China’s own fifth-generation air-superiority jet fighter the J-20 last week strutted its stuff in its first live-fire war game held since its March 2017 deployment, along with regiments of other warcraft including H-6K Badger bombers, a “Chubby Girl” Y-20 airlifter, and J-16 fighters, among others that entered service in recent years, the PLA Daily has reported.
The well-orchestrated exercise encompassed nearly all major People’s Liberation Army airbases throughout the nation, with Y-20s bracing the frigidity when taking off from airstrips on the Tibetan Plateau and H-6Ks ascending through midnight smog in quick response to mock attacks.
State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) also aired on Wednesday footage of J-20 superfighters engaging in beyond-visual training, which also included mock combats against J-16s and J-10s.
Observers say what is significant is the report that J-20s and J-16s got airborne at the same time from the PLA Air Force’s Zhurihe base in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region and the indigenous fifth- and fourth-generation fighters had a simulated dogfight.
“This means both the two new fighters are now in full, operation-ready deployment and that the PLAAF is now able to hold combats between the two to hone the skills of its pilots, as both fighters are the cachets of their respective generations,” notes a commentary that appeared on Sohu, a Chinese news portal.
One of the J-20 pilots, Chen Liu, whose grandfather Liu Yuti was a PLA air marshal who shot down eight US and South Korean jets during the Korean War, told CCTV that their task was like those of video-game testers or “white hat” hackers to identify mechanical and software glitches that must be fixed or debugged before the next mission or drill. They also compile manuals and instructions for other PLA units as J-20 production is being ratcheted up for wider deployment this year.
This coincides with rumors that large hangars have been built at the Zhurihe airbase, believed to house J-20s stationed there.
Jim Smith, a British weapons expert, said on the UK-based aviation blog Hush-Kit that the main edge of the J-20 over foreign fifth-generation fighters was its ability to carry significantly more fuel, coupled with the scope for use of a longer weapons bay. The overall outcome could be a remarkable multi-role aircraft, with a particular strike role, carrying area-denial weapons.