This article first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.
A supercruising combat aircraft is a high priority of the Chinese navy, the country's top admiral says in a revealing official interview that gives strong clues of perceived shortcomings and future directions for the maritime force.
Adm. Wu Shengli also says China must step up work on precision missiles that can overcome enemy defenses, and the nation should move faster in developing large combat surface ships -- probably meaning the aircraft carrier program that looks increasingly imminent.
Wu's demand for supercruise -- supersonic flight without afterburner -- hints that such performance will be available from the next Chinese fighter, sometimes called the J-XX.
"One possibility is that the J-XX is being designed for supercruise and that Wu is trying to build support for a naval version of the aircraft," says Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
The design of the J-XX is unknown. It could be a new aircraft or quite possibly a development of the J-10, a fighter now entering service.
The J-10's configuration is similar to that of the Eurofighter Typhoon, which the manufacturer says can supercruise at Mach 1.5, although it is likely to be somewhat slower with a useful external load.
For the Chinese navy, one advantage of supercruising would be the ability to cover a large defensive area in less time -- quite useful if the imagined target is a U.S. carrier group at long range.
Importantly, Wu lists a supercruising fighter among a series of technological demands that all look quite achievable for the Chinese navy over the next decade or so, suggesting that he does not regard such flight performance as a pie in the sky.
"Sophisticated equipment is the key material basis for winning a regional naval war," says the admiral, evidently referring to the possibility of a confrontation in the Taiwan Strait. "We must accelerate and promote steps to work on key weapons.