JSF综合试验队已在爱德华兹空军基地开始F-35A尾钩的首轮试验。海军的飞机着舰时需要尾钩挂住航母上的拦阻索，JSF的海军型机F-35C装有专为海军设计使用的更结实的尾钩。空军型F-35A飞机的尾钩只在着陆距离不足或者飞机出现刹车故障或方向控制问题时，用于帮助飞机停止。该尾钩设计成一次性使用，不像海军飞机的尾钩可以展开、收回和收起。第461飞行试验中队项目试飞员Corey Florendo称，F-35A尾钩设计成在紧急情况下使飞机停止，试验目的是确保该系统按设计要求工作，验证该系统的性能，包括在最恶劣的情况下的性能。初始试验包括在地面将F-35A加速到180节、约200英里/小时。随着AF-04号F-35A试验飞机在跑道上减速滑行，高速相机记录下整个过程。工程人员规划好展开尾钩的时间，试飞员按计划的时间展开尾钩以挂住拦阻索，使飞机安全停止，这一过程中收集有关数据、并对视频进行评审。AF-04飞机已成功完成了几次尾钩挂索试验，为后续更多试验打下了基础。未来该机将进行多种条件下的试验。该尾钩试验计划将在今夏持续进行。JSF Tailhook Testing Begins At EdwardsAlthough also called a tailhook, the emergency arresting hook fitted to the US Air Force’s F-35A is a single-use device that does not use the usual hooked metal bar fitted to the US Navy’s F-35C carrier variant. (USAF photo)EDWARDS AFB, Calif. --- When most people hear "tailhook" they think of U.S. Navy planes and aircraft carriers. However, almost all U.S. combat aircraft have a tailhook. That also goes for the Air Force's new F-35A Joint Strike Fighter. The JSF Integrated Test Force here conducted the first set of tests for the F-35A's tailhook. F-35s have landed using a tailhook before, but not at the speeds and weights being tested now. By nature, Navy aircraft need tailhooks to catch arresting wires on aircraft carriers. The Navy's version of the JSF - the F-35C - has a significantly more robust tailhook that is designed differently for Navy purposes. On Air Force planes tailhooks are only used to help the jet stop when landing distance is insufficient or if the jet has a brake malfunction or directional control issue. They are designed as a one-time use device whereas Navy tailhooks like on the F-35C can deploy, retract and stow. "In the big picture, the F-35A tailhook is designed to stop the jet in an emergency primarily," said Maj. Corey Florendo, 461st Flight Test Squadron project test pilot. "We have to make sure the system works as designed and as specified. We're out there to verify the performance of the system, up to and including the worst case conditions we can possibly envision." The initial testing included powering the F-35A at 180 knots over the ground; about 200 miles an hour. As high speed cameras record, AF-04 from the 461st FLTS speeds down the runway. Engineers plan the time to deploy the tailhook, and when the time comes, the test pilot deploys the hook to catch an arresting cable in place to safely stop the fighter. Data is collected and the video footage is reviewed. "There's a lot of parameters that we're looking at. Obviously, we're curious about the forces on the hook. Aside from just the numbers, we're also curious if the tailhook system is going to be safe. 'Is the cable going to do something like hook the main landing gear and not the cable?' No one has done this before, and before this happens to someone out in the Air Force, we want to see it and make sure it works," Florendo said. AF-04 had several successful engagements with the tailhook and arresting cable, which will clear the path for additional tests coming up. Florendo said they will be looking at different "offsets" in future tests. "Ideally you want to be in the center of the runway, but we want to also test to see what happens when the pilot is not in the center," he said. Like most other test projects on Edwards, JSF tailhook testing requires heavy coordination throughout different organizations on base and off. "Obviously, we're not the only program that executes here at Edwards," said Andrew Soundy, Lockheed Martin experimental test pilot. "We have the main runway that has the permanent cables attached, so if we're doing cable testing or landing gear testing, we really need sole use of the runway. If we used the permanent cables, we would severely impact the outer runway." That's where the Air Force's 820th RED HORSE Airmen from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, come in. RED HORSE stands for rapid engineer deployable heavy operational repair squadron engineers. The team set up the mobile aircraft arresting system on Edwards' 12,000-foot inside runway so impact on other flight operations is minimal during testing. "I've been involved in a lot of test projects over the year, this one has probably the most input from multiple different agencies and it's great to see the way it's all come together," said Soundy. "The big thing to me is the team effort that's been going on here at Edwards. This is a great place to be doing testing with the weather that we get here and the experience we have here; all those teams coming together to make this happen has been great." Testing will continue this summer.
据洛马公司发言人称，日本飞行员将在今年底前首次飞行F-35A战斗机。洛马公司F-35国际沟通经理Eric W. Schnaible称，日本的首批4架F-35战斗机将在今年11月从沃斯堡生产线下线，日本飞行员将在亚利桑那州卢克空军基地首次驾驶F-35飞机，澳大利亚、挪威和意大利的有关人员已在该基地学习驾驶F-35。日本是联合参与F-35战斗机研制的8个国家之一，F-35分别在洛马沃斯堡、三菱重工名古屋和意大利卡梅里的阿莱尼亚马基工厂设立三处生产线。Schnaible称，日本制造的38架F-35的首批飞机将于明年从名古屋下线，新飞机将与美国第35战斗机联队的F-16一同驻扎在Misawa ，F-35飞行员训练最终将在日本进行。First of Japan’s F-35s Will Be Airborne By Year’s End (excerpt)YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan --- Japanese pilots will fly the F-35A Lightning II fighter jet for the first time by year’s end, according to a Lockheed Martin spokesman who was in Tokyo this week to meet with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. The first four stealth planes earmarked for Japan will roll off a production line in Fort Worth, Texas, in November, said Eric W. Schnaible, the company’s F-35 international communications manager. Schnaible will also visit Nagoya and Misawa facilities associated with the aircraft later this month. Japanese pilots are slated to take off in the jets for the first time at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., where Australian, Norwegian and Italian personnel are already learning to pilot the F-35, he said. Japan is one of eight countries jointly developing the high-tech fighter. With a price tag of $1 trillion, it’s become America’s most costly weapon. The Fort Worth facility is one of three places where F-35s are being assembled. The others are Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ plant in Nagoya and Alenia Aermacchi’s factory at Cameri, Italy. The first of 38 additional Japanese F-35s will roll out of Nagoya next year, said Schnaible, who is also the former U.S. Forces Japan public affairs chief. The new jets will be stationed at Misawa alongside U.S. F-16s from the 35th Fighter Wing, with F-35 pilot training eventually taking place in Japan, he said. Many of the first F-35 pilots are transitioning from other aircraft such as Harriers, F-16s or F-18s. However, the Marine Corps and Air Force recently began sending pilots to train on the aircraft immediately after flight school, Schnaible said. (end of excerpt)
This is everything you need to know about Beijing's huge air force.
China's Air Force: 1,700 Combat Aircraft Ready for War
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force of China and its sister branch, the PLA Naval Air Force, operate a huge fleet of around 1,700 combat aircraft—defined here as fighters, bombers and attack planes. This force is exceeded only by the 3,400 active combat aircraft of the U.S. military. Moreover, China operates a lot of different aircraft types that are not well known in the West.
However, most Chinese military aircraft are inspired by or copied from Russian or American designs, so it’s not too hard to grasp their capabilities if you know their origins.
The Soviet-Era Clones
The Soviet Union and Communist China were best buddies during the 1950s, so Moscow transferred plenty of technology including tanks and jet fighters. One of the early Chinese-manufactured types was the J-6, a clone of the supersonic MiG-19, which has a jet intake in the nose. Though China built thousands of J-6s, all but a few have been retired. However, about 150 of a pointy-nosed ground-attack version, the Nanchang Q-5, remain in service, upgraded to employ precision-guided munitions.
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Sino-Soviet friendship ended in an ugly breakup around 1960. But in 1962, the Soviets offered China a dozen hot new MiG-21 fighters as part of a peace overture. Beijing rejected the overture but kept the fighters, which were reverse-engineered into the sturdier (but heavier) Chengdu J-7. Production began slowly due to the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, but between 1978 and 2013 Chinese factories turned out thousands of the pencil-fuselage jet fighters in dozens of variants. Nearly four hundred still serve in the PLAAF and PLANAF.
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The J-7 is a 1950s-era hot rod in terms of maneuverability and speed—it can keep up with an F-16 at Mach 2—but it cannot carry much fuel or armament, and it has a weak radar in its tiny nose cone. Still, China has worked to keep the J-7 relevant. The J-7G introduced in 2004 includes an Israeli doppler radar (detection range: thirty-seven miles) and improved missiles for beyond-visual range capabilities, as well as a digital “glass cockpit.”
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These aircraft would struggle against modern fourth-generation fighters that can detect and engage adversaries at much greater ranges, though hypothetically mass formations could attempt to overwhelm defenders with swarm attacks. Still, the J-7s allow China to maintain a larger force of trained pilots and support personnel until new designs come into service.
Another Soviet-era clone is the Xi’an H-6, a twin-engine strategic bomber based on the early-1950s era Tu-16 Badger. Though less capable than the U.S. B-52 or Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers, the air-refuelable H-6K remains relevant because it could lug heavy long-range cruise-missiles hit naval or ground targets as far as four thousand miles from China without entering the range of air defenses. The H-6 was originally tasked with dropping nuclear weapons, but the PLAAF no longer seems interested in this role. Xi’an is reportedly developing a new H-20 strategic bomber, though there’s little information available so far.
In the mid-1960s, China began working on genuinely home-designed combat jets, leading to the Shenyang J-8 debuting in 1979. A large twin-turbojet supersonic interceptor that could attain Mach 2.2 and resembled a cross between the MiG-21 and the larger Su-15, the J-8 lacked modern avionics and maneuverability. However, the succeeding J-8II variant (about 150 currently serving) improved on the former with an Israeli radar in a new pointy-nose cone, making it a fast but heavy weapons platform a bit like the F-4 Phantom. Around 150 are still operational.
The two-hundred-plus Xi’an JH-7 Flying Leopards, which entered service in 1992, are beefy two-seat naval-attack fighter-bombers that can lug up to twenty thousand pounds of missiles and have a top speed of Mach 1.75. Though they wouldn’t want to get in a dogfight with opposing contemporary fighters, they may not have to if they can capitalize on long-range antiship missiles.
The Chengdu J-10 Vigorous Dragon, by contrast, is basically China’s F-16 Fighting Falcon, a highly maneuverable, lightweight multirole fighter leaning on fly-by-wire avionics to compensate for its aerodynamically unstable airframe. Currently dependent on Russian AL-31F turbofans, and coming several decades after the F-16 debuted, the J-10 seems may not seem earthshaking, but the J-10B model comes out of the box with twenty-first-century avionics such as advanced infrared search-and-track systems and a cutting-edge Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, which cannot be said for all F-16 types. However, the fleet of 250 J-10s has suffered several deadly accidents possibly related to difficulties in the fly-by-wire system.
The Flanker Comes to China—And Stays There
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a Russia starved for cash and no longer concerned about ideological disputes was happy to oblige when Beijing came knocking at the door asking to buy then state-of-the-art Sukhoi Su-27 fighters, a highly maneuverable twin-engine jet comparable to the F-15 Eagle with excellent range and payload. This proved a fateful decision: today a sprawling family of aircraft derived from the Su-27 form the core of China’s modern fighter force.
After importing the initial batch of Su-27s, Beijing purchased a license to domestically build their own copy, the Shenyang J-11—but to Russia’s dismay, began independently building more advanced models, the J-11B and D.
Moscow felt burned, but still sold seventy-six modernized ground- and naval-attack variants of the Flanker, the Su-30MKK and Su-30MK2 respectively, which parallel the F-15E Strike Eagle. Chinese designers also churned out their own derivative of the Su-30: the Shenyang J-16 Red Eagle, boasting an AESA radar, and the Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark, a carrier-based fighter based on a Russian Su-33 acquired from Ukraine. Around twenty now serve on China’s Type 001 aircraft carrier Liaoning. There’s even the J-16D, a jamming pod-equipped electronic-warfare fighter styled after the U.S. Navy’s EA-18 Growler.
The Chinese Sukhoi derivatives are theoretically on par with the fourth-generation fighters like the F-15 and F-16. However, they are saddled with domestic WS-10 turbofan engines, which have had terrible maintenance problems and difficulty producing enough thrust. Jet-engine tech remains the chief limitation of Chinese combat aircraft today. Indeed, in 2016 China purchased twenty-four Su-35s, the most sophisticated and maneuverable variant of the Flanker so far—likely to obtain their AL-41F turbofans engines.
The Stealth Fighters
In a remarkably short timeframe, China developed two distinct stealth fighter designs. Twenty Chengdu J-20s entered PLAAF service in 2017. Unlike the F-22 Raptor, designed to be the ultimate air superiority fighter, or the single-engine multirole F-35 Lightning, the J-20 is a huge twin-engine beast optimized for speed, range and heavy weapons loads at the expense of maneuverability.
The J-20 might be suitable for surprise raids on land or sea targets—though its larger rear-aspect radar cross section could be problematic—or to sneak past enemy fighters to take out vulnerable support tankers or AWACs radar planes. Special-mission stealth fighters make sense for a country that is only just getting into the business of operating such technically demanding aircraft.
Meanwhile, the smaller, privately developed Shenyang J-31 Gyrfalcon (or FC-31) is basically a twin-engine remodeling of the F-35 Lightning—quite possibly using schematics hacked off Lockheed computers. Chinese designers may have developed an aerodynamically superior airframe by ditching elements supporting vertical-takeoff-or-landing engines. However, the J-31 probably won’t boast the fancy sensors and data fusion capabilities of the Lightning.
Currently, the J-31 appears intended for service on upcoming Type 002 aircraft carriers, and for export as a cut-price F-35 alternative. However, while there are flying Gyrfalcon prototypes with Russian engines, the type may only begin production when sufficiently reliable Chinese WS-13 turbofans are perfected.
Towards the Future
Roughly 33 percent of the PLAAF and PLANAF’s combat aircraft are old second-generation fighters of limited combat value against peer opponents, save perhaps in swarming attacks. Another 28 percent include strategic bombers and more capable but dated third-generation designs. Finally, 38 percent are fourth-generation fighters that can theoretically hold their own against peers like the F-15 and F-16. Stealth fighters account for 1 percent.
However, the technical capabilities of aircraft are just half the story; at least as important are training, organizational doctrine and supporting assets ranging from satellite recon to air-refueling tankers, ground-based radars and airborne command posts.
For example, China has the intel resources, aircraft and missiles to hunt aircraft carriers. However, the doctrine and experience to link these elements together to form a kill chain is no simple matter. A 2016 Rand report alleges Chinese aviation units are scrambling to reverse a lack of training under realistic conditions and develop experience in joint operations with ground and naval forces.
At any rate, Beijing seems in no rush to replace all its older jets with new ones. Major new acquisitions may wait until the Chinese aviation industry has smoothed out the kinks in its fourth-generation and stealth aircraft.
Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.
Image: A "Guying" stealth fighter participates in a test flight in Shenyang, Liaoning province, October 31, 2012. China's second stealth fighter jet that was unveiled this week is part of a programme to transform China into the top regional military power, an expert on Asian security said on Friday. The fighter, the J-31, made its maiden flight on Wednesday in the northeast province of Liaoning at a facility of the Shenyang Aircraft Corp which built it, according to Chinese media. Picture taken October 31, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer
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