The ‘fifth-generation J-20 fighter jet of the Chinese PLA Air Force may be upgraded with two-dimensional thrust vectoring control (TVC) nozzles for its engines in the future.
This would greatly increase the aircraft’s maneuverability and stealth capabilities with a Chinese expert claiming that the modified J-20 would even surpass its US counterpart, the F-22 Raptor, Global Times reported.
The news broke when PLAAF’s first J-20 pilot, Li Gang, made a remark that the aircraft is expected to be fitted with two-dimensional thrust vectoring control nozzles when asked about his expectations on the future development of the J-20s potential thrust vector control in an interview with Hong-Kong based Phoenix TV.
Although these are not official claims, the proposed upgrade would not be entirely new. Last year, it was reported that a new variant of the J-20 — J-20B — was unveiled on July 8, 2020, and entered mass production the same day. The only change mentioned was that the J-20B was to be equipped with thrust vectoring control.
Notwithstanding such reports, China does have the capability to develop the relevant technologies, as it demonstrated a pre-production J-10C with an axisymmetric thrust vector control (TVC) nozzle during Zhuhai Airshow 2018.
What is Thrust Vectoring Control?
Technically, it is the ability of an aircraft, rocket, or other aerial vehicles to manipulate the direction of the thrust from its engine(s) or motor(s) to control the attitude or angular velocity of the vehicle. In simpler terms, it enhances the maneuverability of the aircraft.
These are especially useful at high altitudes where the aircraft’s control surfaces are unable to produce much drag, degrading maneuverability, and flight performance. This method was originally envisaged for rockets and ballistic missiles, and in aircraft later to provide upward vertical thrust as a means to give aircraft vertical (VTOL) or short (STOL) takeoff and landing ability.
Subsequently, it was realized that using vectored thrust in combat situations enabled aircraft to perform various maneuvers not available to conventional-engined planes.
To perform turns, aircraft that use no thrust vectoring must rely on aerodynamic control surfaces only, such as ailerons or elevators, but an aircraft with vectoring can rely on control surfaces along with the added push from the engine into that direction.
This can also enhance post-stall recovery, making it more maneuverable and capable of achieving high angles of attack.
Nevertheless, the Chinese jet’s comparison with F-22 as the former being ‘better’ could be complete ignorance of J-20’s lack of powerful engines. This gap in the thrust-to-weight ratio is expected to be plugged by the introduction of the WS-15 engine in the future.