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Chinese J-20 variant may be fist two-seat stealth fighter jet

China's most advanced stealth fighter jet J-20 could be developed into a bomber, electronic warfare (EW) aircraft and a carrier-based variant, Chinese military experts said on 16 January as latest reports suggested a two-seat version of the warplane is under development, as reported by ChinaMil. Having variations that other countries do not possess will greatly expand the Chinese military's capability in an asymmetric warfare, analysts said.

Chinese J 20 variant may be fist two seat stealth fighter jet Conceptual view of a two-seater J-20 stealth fighter (Illustration source: CCTV)

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 would 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. The US had a similar plan with its F-22 stealth fighter jet. 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.

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