China is now appearing to make heavy investments in the J-20 fighter jet in an effort to close the gap with the United States’ much-vaunted F-22 and F-35 fighter jets.
Nicknamed the “Mighty Dragon,” the J-20 is the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s (PLAAF) heavy twin-engine, single-seat, low observability, multi-role jet.
According to Dario Leone at the Aviation Geek Club, recent comments made by J-20 program officials indicated that “the production of the J-20 Mighty Dragon, touted by China as a stealth fighter, will likely increase. However, production ramp rates were not disclosed.”
Aviation industries in China are able to “satisfy any level of demand from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force for the Mighty Dragon,” J-20 deputy designer Wang Hitao told the state-run Chinese newspaper the Global Times.
Although advanced aircraft development can be a time-consuming process, Wang noted that “particularly for equipment like the J-20, we need to do it faster in all aspects, including designing, production, testing, and crafting.” He added that the aircraft's performance in stealth, sensors, and firepower was “outstanding.”
Last month, in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai, two twin-engine J-20s exhibited their aerial capabilities at Airshow China. The jets appeared to be equipped with the WS-10C engine, which was developed by the PLAAF to eventually replace Russian engines that were in earlier versions of the J-20 fighter. It marked the first time that these domestically manufactured jets were showcased to the general public.
According to a 2017 report by the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, it stated that the WS-10 engines would offer the J-20 low super-cruise ability, which means that it would have the capability to fly at supersonic speeds for extended periods.
In addition, Sun Cong, chief designer of the FC-31 deployed on carriers, told the Global Times that “people will … see good news on the next-generation aircraft carrier-based fighter jet” by next year.
U.S. Falling Behind?
During a hearing earlier this month, U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-OK) noted that “our commanders tell us that by 2025, the Chinese will have more fifth-generation stealth fighters on the front line than we do,” citing testimony provided by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Commander Adm. Philip Davidson.
Leone added that, per the South China Morning Post, “China fields one hundred fifty J-20s in four air regiments, most operating in the interior of the country, which are reportedly dedicated to training and tactics development. China would have to build five hundred fifth-generation J-20s and FC-31s between now and 2025, or one hundred twenty-five aircraft per year to match just the USAF—not counting Navy and Marine Corps inventories.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.