China’s J-20 Scores ’17 Kills’ Against Indian Rafale Fighters In Simulation Drills; IAF Expert Unimpressed

After the bloody Galwan Valley clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers, aviation enthusiasts have often compared the military capabilities of both nations, especially the Air Power.

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In one of the simulation drills, Beijing claimed to have shot down 17 Rafale fighters using its J-20 stealth jets.

A Chinese pilot belonging to the Wang Hai Air Group under the PLA Eastern Theater Command, along with his colleagues, claimed to have shot down Rafale fighters in 2020 simulations drills. The Wang Hai Air Group is the first air wing that is using the J-20 fighter jets.

EurAsian Times recollects the 2020 incident.

Simulation Drills

Military simulations or war games are manufactured environments where combat theories are tested to develop tactical and strategic solutions and assert dominance in actual battle.

The flight simulators under military simulations are used to re-create fighters and realistic physical aspects of the actual aircraft cockpit, often with a full-motion platform. It is used to prepare pilots and research the fighter jets’ features and control handling qualities without getting into a real warplane.

It reproduces the equations governing the flight of a fighter jet, the applications of flight controls, the effects of other aircraft systems, and how the jet reacts to external factors like air density, turbulence, wind shear, cloud, precipitation, etc.

While such simulations have been lambasted by experts due to their approximate nature and inability to replicate the uncertainties in an actual war, they are still essential for militaries to test their aircraft and modify them without undergoing hostilities.

While military simulation enables pilots to carry out high-risk procedural tasks in a safe environment without dangerous implications, the simulations cannot completely recreate real-life situations.

Moreover, not all situations can be included in simulators, and since pilots have no real consequences for mistakes, the trainees may end up underperforming or overperforming. This may lead to simulation results not matching the results of an actual combat scenario where stakes are much higher, and the pilot may need to cater to unforeseen circumstances.

J-20 Downs Rafale

J-20s are fifth-generation jets, and unlike their French counterparts, they boast stealth technology, meaning that they can reduce the radar cross-section on the enemy aircraft’s radar to go undetected.

While the Rafales, despite not being stealth jets, have been designed for a reduced radar cross-section and infrared signature, they can still be detected on the radar of a J-20, meaning that the Chinese fighters could have an edge over the Rafales in actual combat, if an attack by the J-20s goes undetected on the radar of the Rafales.

This could have been how the J-20s might have gained an advantage on the Rafales during the simulation drill before shooting them down.

While not much is known about China’s J-20s, one of the significant features of the J-20 is its Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, considered one of the most advanced radar technologies in the world.

While even the Rafales are equipped with AESA, the J-20s AESA radar has a chin-mounted infrared or electric-optical detection system, giving the J-20 pilot 360-degree coverage. Moreover, the J-20 can also access real-time data from the Chinese military’s satellites, making the pilots change the course of action according to the requirements of the situation.

Rafale Fighter Jet
Rafale fighter jet. Credits: NATO

An Indian Air Force expert talking to the EurAsian Times on condition of anonymity said that PLAAF might have set the simulations in a way to equip their aircraft (J-20) with all the critical strengths. This is something that is not possible in real combat.

But then again, these simulations cannot be trusted and will differ greatly from an aerial skirmish between a J-20 and a Rafale. Even though the J-20s are marketed as fifth-generation stealth jets, their biggest deficiency is that they are not battle-proven like the French-origin Rafales.

Chinese Military Aviation expert Fu Qianshao, while speaking to Chinese-state media Global Times, claimed that the overall capabilities of the J-20s make it superior to its previous generation Western warplanes.  

If the speculation is true, the exercise once again displayed the massive edge the J-20 has over its previous generation jets. This is because of the J-20’s superior capabilities in stealth, situational awareness, maneuverability, and weapons.,” the Chinese expert said.

File Image: J-20 jets

Fu also highlighted how Beijing’s insistence on the current war games as being close to real-life combat might pay dividends in future conflicts. China’s current training is real-combat oriented, and if the J-20 can score an overwhelming advantage in mock battles, it will do the same in real combat,”

However, Chinese experts have continued to suggest that the French Rafales are not in the same league as the stealth J-20s. “The Rafale is only a third-plus generation (or fourth-plus generation in Western classification) fighter jet, resulting in a generational gap with the J-20, and will find it very difficult to confront a stealth-capable fourth (fifth) generation fighter jet like the J-20.”

Overall, Indian aviation experts believe that while the J-20s might have an edge over the French Rafales on paper, however the Rafale jets are battle-tested and regarded one of the most powerful multi-role fighters in the world today. Such 17-0 numbers would only make a good reading for the Chinese audience, the IAF expert said.

Former IAF Air Marshall had earlier told the EurAsian Times, Rafale has impressive combat history as well as its ability to perform different sets of roles, puts it above the J-20s. J-20 is still in the inception stage, while Rafale has been combat-proven for 20 years in Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Libya, and Syria. Rafale is an omni-role aircraft and will be more than a match for the J-20.