The J-20 jet fighter. Photo: Reuters
The J-20 jet fighter. Photo: Reuters

The J-20 all-weather stealth jet fighters – the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s ace warplane aimed at grabbing air supremacy – are one of the few fifth-generation fighters said to have entered service among the world’s militaries.

Three J-20s are seen in a PLA massive parade in July. Photo: CNS

Three J-20s debuted in a high-profile flyover during the PLA’s 90th anniversary parade held at the end of July in Inner Mongolia, setting into motion a nationwide media puffery about how a Chinese super fighter will give a huge lift to PLA’s combat capacities and in turn change geopolitics, though scant details have been revealed about the deployment of the J-20s.

Foreign observers believe initial deployment of a small batch could have been made since March.

Having reviewed recent satellite images of a number of major air bases across China, Hong Kong-based Kanwa Defence Review suspects that J-20 manufacturer China Chengdu Aerospace Corp, a subsidiary of China’s Aviation Industry Corp, is hard put reeving up production due to technical issues, and that the J-20 fleet the Chinese military already has may be too small for extensive deployment.

A still from a CCTV report shows an inside view of a J-20 cockpit. Photo: CCTV

The Chengdu facility can only assemble a dozen J-20s per year at most, and since the cutting-edge aircraft may need much larger hangars for maintenance, the airbase has undergone major expansion recently. That may serve a possible indicator of where the J-20s will be deployed, according to the magazine’s chief analyst Andrei Chang, aka Pinkov.

The magazine identified two J-20s at PLAAF’s massive Dingxin Airbase in northwestern China’s Gansu province. The aircraft is believed to be undergoing further testing there.

The Dingxin airbase in Gansu province. Photo: Google Maps

Chang believes the first batch of J-20s will be deployed within the PLA’s Western Theater Command, rather than in coastal areas, in a bid to keep the warplanes and related training away from the prying eyes of foreign media, as well as reconnaissance by overseas militaries. Nor will the J-20s be parked and serviced at western airports that are also open to civilian use.

Satellite images of the PLA’s Wuhu facility, another principal airbase in eastern Anhui province, has shown no major hangars have been built there.

Another option for the Chinese military is to construct brand new airbases tailored to the demands and specifications of the J-20s, Chang said.

“But it appears that such construction can take time, given China may have to spend years expediting J-20’s manufacturing process.”