Is China Secretly Developing its 6th Gen Fighter Aircraft?
Is China Secretly Developing its 6th Gen Fighter Aircraft? is an investigative article that delves into the possibility of China clandestinely working on the next generation of fighter jets. It discusses rumors, statements, and satellite images suggesting the existence of a new, advanced fighter project in China.
The article provides insights from industry experts and foreign intelligence, highlighting the potential implications and technological advancements involved in such a secretive development. It also touches on the strategic implications of China’s possible leap to a sixth-generation fighter in the global military landscape.

China has made two fighter jets from the fifth generation so far. One has already joined the army, and the other will do so in the future.

At the same time, there are rumors that Chinese factories are working on the next generation of fighters. Their future might be distant now, but the plans have been put in motion as R&D.

Rumors and statements

The first of these rumors started when the Chinese industry finished the fifth-generation J-20 fighter project and was ready to start a new, promising program. At the same time, no good information was available about these works.

At the beginning of 2019, the Chinese media published an interview with Chengdu Aerospace Corporation (CAC) chief designer Wang Haifeng. He talked about the work on the J-20 plane and, for the first time, about the new projects. 

According to the chief designer, CAC was undertaking various early investigations to identify new technologies and solutions. By 2035 or before, these efforts may produce ” weapons to protect the sea and the sky.” However, details of the current activity were not provided.

Wang Haifeng did not specify which generation the new project belonged to, but this did not prevent bold inferences and hypotheses from arising. Abroad and within China, his speech was seen as the first formal reference to the development of a fighter of the sixth generation. This assumption’s validity is not apparent.

About a year ago, new information appeared, immediately associated with rumors about the sixth generation. An unidentified aircraft has been seen in a recent satellite image of the CAC factory airfield in Chengdu.

It was a full-size aircraft or UAV with a delta or diamond wing. As expected, foreign experts suggested that it is a prototype to test certain technologies for a new project. In addition, from time to time, various schemes and concepts were published that clearly had nothing to do with the famous Chinese aircraft. 

These were probably the research results or simple “based on” creativity. Official information of this kind has not yet appeared, and it is not necessary to wait for it in the near future.

View from the ocean

Is China Secretly Developing its 6th Gen Fighter Aircraft?
Experienced double J-20B. Image: Telegram / ChDambiev

A few days ago, the US Air Force Academy hosted a conference on defense in air, space, and cyberspace. During this event, the Chief of the Air Combat Command, General Mark D. Kelly, made a presentation. One of the topics of his speech was promising foreign development and the need to maintain American superiority.

Referring to intelligence information, M. Kelly spoke about the alleged Chinese project for a new fighter. So, the existence of this project is confirmed by intelligence, and it is developing according to the established schedule. 

The general noted that Chinese experts do not argue about the need for the sixth generation and are engaged in a new project. M. Kelly highlighted the foreign approach to creating new technology. China is trying to improve the available samples gradually and finally reach the desired result. 

So, Chinese aircraft manufacturers previously improved the Russian Su-27 and created their own J-15. A modern Su-35 is at their disposal. All these fighters form the technological basis for developing a fundamentally new model.

Is China Secretly Developing its 6th Gen Fighter Aircraft?
Su-27

In this sense, M. Kelly proposes to speed up work on a similar US NGAD program. This aircraft should appear and enter service before the Chinese model, although with a minimal advantage. If this is not done, there will be severe problems.

It is alleged that the Pentagon already knows the main features of the Chinese project. As it turned out, it is generally similar to the American NGAD.

Similar requirements are presented, and similar ideas are planned to be implemented. Therefore, visibility will be significantly reduced, and our observation capabilities will dramatically improve. 

A sharp increase in the speed of computing facilities is also required. The software, and with it, the aircraft as a whole, can be quickly updated and adapted to changing environments and existing tasks.

Secret Developments

As always, China does not officially announce plans to create a new generation of fighters or real work in this direction. However, it is evident that such plans already exist, and scientific and design organizations are committed to their implementation.

Apparently, the program to create a new fighter is still in its early stages. The necessary investigations are being carried out, during which the technical appearance of the future aircraft, its characteristics, and capabilities will be determined. 

Judging by foreign data, this research could already reach the stage of building and testing a flight technology demonstration prototype.

Last year’s satellite image showed a “flying wing” or “tailless” aircraft with a diamond-shaped wing and a prominent fuselage: cabin configuration, power plant, rudders, etc., unknown. 

The visible shapes of the airframe indicate an attempt to combine high-performance and stealth technology. Such an aircraft can be supersonic and develop at fairly high speeds. At the same time, the scope of reliable detection and monitoring by existing means will be reduced.

According to US intelligence, the Chinese project involves the use of advanced electronic equipment. You are supposed to use a developed set of means to illuminate the situation, possibly with the implementation of new design ideas. In addition, the aircraft should receive an improved computer system, including artificial intelligence.

Precise information on the requirements for avionics is not yet available, but foreign intelligence data seems logical and plausible. On-board electronics already assumed an important role in 3-4 generations of fighters; since then, its importance has only increased. 

Consequently, the next-generation aircraft, incl. The Chinese must have a complex and high-performance team complex.

Chinese industry is known to be developing heavy UAVs capable of carrying advanced avionics and various weapons. Such drones likely belong to the class of “faithful followers.” As a “leader” for these UAVs, new modifications of the existing J-20 aircraft or a completely new fighter, incl. the next 6th generation.

Is China Secretly Developing its 6th Gen Fighter Aircraft?
J-20

A developed computer system and the presence of “faithful fans” will give a promising fighter special opportunities. With virtually no risk to the pilot, such an aircraft could monitor larger areas and search for and engage air and ground/surface targets. The effectiveness of this work will depend on the development of the new management systems.

Future plans

To date, China has managed to build a large air fleet of fourth-generation fighters and launched large-scale production of newer equipment. Work is underway on the fifth generation, and new samples are expected. At the same time, work is beginning to develop the fighter further.

Until now, it is only known for certain that Chinese science and industry are conducting new research and testing experimental equipment. 

These works are expected to be completed in the mid-1930s, but their objectives have not yet been achieved. However, it appears China is seriously committed to a new generation of aircraft technology. And in the coming years, we should expect the real results of such work.