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China’s J-20 fighter jet could get laser weapons, drone swarms

China's J-20 Stealth Fighter (Alert5/WikiMedia)
March 09, 2023

China’s 5th generation J-20 stealth fighter jet could be equipped with laser directed-energy weapons according to Wang Mingliang, a Chinese military expert says a Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times report.

Additionally the J-20 has the potential to be capable of unmanned flight and centralized drone control.

Directed-energy weapons, such as lasers, are a relatively new technology that can be used for aerial interception without any time delay. However, it requires a significant amount of energy to be effective and must be addressed before it can be mounted on an aircraft.

Chinese defense firms have publicly displayed laser defense weapon systems, including the LW-30, which could use a directional-emission high-energy laser to intercept aerial targets.

It is not just directed-energy weapons that the J-20 could be equipped with in the future. Wang Mingliang also predicts that the J-20 could be fitted with more powerful radar and fire control systems to become a small early warning aircraft. This would enable the J-20 to conduct coordinated operations with drones by leading them, or commanding a drone swarm in combat.

Moreover, Wang Mingliang suggests that the J-20 could be capable of unmanned flight. This is in line with general trends of warplane development worldwide, with countries like the US also exploring related technologies. Wang notes that combat data from the second seat could be gathered, analyzed, and used to train artificial intelligence, which could eventually replace the second pilot.

The J-20 is already equipped with domestically developed engines, but it is expected to get even more powerful domestic engines in the future, enabling it to carry more payload and carry out more types of missions.

The J-20 has also tested a twin-seat variant. This extra pilot could be utilized in more complicated combat situations, such as to control loyal wingman-style drones, which would accompany the manned fighter in flight and carry different types of payloads for a wide variety of missions, including ground and surface attacks, air-to-air combat, and electronic disruption.

The J-20’s potential to be equipped with directed-energy weapons and its ability to spawn variants for early warning, unmanned flight, and drone control indicate that China is dedicated to building its air power significantly as it talks about invading Taiwan and expelling the US from the South China Sea.

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While China’s J-20 may one day fire laser weapons according to the government-backed newspaper, little to no specifics have been mentioned regarding the maturity of such a plan. However, it seems realistic that the PLA Air Force would be working on this in an effort to keep pace with the US Air Force.