Chinese Chengdu J-20 vs India's French made Rafale


On 15th June Indian & Chinese militaries engaged in a conflict. The clashes happened in eastern Ladakh's Galwan Valley. The valley refers to the land between steep mountains and the Galwan River. It is strategically located between Ladakh in the west and Aksai Chin in the east. Though things have cooled down a bit since then a skirmish can’t be ruled out going forward. In this situation, an aerial battle between the two countries could see two of the most potent fighters in the world going head to head. In this article, Defence Talks analyze how China's 5th generation Chengdu J-20 stands compared to India’s French-made Rafale? Let’s get into the details.

J-20 vs Rafale

Chengdu J-20 is a single-seat, multirole stealth fighter for air-to-air, air-to-ground combat roles and integrated avionics which was test flown for the first time on January 11, 2011. The jet is developed and manufactured by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group or CAIG. The total number of operational jets is not known at present. The Dassault Rafale 
may be a French twin-engine, canard-delta wing, multirole fighter equipped with a good range of weapons. It is intended to perform air supremacy, interdiction, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike and deterrence missions. India’s contract for 36 Rafale fighters has a cost of around $8.721 billion and it will start receiving the jets soon. We will compare the fighter on different aspects one by one. 

Official information on the type of radar that J-20s use has not yet been released publicly. Some analysts believed that J-20s used Type 1475 (KLJ-5) active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar with 1856 transmit/receive modules, but newer information's revealed that this radar was designed for upgraded versions of J-11D J20 is likely to have a radar that has 2000–2200 transmit/receive modules There is very little information available when it comes to the self-protection suite in J 20. Dassault Rafale is fitted with an RBE2-AA radar system which is an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system derived from the Rafale's RBE2 radar. 

The radar is reported to deliver a detection range of greater than 200 km or 125 miles, improved reliability and reduced maintenance demands over the preceding radar. The Rafale features an integrated defensive-aids system named SPECTRA, which protects the aircraft against airborne and ground threats. Various methods of detection, jamming, and decoying are incorporated. It is noted that 30% of the cost of the entire aircraft has been devoted to the radar and self-protection equipment. Though Chinese have come a long way when it comes to radar tech & self-protection systems, it is well known that U.S & European corporations have the edge in research. 


Stealth is still is very difficult to achieve and it seems China has a long way to go. The design is not optimized - J-20’s long and wide fuselage and large surface area are thought to reflect the radar signals significantly. The Radar Absorbent Material used in the jet also needs further work. Reports have emerged that a Sukhoi Su-30MKI of the Indian Air Force managed to detect the Chinese Chengdu J-20 jet fighter. The disclosure didn’t come from any independent analysts but from an official source. Indian Air Force commander Arup Shaha said, "The Sukhoi's radar can see them. The new Chinese jets aren't so invisible in any case. 

No special technology is required to detect the J-20, because it are often detected by ordinary radar stations.” This elevates doubts about J 20 which was already considered a decorated 4++ generation fighter by many experts. Although not really a stealth aircraft, the Rafale was designed for a reduced radar cross-section (RCS) and infrared signature. In order to scale back the RCS, changes from the initial technology demonstrator include a discount within the size of the tail-fin, fuselage reshaping, repositioning of the engine air inlets underneath the aircraft's wing, and the extensive use of composite materials and serrated patterns for the construction of the trailing edges of the wings and canards It's much smaller size also aids in the reduction of RCS. 


The engine is like the heart of an aircraft and has profound impact on the maneuverability of the fighters. J-20 uses Russian AL-31F engines which is the predecessor of AL-41F1 and has struggled to make an indigenous engine suitable for a 5th generation aircraft. It can't supercruise with this engine The future production version of the J-20 may be powered by the WS-15, a homegrown turbofan engine currently under development and could enable it with supercruise ability. A fighter jet that can’t supercruise is technically not a 5th generation fighter. The Rafale is fitted with two Snecma M88 engines, each capable of providing up to 50 Kilo Newton (11,250 lbf) of dry thrust and 75 Kilo Newton (16,900 lbf) with afterburners. The M88 enables the Rafale to supercruise while carrying four missiles and one drop tank. 


J-20 is integrated with many air-to-air missiles which include PL-10 for short-range, PL-12 for medium-range, and PL-15 for BVR or Beyond visibility combat. Rafale is equipped with MBDA MICA IR or EM short & medium range and MBDA Meteor for BVR combat It is likely that these aircraft will be able to take a Beyond Visual Range shot at each other, hence capabilities of P 15 & Meteor is an important consideration. P 15 features an active electronically scanned array radar and has a range of 400 km or about 250 miles. It is 4 meters long and incorporates a dual-thrust rocket motor, capable of a speed of Mach 4. 

But it is mainly designed to take out large targets like aerial refueling and AEW&C aircraft. Meteor missile is developed by MBDA and is predicated on the need derived from 6 nations. It has a range of 150 km or 93 miles. It is capable of engaging fast agile jets to small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles as well as cruise missiles in extreme weather conditions. Meteor has excellent aerodynamics and propulsion performance enabling it to pull off intense turn angles when pursuing an agile target like a modern super maneuverable fighter. The missile has a no-escape zone of 60 km or about 38 miles which is the largest more a missile of this category. Meteor is actually considered to the best BVR missile against fighter jets. 


Air superiority is key to any modern-day battle scenario so these jets have a very important role to play in a potential conflict. As of now, it is unclear if J-20 is actually capable of combat operations. But this is not the case with Rafale which has already been used in a real battle. Its first mission occurred on 12 March 2007, and the first GBU-12 bomb was launched on 28 March in support of embattled Dutch troops in Southern Afghanistan, marking the operational d├ębut of the Rafale. 

Though a lot of claims have been made about the capability of J-20 , touting it to be a 5th generation fighter, it has several issues like many other so-called indigenous Chinese weapons platforms. For example, J-15 Flying Shark which is a derivative/illegal copy of the Russian SU-33 is referred to as 'flopping fish’ but Chinese media itself for its inability to operate effectively from the Chinese carrier. Keeping this in view, Rafale which is built to satisfy European standards will be a handful for the Chinese jet. But the result of a head-on encounter will depend on many aspects like availability of AWCS, training of the pilots, and tactical planning. 

Post a Comment


  1. Good description but i think the comparison is incomplete until you don't discuss a;out the various kinds of missiles it carries. Because while BVR missiles are useful to shoot down an enemy fighter plane but other missiles are useful to target ground installations. India have to destroy ground infrastructure of china in order to cripple and destroy the manufacturing base of china...the main economic thrust of china.