It was a most unexpected Christmas gift to PLA watchers, the first clear photos of China's next-generation stealth fighter. Variously attributed as J-14, J-20, J-XX and other nomenclature, the new fighter has been seen performing high-speed taxi trials within view of public passersby. Perhaps an attempt at international transparency, perhaps a tantalizing leak for a Chinese public increasingly proud of its emerging military might, the disclosure of the existence of the new fighter is the roaring revelation of the Year of the Tiger.
From CDF Member "Mr. Unknown":
Photo releases in the past few days of the PLAAF's 4th generation J-14 fighter (5th generation by western categorization) have generated substantial interest in the PLA enthusiasts' community. They also seem to give a degree of credibility to recent assessments made by US SecDef Robert Gates, who predicted China's deployment of stealth fighters by 2020, and by Jane's, whose recent article vaguely stated that China's J-XX and Russia's PAK-FA fighter programs have reached unspecified "year-end milestones".
One question of great interest to PLA watchers is what type of engine this J-14 prototype will use. It is widely speculated that China's domestic engine development programs remain inadequate for producing the wide array of aircraft being produced in China. The upgraded H-6 bombers use Russian D-30KP engines, JF-17 uses RD-93s, the J-10s use AL-31FNs, and until recently, the J-11s also relied on AL-31s. Thus heavy reliance on Russian engines is likely to continue. Unconfirmed Russian media reports and Jane's claimed that Russia provided 117S engines - the same used for its own PAK-FA fighter - for the current J-14 prototype, but this author is skeptical as to whether Russia would be willing to sell to China its best available engine, given its perception that China frequently reverse engineers Russian military technology. On the other hand, the use of indigenous WS-15 engines remains equally implausible, for it is unlikely that this relatively new and immature model would be ready for use on an experimental aircraft.