07 November 2016

Zhuhai 2016: Mysterious J-20 Sneaks In… And Out

Gordon Arthur, Zhuhai 2016: Mysterious J-20 Sneaks In… And Out,” 1 November 2016.

China’s fifth-generation J-20 stealth fighter made a cameo appearance during the 11th Zhuhai Air Show in China, this being its first public foray anywhere in China.

However, the brief apparition of two J-20s was limited to a disappointing couple of overhead passes lasting about 30 seconds during the opening ceremony, before they subsequently disappeared into the haze. …

The J-20 has commenced low-rate initial production (LRIP), although it is unclear how many aircraft have been produced to date. One Chinese source speculated that the figure could be up to eleven, based on the evidence of a small construction number ‘XX0011’ recently witnessed on one LRIP J-20.

Revised estimations say the J-20 could achieve an initial operational capability in 2017-18. If so, that represents a short development period for a fighter, since its maiden flight in January 2011, especially compared with the long and troubled gestation of the American-led F-35 Lightning II, the world’s most expensive weapon ever. 

This relatively short period between first flight and fielding by the PLAAF could mean that Chinese industry either has reached such an advanced state that it has managed to avoid the type of pitfalls Lockheed Martin experienced with the F-35, or alternatively it implies that the Chinese plane does not incorporate nearly as much sophisticated technology as the F-35. The latter is obviously a more realistic assessment.

Andrew Erickson, professor of strategy at the China Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College, told Shephard, ‘The J-20 for a long time was a type of aircraft to get out over the water with long-range weapons to pick off an AWACS or slow-moving target. When you combine range, low detectability and the large payload of air-to-air missiles it can carry, China would hope to pick off high-value targets. That’s long been the motivation for it.’ …