China claims its fifth-generation, stealthy J-20 fighter jet is now taking yet another massive step toward war preparedness by flying in what could be referred to as “full stealth” mode.
A report from the Chinese-government backed Global Times says the J-20 was “spotted” flying without a Luneburg lens, a small device used to intentionally expose a stealth aircraft to others in situations like training or non-combat flights.
Does this mean the aircraft has taken new steps toward combat and operational “readiness?” Furthermore, just how stealthy is it?
The Chinese J-20 certainly appears slightly larger than an F-22 or F-35 stealth jet fighter, given its dual wing configuration, an engineering method employed to optimize air flow and achieve improved aerodynamic performance. While the wing configurations of a J-20 and F-22 are decidedly different, the J-20 fuselage itself appears to resemble that of an F-22 with two engine exhaust and blended, curved or rounded main body exterior.
What would it mean to truly rival or surpass the F-22 stealth fighter? Now that the J-20 has been flow in full stealth capacity and modified slightly with the integration of a new engine, some might wonder if the Chinese aircraft could achieve any kind of “supercruise” capability that has—so far—been unique to the F-22.
The F-22 has a forty-four-foot wingspan and is, at certain high altitudes, able to hit speeds as fast as Mach 2.25. Various data spec sheets and articles cite that, by comparison, a J-20 is several meters longer but built with a similar 44-ft wingspan. The articles, in Air Force Technology and The National Interest say the J-20 can reach speeds of Mach 2.55. It is unsure if this is confirmed per se and speed metrics don’t necessarily translate into maneuverability or sustained speed.
Regardless of a J-20’s speed, a key F-22 advantage is that it not only can reach supercruise speeds but also sustain them as well without needing afterburners, a major technical enhancement. Also, a slightly shorter, sleeker, and more streamlined fuselage, coupled with potentially unmatched levels of propulsion, thrust, and high-speed maneuverability, could very well give the F-22 a decisive advantage.
The F-22 is also armed with massively upgraded weapons such as the now software-enhanced AIM-120D and AIM-9X air-to-air and air-to-ground or surface weapons. Ultimately, the F-22’s advantage may reside in its often discussed role as an “aerial quarterback,” described by innovators as an ability to exchange real-time, two-way information amid warfare with both fourth- and fifth-generation American and allied warplanes.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.