When clear pictures confirmed the existence of the J-20 in early 2011, questions began to circulate challenging just “how stealthy” the J-20 actually was, with much of this scepticism originally directed from English language defence media and defence watching forums.
One major component of the overarching scepticism was the initial lack of an internal weapons bay on the first J-20 (airframe serial number 2001). However later in the year 2011, pictures and videos depicting doors of the J-20’s large ventral weapons bay as well as two smaller side intake weapons opening and closing indisputably verified the presence of internal weapons bays for the aircraft. In mid 2013, pictures of J-20 prototype 2002 emerged with an open ventral weapons bay during flight
However, it is unknown as of yet what weapons suite J-20 will be capable of hosting, however picture evidence, knowledge of Chinese aerial weapons development, rumours and critical thinking can lead observers to certain likely conclusions.
J-20 weapons bays:
Before considering the weapons themselves, it would be wise to consider the bays which will house them.
J-20 features three internal weapons bays, with one main large ventral weapons bay on its belly and two side smaller weapons bays with one on either side of the aircraft. Overall, the configuration of J-20’s weapons bays most closely resembles that of the F-22.
Videos do exist of J-20’s weapons bays opening and closing while on the ground, however they do so at slower speeds than would be expected for a stealth fighter conducting actual weapons deployment in a combat situation. This is to be expected, given those videos depict J-20 likely under initial testing conditions. Evidence of a true “combat speed” weapons bay deployment/closure will probably take many years to emerge given videos of such an action will probably be for an aerial weapons test of some form, and such footage in turn may only be disclosed by the Chinese Air Force when they fully declassify the J-20 project, which could possibly occur around 2020.
That said, clear pictures of J-20’s open weapon bays and their internal details have been available for a few years now, but this is with the caveat that clear pictures of J-20’s ventral weapons bay have only depicted airframe 2002. It is unknown if prototypes of the 201X series (which feature substantial other modifications from the 200X series prototypes and are more representative of production J-20s) may exhibit slight modifications in weapons bay dimensions from the 200X series. The impact of even potentially minor modifications could ultimately have significant impact on the weapons load and flexibility of a production J-20. This will be expanded upon later in the entry.
Air to air weapons:
Each of J-20’s two side weapons bays are small, and designed to accommodate a single short range air to air missile, similar to that of the F-22. Photos of J-20 prototypes have openly displayed carriage of the new generation PL-10 SRAAM in J-20’s side bays, and given the relatively narrow width of these side bays, it is likely that PL-10 will be J-20’s only primary SRAAM when it enters initial service and would be unable to carry older generation SRAAMs with larger wingspans such as the PL-8 family.
This contrasts with the F-22, whose side weapons bays are large enough to accommodate older generation and larger wingspan AIM-9M Sidewinders as well as newer and smaller wingspan AIM-9X variants.
PL-10 is widely considered to be a SRAAM in the same generation as AIM-9X, R-73M, ASRAAM, IRIS-T, and AAM-5, among others, and likely includes high off boresight capabilities, a decoy resistant imaging infrared seeker, and possibly lock on after launch capabilities.
To exploit these new capabilities J-20 would likely require a helmet mounted display such as the JHMCS, or even something akin to the F-35’s advanced HMD. As of yet no such HMD has been seen worn by J-20 test pilots, however this technology is likely within the capabilities of China’s avionics industry and a mock up of an HMD was even displayed at Zhuhai Airshow 2014.
A more comprehensive overview of the PL-10 missile will be available separately.
Crop wing PL-12
In mid 2012, J-20 prototype 2002 was seen carrying a pair of crop wing PL-12 missiles, sometimes called PL-15 or PL-12C. From those pictures it appeared like J-20 was capable of carrying four beyond visual range weapons within its main weapons bay, however there has been speculation as to whether the weapons bay may have experienced minor widening in the 201X series of prototypes, to accommodate six BVR weapons similar to the F-22.
The PL-12C/PL-15 is thought to be an advanced derivative of the PL-12 BVR air to air missile, and has been considered to be the Chinese Air Force’s equivalent to the AIM-120D. Speculation has persisted as to whether the PL-12C/PL-15 may be equipped with a more advanced active/passive seeker, advanced propulsion such as dual pulse motor, and advanced datalinking capabilities.
PL-12C/PL-15 have yet to be seen onboard other aircraft apart from a J-11B (for testing purposes), but it is expected that the missile will become the new standard BVR AAM for Chinese military aviation, and rumours in late 2015 suggested the missile had been successfully fired from a J-16 strike fighter.
Needless to say, no reliable range figures or other specifications for the missile exists, though it has been suggested the PL-12C/PL-15 may have an effective range of nearly 200km.
Another missile that has been often associated with the J-20 is a ramjet powered BVR AAM, sometimes called PL-21 but sometimes also called PL-15, which creates substantial confusion given the crop wing PL-12 is sometimes also called PL-15.
No clear pictures of PL-21 exist as of yet, and it is unclear as to whether the programme is still under development, however in the late 2000s there were persistent rumours surrounding the designation for a new ramjet powered BVR AAM.
The configuration of PL-21 from various semi official illustrations depict a missile with relatively large fins (suggesting J-20 may only be able to carry four such missiles even with a minor weapons bay enlargement), and two ramjet intakes. The overall configuration is not dissimilar to that of the European Meteor missile, and would likely offer similarly advanced kinematic capabilities.
Air to ground weapons
J-20 is likely to be primarily an air to air fighter aircraft, however it will also likely be capable of carrying a variety of air to ground weapons internally. Given the estimated dimensions of the J-20’s weapons bay and comparing with dimensions of other similar stealth aircraft, J-20 will likely be capable of carrying 500kg class precision guided bombs as well as 100kg class precision guided bombs.
The Chinese aerospace industry already offer a number of PGMs for export, including the FT series, the LS series and the TG series, all of which feature bombs in the 500kg weight class and 100kg weight class, with satellite guidance, laser guidance or combined satellite/laser guidance, as well as wing kits to extend range.
As of yet, the Chinese military has not committed to a family of PGMs yet, however once they do it is likely that they will purchase it in bulk.
In this author’s opinion, the FT family may be the most attractive, given the relatively small wingspan of their weapons family and the presence of the FT-7 130kg diamond wing bomb, with a long range of around 100km. Strap on guidance kits for other weight classes are available, from 250kg to 500kg, with standard and wing kit add-ons and satellite as well as laser/EO guidance.
Commentary regarding the presence and lack of presence of a gun on J-20 has already been done, and can be read here.
For wanting an abridged version: it is likely that J-20 features a gun on its left shoulder position, but it has yet to be positively identified given the lack of gun testing footage which would likely only be released by the Air Force in an official manner.
This write up has taken a look at J-20’s weapons bays, and the weapons that would likely be employed by the aircraft.
In coming years as the Air Force becomes more and more open regarding the aircraft, additional details will be confirmed or disproven, but as of present this is probably the most realistic and likely weapons suite that J-20 can field in the near term.