The Complex

This might be China's third J-20 stealth fighter

A quick update on China's stealth fighter program: Photos newly published on a Chinese Web sites show what might be a third prototype J-20 stealth jet.

China has two different types of stealthy-looking fighters: the large J-20 and the smaller J-31. Many speculate that because of its large size, the J-20 is high-speed interceptor designed to fly out and shoot down enemy bombers -- similar to the old Soviet MiG-25 Foxbat -- or that it is a high-speed stealthy bomber designed to use a combination of stealth and speed to penetrate enemy air defenses and fire cruise missiles or bombs at targets such as bases or ships.

The latest photos show a J-20 with open compartments on the forward sections of its fuselage, which may contain avionics, communications gear or sensors. It is also worth noting that the third aircraft appears to have a different nose radome than its sibling J-20s, meaning that this jet may also contain an Active Electronically Scanned Array radar. All of this suggests the Chinese may be testing the sensors it plans to include on production J-20s. Still, without confirmation from the Chinese air force, this is pure speculation.

Photos of the first two J-20 prototypes, dubbed J-20 2001 and J-20 2002, have been appearing on Chinese Web forums for nearly two years, with the first jet making its maiden flight in early 2011.

The smaller J-31, revealed in September, appears to blatantly copy the shape of two American-made fighters: Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. (It's worth pointing out that Lockheed's F-35 program was badly hacked several years ago. Loads of information was stolen, forcing a costly and time consuming redesign of several systems.) Little is known about the J-31 or what it will be used for.

Click here for more images of the possible third J-20.

Chinese Internet, China Defense Blog

The Complex

Boeing's flying blackout

While everyone in Washington is talking about the upcoming presidential debate today, one of the U.S. Air Force's newest high-tech toys was taking big step -- er, flight -- forward.

The Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) is an effort to build a missile that flies over -- not into -- a target, be it an entire military base, neighborhood, or a even a lone tank and shuts down all the electronics inside without harming a soul. (Think of it almost as a mini-EMP in a rocket.) On Oct. 16, a CHAMP missile flew an hour-long preprogrammed route low over the Utah desert, "degrading and defeating" the electronics inside seven different targets. In a building along the route packed with computers, the screens all went dark as CHAMP sailed by, emitting a blast of high-power microwaves, according to CHAMP-maker Boeing's Oct. 22 press release announcing the test flight. (The weapon even took out the remotely controlled TV cameras that were monitoring the tests, claimed Boeing.)

As the Chicago-based defense giant says in its press release, "CHAMP, which renders electronic targets useless, is a non-kinetic alternative to traditional explosive weapons that use the energy of motion to defeat a target." (Side note: "energy of motion" is a nice way of saying that missiles, bombs, and bullets slam into things and explode.)

So, how does CHAMP fit into the Pentagon's post Iraq and Afghan war plans? As everyone knows, the Defense Department is focusing on how to defeat new generations of air defense radars, surface to air missiles, anti ship missiles, and a host of other technologies that are specifically meant to keep American weapons systems at bay.

This means coming up with a fleet of new stealth bombers, fighters, and drone jets that can penetrate these defenses. It also means creating a bevy of long-range -- or standoff weapons -- capable of being launched by unstealthy jets far away from heavily defended targets. Where does something like CHAMP come in? As a door kicker. Launched from a stealth aircraft and designed to take out enemy air defense networks and command and control centers, CHAMP would pave the way for less stealthy jets and help to "blind" the enemy.

"In the near future, this technology may be used to render an enemy's electronic and data systems useless even before the first troops or aircraft arrive," said Keith Coleman, CHAMP program manager at Boeing's Phantom Works division, in a press release.

Still, don't expect to see CHAMP fielded soon. It's simply meant to demonstrate that such a weapon is feasible. In the meantime, the Pentagon is buying EA-18G Growler electronic attack jets for the Navy while the Air Force and Marine Corps hope to use something called the Next Generation Jammer along with powerful Active Electronically Scanned Array radars (AESA radars can be used to jam other radars, in addition to many other things) on their F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to defeat enemy sensors. And don't be surprised if the Navy decides to equip its planned fleet of stealthy combat drones, known as UCLASS, with some sort of electronic warfare gear aimed at jamming enemy electronics.