Concept art depicts the two-seat variant of the J-20 stealth fighter jet. Photo: cctv.com
China's most advanced stealth fighter jet J-20 could be developed into a bomber, electric warfare (EW) aircraft and a carrier-based variant, Chinese military experts said on Wednesday as latest reports suggested a two-seat version of the warplane is under development.
All current stealth fighter jets feature single-seat, so the potential J-20 variant might become the first two-seat stealth fighter jet in the world, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Wednesday.
On a highly digitalized future battlefield, large amounts of information can easily overflow the entire control panel of an aircraft. Having a second pilot and a second panel sharing part of the work will be advantageous, the report said.
Yang Wei, the chief designer of the J-20, said in March 2018 that the aircraft will be serialized and see its combat capability constantly upgraded, People's Daily reported.
The current J-20 is a basic version, and it is by design highly customizable, Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Outfitting the warplane with a second seat allows it to play multiple roles in addition to winning air superiority, Song said, noting that the two-seat version can be further developed into a tactical bomber or EW aircraft.
Having variations that other countries do not possess will greatly expand the Chinese military's capability in an asymmetric warfare, analysts said.
The US had a similar plan with its stealth fighter jet the F-22 due to its supersonic speed and potential to penetrate airspace without being detected. However, the FB-22, a tactical bomber version of the F-22, was axed in 2006 because the US Air Force wanted a strategic bomber instead of a tactical one, US media outlet the National Interest reported.
Although the FC-31, another Chinese stealth fighter jet, is widely expected to become China's next generation carrier-borne fighter jet, Song said that J-20 can also be modified to fulfill the role.
Even if the J-20 does not make additions to its role, it will definitely see enhancements to its capability, as China has a tradition of upgrading its fighter jets with advanced technologies before moving on to an entirely new aircraft.
An upgraded J-20 will have improved avionics and fire control systems, more powerful engines and more weapons payload, Song said.