A video has captured China’s J-20 stealth jet firing a missile for the first time, marking its combat readiness. A clip from a state-run channel shows a streak leaving the jet while it is upright, with some social media handles putting together other clips to establish that this was part of a more extensive exercise.
The J-20 has progressively reached stages of operationalization. This includes the introduction of a two-seat variant, new production batches with consistent modifications from previous years, and operational use in live fire drills around Taiwan in August 2022 following the visit of former US Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the island.
It also has encountered US F-35 fighters over the western Pacific and reported increasing production numbers, conveying it is free of the techno-industrial problems faced by the F-35 or the F-22 Raptor.
Observers maintain that the J-20 has engaged in several live-fire munitions releases over the years and that this was only the first time it was captured on video.
At a political level, this also serves as effective propaganda where China tries to match the US as a defense technology and scientific research leader as the two engage in a multifaceted great power contest.
Video Shows J-20 Releasing Air-to-Air Missile
The short one-second clip shows the J-20 in level flight, releasing a missile that streaks ahead. Subsequent footage shows two J-20s behind a Y-20 aerial refueling tanker. A brief angle indicates the J-20 on the right side connected with the pipe from its extendable, concealed probe.
This is also the first since the probe’s hatch was captured. In the last Zhuhai air show, media and visitors clicked the J-20 taxiing, parked on the tarmac from a close distance, and photographed the thin, rectangular hatch. But the probe’s shape remained a mystery. In the latest video, it appears to have a curved shape.
First ever footage of J-20 launching PL-10 and also AAR 👀 pic.twitter.com/65bQaaeNrK
— Húrin (@intel1osint100) November 10, 2023
That leaves the question of what the make of the fired missile was. While there are conflicting claims about the missile being the short-range PL-10 and the extended beyond visual range (BVR) PL-15, experts and established open-source information about the J-20’s design configuration have concluded it is the former.
For one, during the 2019 Zhuhai air show, one saw the only credible and insightful revelation about the fighter when the J-20 flew overhead with its underbelly and side internal weapons bays open. The two underbelly bays showed two PL-15s in each compartment (totaling four), while the side bays showed one PL-10 on each side, hanging out from launch rails.
This is an exciting launch mechanism for the PL-10 that is activated when the J-20 is engaged in close dogfights. Touched upon in a previous EurAsian Times article, before the pilot wants to fire the missile, the side bays open, and the rounded launching rails extend out, with the side rails closing again.
Depending on the tactical situation, the pilot can quickly fire, exploiting the short-range PL-10’s possible high-off boresight capability, before retracting the launchers and closing the rails. This is if he wishes not to compromise stealth, as briefly opening bay doors and the rails provides an added reflective surface.
Otherwise, the J-20 can fly around with the bay doors open and rails extended with the missile riding on it if stealth is not a pressing concern — as is likely with high-intensity dogfights. This is to establish that the PL-10 can only be fired from the side bays, which are relatively smaller than the PL-15-carrying underbelly bays, suited to the size of the missiles.
The video clearly shows the trajectory of the smoke streak tracing itself to the side bay, implying the missile has to be the PL-10. Leading military aviation analyst Andreas Rupprecht also said it could not be the PL-15. “A PL-10 off the launch-rail from the side bays. The PL-15 is first dropped, and the rocket motors ignite a bit later,” he said, speaking to the EurAsian Times.
Independent Chinese military and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) watcher Ben Lewis also said it looks like the PL-10. Both Lewis and Rupprecht also pointed out that the J-20 has to have engaged in live munitions releases in the past, including the BVR PL-15, and that is only the first time it was captured on video.
Don’t Be Too Impressed, Only A War Will Show
Experts, therefore, caution against being too impressed with the video, saying the J-20 firing a missile is only consistent with Beijing’s persistent efforts to comprehensively prepare its military for a war with the US and a military recourse on Taiwan. They believe the video only inflates the aura of invincibility around the stealth fighter.
“What’s there to be impressed with? It was only a matter of time before they showed the J-20 firing a missile. It must have happened dozens of times before. A lot depends upon how they plan to use the jet and whether their tactics, procedures, and operational discipline are solid,” a serving Air Vice Marshal-rank officer of the Indian Air Force told EurAsian Times, asking not to be named.