The Chinese air force is moving to standardize the paint schemes of its aircraft, introducing new regulations requiring use of common paints and colors to reduce the fleet’s visibility both to the human eye and to radar.
According to the new regulations, aircraft in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) will begin to use common “low observable” paint schemes that will reduce their visibility on enemy radars as well as to visual observers, the Global Times reported earlier this month, citing the PLA Daily.
The new colors featured are “sky colors,” the publication said, such as gray, light blue and silver, which help the planes to blend into their backgrounds. The paint schemes will also use a new insignia with a less prominent Chinese flag, which is red and makes planes easier to discern.
“The red they used is striking, but it’s not in line with the ‘low observable’ requirement for all fighter jets,” Song Zhongping, a military commentator for Phoenix Television, told the South China Morning Post on Monday. “All fighter jets must have stealth and low-visibility capabilities, and the coatings and markings on them are part of how they can do this and meet requirements for combat.”
SCMP also noted the PLA Navy’s small-but-growing number of J-15 carrier-based fighters will get a similar treatment suitable to their environments.
Both service branches will roll out the changes over the rest of the year and, if successful on fighter aircraft, the paint schemes will be expanded to bombers, transport planes and other specialty aircraft as well.
The paint jobs will also reduce the amount of radar waves the planes reflect, helping them to become stealthier and appear smaller on enemy radars, Air defense expert Fu Qianshao told the Global Times.
The PLAAF has been testing radar-absorbent coatings for several years, not only on its J-20 stealth fighter but also on a version of its J-16 adapted for the role of suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD), in which its primary targets are anti-air missiles and the powerful, ground-based radars that find and track targets for them. However, the J-16s’ experimental paint scheme was dark grey, not sky blue.