The frequent public appearances of the Chinese Air Force’s most advanced fight jet, the Chengdu J-20, can only telegraph the Air Force’s increasing confidence in the deadly warplane, experts said this week.
The PLA Air Force released a video on Monday of the J-20, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), as the J-20 showed off its capabilities in real-world exercises over deserts, sea and mountains, Global Times reported.
Make no mistake, the Pentagon is taking note of the J-20, an aircraft that could equalize the military balance in the China Sea. Questions about the F-35’s many technical development problems and hollow claims of air superiority have exacerbated this issue for US military planners. Nobody really knows, if the F-35 is superior or not, but the argument is heated.
Meanwhile, the J-20 marches on — October has been a hectic month and a treat to the public, as the plane was reviewed at the National Day parade in Beijing on October 1 and performed admirably at the Chinese Air Force’s “open day” in Changchun, Northeast China’s Jilin Province on October 17.
On October 13, the Air Force revealed on its Sina Weibo account that the J-20 had been assigned to an elite combat unit under the Eastern Theater Command named after Wang Hai, a flying ace in the Korean War.
On Saturday, CCTV invited Li Gang, the test pilot who flew the first J-20, to the time to discuss his experiences with the aircraft.
“The J-20 used to be mysterious, and official sources seldom released any information,” Fu Qianshao, a Chinese air defense expert, told the Global Times, noting that its frequent public appearances in October shows the Air Force is increasingly confident in its capabilities and is combat-ready, and Chinese pilots have mastered the use of the plane.
China was the fastest in the world to take a fifth generation fighter jet to the operational level, even faster than the US with its F-22 and F-35 stealth fighter jets, Fu said.
Meanwhile, the US continues to maintain it has an “asymmetric” advantage over potential adversaries in the Western Pacific, according to an April, 2019 report in National Interest.
At least, that’s the contention of the service’s top uniformed officer — who was asked about the potential geopolitical implications of the introduction of the new Chinese warplane.
“When we apply fifth-generation technology, it’s no longer about a platform, it’s about a family of systems,” Air Force chief of staff Gen. David Goldfein told reporters at the Pentagon on Aug. 10. “It’s about a network and that’s what gives us an asymmetrical advantage, so that why when I hear about an F-35 versus a J-20, it’s almost an irrelevant question.”
While accurate information about the J-20 is scarce, there are indications that the Chinese aircraft is equipped with a phased array radar, a robust electronic warfare systems and an electro-optical/infrared sensor that is similar in concept to the F-35’s systems, National Interest reported.
However, while it is possible that the Chinese aircraft might have decent sensors—Air Force officials have suggested that the J-20 lacks the “sensor fusion” and networking to be as effective as the F-22 or F-35.
Aviation journalist Andreas Rupprecht states that the J-20’s maneuverability is at least comparable to the Chinese J-11B (a Su-27/Su-33 Flanker derivative). This implies it has good fourth generation maneuverability and may be more maneuverable than the F-35, which was not designed to be more maneuverable than the F-16 or the F-18.
Absent a gun, an advantage in maneuverability is less important, although its ability to carry the Chinese version of the Sidewinder internally is a significant advantage in close range combat, Real Clear Defense reported.
Former head of the Russian Air Force Colonel General Alexander Zelin, says its combat radius is approximately 1,250 miles. Photos of the J-20 show it carrying four large external fuel tanks and dropping them and their pylons, giving it the potential to increase range or loiter time substantially and allowing it to reconvert to stealth mode in flight, Real Clear Defense reported.
Additionally, the J-20 is reported to carry a long-range air-to-air missile that could hit aircraft at ranges up to 180 miles.
Aviation Week reports that one of the J-20’s missions appears to be maritime reconnaissance and targeting for antiship ballistic missiles and in support of ship-launched cruise missiles. Its large weapon bays will enhance its ability as a strike-fighter, making it a serious long-range threat to land and naval targets. It reportedly can be armed with a precision air-to-surface missile with a 600-mile range.