Technology

The most elite killing machine in the skies, The F-22 Raptor vs Chinese Chengdu J-20

Summary

Two American AWACs planes cruise two hundred miles off the Chinese coast, blasting a significant portion of the hostile coastline with radar and feeding that information to American combat assets in the air all across the South China Sea. For […]

The most elite killing machine in the skies, The F-22 Raptor vs Chinese Chengdu J-20
The most elite killing machine in the skies, The F-22 Raptor vs Chinese Chengdu J-20

Two American AWACs planes cruise two hundred miles off the Chinese coast, blasting a significant portion of the hostile coastline with radar and feeding that information to American combat assets in the air all across the South China Sea.

For the Chinese, they are a critical target that must be eliminated ASAP. For the Americans, who have no ground-based installations to fall back on, they are vital resources to be protected at all costs.

Whether the two big birds live or die in the coming moments might just determine who reigns supreme in the skies over China’s coastline.

A flight of Chinese J-15s scream towards the American planes, armed with long-range missiles they only need to get to within 150 or so miles to down their targets. The Chinese fighters have taken off from military airfields on Hainan island, hastily repaired after the initial American strike against military bases all across Southern China’s coast by US Navy submarines utilizing tomahawk cruise missiles.

While not fully operational, the air fields are able to launch several sorties a day- enough to threaten the all-important American AWACs planes. Now the Eight J-15s scream at full afterburner towards their targets. US strikes weren’t able to disable all of China’s ground-based radar capabilities, and the systems the People’s Liberation Air Force still has operational tell the J-15 pilots that the big birds are currently alone. None of the veteran pilots are fooled though, the AWACS won’t be alone for long.

The US Air Force has been operating from airfields in the Philippines, which China has been hesitant to strike at out of fear of driving the Philippines from a passive ally of the US, to a fully combat-committed one. Somewhere near the AWACS, Chinese long range radar now picks up a small flight of US Air Force F-15s, likely there to provide cover for the vulnerable planes.

The Chinese jets aren’t looking for a dogfight, they hope to get to within long-range striking distance and down the AWACs before the F-15s can respond. To accomplish this the planes first fly east, away from their targets, then loop around to the south before turning north on the AWAC’S six o’clocks- an unexpected attack vector.

The F-15s which have been expecting an attack from the east are completely out of position to defend the AWACs, despite being vectored in on the approaching J-15s. The big, slow, and extremely vulnerable American Airborne Warning and Control planes are easy pickings as the Chinese jets cruise towards firing range. Suddenly, four of the J-15s receive missile lock warnings.

The pilots scan the horizon wildly as their onboard alerting systems work out range and heading. There- 3’oclock, thirty five miles out and closing extremely rapidly- American AIM 120 Amraams. The J-15s dump flares and chaff, breaking off their attack to outmaneuver the incoming missiles.

This however means turning away from the incoming missiles and from their current direction of travel, which bleeds large amounts of airspeed which must be very quickly made up. The other Chinese pilots panic briefly- they know of only one plane that could have remained undetected on radar long enough to ambush them- the American F-22.

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A hundred miles away, four American F-22 Raptors super cruise at over twice the speed of sound. Had the J-15’s been pointed in their direction; their front-facing radar may have briefly detected the presence of the F-22s by the opening of their weapon bays. Even so, the brief contact may not even have been enough to alert the Chinese pilots they were being targeted and under fire.

Given the AIM 120’s kill rate of around 30% against actively defending aircraft, each F-22 has launched three missiles at each bird, with a second volley targeting the remaining 4 J-15s just seconds later.

The Chinese formation is in chaos, as the second group of J-15s realizes they’ve been targeted as well. The planes dive to put on airspeed as they dump flares and chaff- most of the American missiles explode harmlessly into the decoys- but many don’t, and six J-15 pilots are forced to eject. The other two break off the attack and decide to cut their losses.

The American F-22s have accomplished their mission, but suddenly their powerful long-range radars detect the unmistakable ping of a stealth aircraft opening its weapons bay doors to fire. The F-22 computers immediately recognize the few seconds of the return signal as a Chinese J-20 stealth fighter- and the Raptors with their 6 medium-range missile capacity per plane are completely spent on AIM 120s.

China has its own answer to the F-22, largely due to its espionage of American military secrets. Head-on as they are currently approaching the F-22s, the J-20’s stealth is less effective than the Americans, but more than good enough to make long-range targeting impossible if not incredibly difficult.

Picking up on the F-22’s own firing, and thus breach of their stealth capabilities, the J-20s have fired their own long-range missiles in the direction of the last radar contact with the American planes. The missiles cannot hope to lock on to the F-22s at such long range, but once they come within thirty to twenty miles, their on-board radar could pose serious risks to the American F-22s.

The American pilots face a tough choice. They only have two short-range AIM 9X missiles each, only usable when within a few dozen miles of their target. Meanwhile, the Chinese missiles are screaming across the sky towards them. Turning and running would mean the loss of a lot of airspeed, and potentially allow the missiles to catch up.

Plus, while far better than the J-20’s, the F-22’s rear radar cross section is far worse than its front, and would make them easier targets. The F-22s decide to execute a hard ninety degree turn. Unlike the J-15s, they have the advantage of long-range detection of the hostile J-20’s missile launches, and while the maneuver bleeds off precious air speed, there’s plenty of time to regain it.

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Plus, the incoming missiles can’t match the extremely tight turn rate of the F-22 with its thrust-vectoring engines, and must make a much wider turn, bleeding off its own airspeed. The turn is successful, and the Chinese missiles tumble harmlessly out of the sky, their airspeed completely exhausted.

However, the turn has also presented the F-22’s three and nine o’clock to the incoming J-20s, and these are the least stealthy angles of the large American fighter. With plenty of radar-reflective surfaces exposed to the long-range radar of the J-20s, there’s little the radar-absorbent features of the aircraft’s skin can do to prevent a good lock by the Chinese.

As the J-20s move in for the kill on the helpless F-22s, the Chinese pilots stare incredulously at a loudly squawking missile lock warning. More American AIM 120s are incoming, tearing through the air at 2500 miles an hour. Lurking behind the first flight of Raptors is a second 4-bird flight, who have just released on the Chinese planes. With the J-20s moving their forward-facing radar off-axis, they never had a chance to detect the second flight of Raptors.

The J-20s may be cheap copies of the F-22, but they are still a very stealthy plane, making it hard to get a good weapon lock on them from long range.

That’s why while the Chinese and American fighters juked for supremacy, a US Air Force RQ-170 Sentinel drone quietly snuck behind the Chinese formation. Now, the unmanned drone activates its radar and blasts the Chinese stealth fighters, hitting the fighters in their least stealthy angles. With its remote data link, the Sentinel sends targeting data back to the second flight of F-22s, which feed that data directly to their own nine AIM 120 missiles already in flight.

The American kill network is brutally effective, and China’s limited fleet of J-20s is reduced by another four. Three J-20s remain however, and the Raptors boost towards the Chinese flight.

Neither side has any long-range weapons remaining, but each plane still carries two short-range missiles.

At these ranges, the stealth characteristics of both planes are largely ineffective, but the F-22’s far greater maneuverability and its superior engines proves dominant, especially with its ability to vector its thrust.

The J-20’s canards allow it great agility as well, but its inferior engines prove to be its downfall. Two short-range missiles don’t guarantee a kill even in a dogfight however, which is why the American Raptors have an onboard cannon.

The J-20 does not, and within a few minutes, one American Raptor has been downed, with the total loss of all Chinese J-20s.

The clash just a few dozen miles from the Paracel islands has pulled much of the Chinese Air Force’s remaining air power in the area.

So far, the war has been extremely expensive for both sides in terms of aircraft lost, with hundreds downed on both the Chinese and American side.

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With their superior technology and capabilities though, the American planes are enjoying a far greater kill ratio- but it is not an easy victory. Super cruising at 65,000 feet above sea level, a third flight of F-22s now closes in on Hainan island and its remaining military infrastructure.

Head-on to incoming radar waves from the surviving Chinese radar installations, the F-22s present their stealthiest side and won’t be detectable until within a hundred or so miles.

Even then, the radar resolution will be so low that weapons lock won’t be achievable until the planes close to within thirty miles.

The F-22s don’t need to get that close. Armed with two 1,000 pound glide bombs each, the F-22s open their weapons bay doors at just under 200 miles and release their payloads.

Chinese radar immediately picks up the distinct ping of stealth aircraft firing, followed briefly by a large flash as the planes bank and turn away from their targets, but due to their stealthy rear radar cross-sections, the island’s air defenses are completely confounded and can’t respond.

Eight 1,000 pound bombs deploy small fins and begin their satellite guided flight to their targets. The four remaining air-defense radars on the island will receive two bombs each, and in just a few minutes the giant radars are smoldering wrecks.

With the loss of this last outer ring of defenses, China has effectively lost the ability to monitor and respond to threats along a large section of the South China sea, leaving the US and its allies with complete air superiority.

For now, the Chinese Air Force will be forced to fight a defensive war close to its own shores, where air defenses remain dense enough to ward off even the stealthy F-22s. At the absolute limits of their combat ranges from airfields in the Philippines, the F-22s rendezvous with one of dozens of American airborne tankers before returning to base.

With the superior fighter, a larger AWACS and airborne refueling fleet, and the world’s most robust battle management and data link capabilities, the US military has won the day, despite the high costs of a war between these two military giants. For now though, the F-22 continues to reign supreme, unmatched by any other weapon in the sky.

Why F-22 Raptor Still Reigns Supreme

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