° is YAK designed


J4rh34d April 23, 2011 at 6:08 pm

The nozzle is a Rolls-Royce designed and built item


TLAM Strike April 22, 2011 at 10:59 pm

You got it backwards. the F-35 was a joint project with Yakolev. LM bought a lot of design data from yakolev.


SMSgt Mac April 23, 2011 at 6:37 pm

That is too simplistic a summary. Fortunately this myth comes up oftern enough that all I have to do is pretty much copy and paste a comment I made somewhere else:

—While the rotating interconnected duct idea for applying it to an exhaust was (I believe) first flown on a Yakolev (it's an old USA design in HVAC duct world), the critical tech for the F-35 propulsion is all Western, and the overarching concept was conceived by a LockMart engineer. Yakolev was actually put on contract to do do engineering and test evaluation work FOR LM on LM's early concept development. Seems like I'm running into this "Russian Design" myth more and more. Like we needed any more mythology around the F-35 and its missions. Reminds me of the Cold War era when frequently the Soviets were seen as taking claim for 'inventing' something that had been done elsewhere (often because we needed better interpreters). —-


Hunter78 April 22, 2011 at 7:05 pm

China has identified herself as the next great supreme power. That may or may not happen. In the longer run US has a better position, a better land to population ratio.

We must inure ourselves to the squeals of Ch flexing her growing muscles.


jamesb April 22, 2011 at 7:44 pm

so much for originality


Lance April 22, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Huh well the Su-33 isnt the most successful carrier fighter the Russian are retiring them in favor with the MiG-29K The Su-33 lack radars like the Su-27 and where almost too BIG for a carrier fighter. I admit some of this is that Russia alliance with India who already has and is building more ships too. is going MiG-29 since India's fleet air arm is using MiG-29 also. Plus the Chinese haven't built a carrier ever and lack knowledge on them The one they have now was a incomplete old Soviet Carrier which the Russians are advising them on rebuilding.

I don't know why but this Blog loves to cut Russia short and do the world is ending with China whose has huge numbers but its equipment is far inferior most copies of Soviet era weapons and has rather odd and ineffective training. I fear more of Russia making good weapons and selling them to China.


Lance April 22, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Ohh China with a F-35B? Since we cant even get one to work right I doubt the Chi Coms will either.


andy April 22, 2011 at 9:17 pm

don't you mean a westole aircraft…lol


sferrin April 23, 2011 at 2:02 am

"(The image above is a Soviet-designed Yak-141 VTOL fighter; recognize that rotating rear nozzle and forward lift-fan design?)"

Correction, forward lift-JET and yeah it's familiar. They lifted it off the Convair 200.


Chris April 23, 2011 at 5:41 am

Or the Mirage IIIV, a supersonic VTOL that lost out to the P.1127 which ultimately lead to the Harrier.


Darrell Sutherland April 24, 2011 at 3:09 am

The constant talk about how the Chinese will never be able to design anything better than us (USA) sounds alot like the way the American auto industry used to talk about the Japenese.

And at some point doesn't a superior quanity of "almost as good weapons" win?


Maxtrue April 24, 2011 at 10:02 am

Who says that? You ignore however the time and testing such technology takes. By the time China masters this ability, our waveriders should be operational and launch-able from stealth drones. DEW is going to revolutionize warfare. We should not be alarmed at every Chinese effort to catch up and keep ourselves focused on our weaknesses and cutting edge.




arias April 24, 2011 at 6:03 am

If were having trouble designing a vtol that works(Brits designed the harrier) and can’t get the f-35 of the ground without having problems with the vtol. The f-35 should have been designed with dual engines both being used for vtol.


William C. April 25, 2011 at 9:07 am

The lift fan is generally a better solution than a lift engine. Less heat and complexity.


Rob1855 April 24, 2011 at 10:54 am

Outstanding! Now all we have to do is convince them to replicate the Osprey, and they'll pour half their defense budget into limitless pits, filled only with despair…


Sanem April 25, 2011 at 11:02 am

stovl aircraft seems like a good idea for China, deployed from smaller carriers these give it many more planes on the seas

but I imagine going at it the Yak-141 or F-35B way is not a good idea: stealth and extra engines don't go well with stovl aircraft, because both aspects are costly in weight and space

the Harrier was spot on: keep it small, light and simple. it keeps down the costs of both development and production, giving you plenty of numbers

modern technology also makes a huge difference, making stovl aircraft much easier to land, maybe with a return to tail-sitter/lander designs? which in the end is the easiest and most efficient way of stovl


Benjamin April 25, 2011 at 4:35 pm

My guess is that if they are flying a a V/Stol aircraft it would be an experimental aircraft. A v/stol aircraft is a lot more complicated in comparison to a regular jet and I think they would want some experience before they start mass producing a design like the Yak-141 let alone the F-35B.


Bob April 25, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Chinese advancements in military hardware are a direct result of at least two things. One, is our corrupt, screwed up leadership has failed to protect our most valuable military/DARPA style secrets. The other is our borrowing money by the tons only to give it away in foreign aid, to illegals crossing the border and stituations like the white house suing Arizona for attempting to uphol laws already on the books. This socialist, elistist cretin some of you elected as president (purposely not capitalized) might just be the death of America if Congress fails to stop him. He is in my opinion a domestic enemy. Period. Take a look at his first months in office if you doubt my opinion. Now, the Chinese, who would love to rule the world, are tooling up for the purpose and we are paying the bill. Our best move, impeach Obama. Probelm is, all the others are as corrupt as he. The pilgims left England over taxes according to history. What are we going to do now? Revolution is the most probable answer and I would hate, hate , hate to see us killing each other due to an absolute lack of decent leadership.


Mr.Lin August 12, 2011 at 3:45 am

Shut up you racist shit!


GeneralButtnaked December 29, 2011 at 3:05 pm

haha, nobody drives american cars anymore, soon nobody will be flying american planes or using their weapons.


guest January 2, 2013 at 12:55 am

Those retarded commented as if China is just like any ordinary country on this earth. China is NOT! China is a civilization state and has a history spanning more than 5,000 years. China had invented many things that helped this world to progress to what you see now. China sailed around the world first and China drew the first world map. What happened? Portugal got held the first world map and started to colonies the world then the Spain, the dutch and British. China was the first to be able to sail into the wind!
China does not need to proof anything as China was the world super power for 18 centuries in the last 21 centuries. China can do anything and better than any other countries!


johnvarry January 21, 2013 at 1:03 pm

If you think that looks familiar look at plans for the YaK -43 V/STOL fighter which was cancelled. Im beginning to think restarting production on a improved AV-8B would have been a better choice for a VTOL fighter.


Joseph Tan May 12, 2011 at 10:56 am

Hitting a satellite with a size of a small mini van travelling at a speed of 20, 000 km/h is no joke. If China had the ability to hit that satellite, hitting a aircraft carrier travelling a fraction of that speed should not be a great problem.


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