China’s under-development J-20 combat aircraft recently demonstrated its missile-launch mechanism, which the Chinese media tout as a simple but “more efficient” design than that of the American F-22.
J-20 number 2002, one of the two prototypes that have been made known to the public, carried a short-range air-to-air missile (AAM) aft of the air intake. The missile, identified as China’s newly developed PL-10, was shown in a video inside the starboard intake weapons bay before being moved outside the airplane by an ejection system. The door of the bay then closed, leaving the missile outside, but still attached to the airframe.
This arrangement is said to allow the missile to be fired in the shortest time possible. In the F-22 design, the door of its side internal weapons bay has to remain open for the launch of a missile, thus possibly compromising its stealth capability. By contrast, the J-20 could stay stealthy throughout the missile-launch process by keeping the bay door closed.
Despite the Chinese media’s acclaim for the J-20’s missile launch mechanism, Chen Kuo-ming, senior editor with the Taiwan-based Defence International magazine, said what’s more important is whether the J-20 could fire short-range AAMs from off-boresight angles as acute as those possible from the F-22. For the moment, the PL-10 does not seem to be comparable to the AIM-9X AAM of the F-22 in respect to off-boresight capability.
The J-20 is expected to begin air-to-air weapons firing tests soon. It carries two short-range PL-10s, one in each air-intake bay, and six to eight medium-range P-12s in the main internal weapons bay below the mid-fuselage.