The sight of a highly convincing replica of China’s J-20 stealth fighter sitting on the apron of a US military base must be heartening to the numerous researchers and engineers who poured their energy and expertise into the making of the aircraft hailed as the cachet of the Chinese air force.
The fact that the US military has produced a J-20 lookalike to help its airmen become familiar with the People’s Liberation Army’s answer to the F-35 is indicative of the US taking more seriously the PLA’s new weapon for air supremacy.
The subtle message is that the J-20 is a formidable warplane to be reckoned with.
Photos of the J-20 mock-up at a US airbase have been subject of much chatter online since they emerged this month, and on Sunday the South China Morning Post cited a source as saying that the replica “was built by marines for training purposes.”
The military training command at Savannah/Hilton Head Airport in the southeastern state of Georgia says it has been commissioned by the US Marine Corps and the Army Threat Systems Management Office to provide “full-scale, realistic aircraft and vehicle mock-ups for multiple Marine Corps bases,” according to Colonel Emmanuel Haldopoulos, the commander of the US Air Dominance Center. The airbase in Georgia is also home to the ADC.
A related statement from the command noted that the US-made J-20 copycat “was moved to ADC Savannah to evaluate the assembly and disassembly process, heat and light signatures, and [to] prepare for movement to the chosen training area in North Carolina,” but the fighter was not intended for flight training.
The Pentagon sounded the alarm in May in a congressional report that with its new jets the PLA had been “closing the gap with the US across a spectrum of capabilities and eroding US’ technical advantage,” according to The Associated Press.
Military superpowers across the globe produce copies of the weaponry of potential foes, either for training or development of their own counter-assets.
It has been open secret that the J-20 was conceived and designed through reverse engineering to rival the F-35 in the first place. Previously there were also reports about F-35-like models seen at PLA airstrips.
The twin-engine, multi-role J-20 can reach speeds of 2,100km/h for long-range air-to-air missions to engage aircraft such as air tankers and intelligence reconnaissance planes from the US as well as for precise and decapitation strikes.
But there is no indication that the J-20 manufacturer, the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China, has cracked the bottleneck to start mass production. The J-20 formally entered service with the PLA in March 2017 but is still hard to spot, with scant information about its actual deployment.