A Chinese paper has seized on recent comments from a U.S. Air Force general to claim that its fifth-generation J-20 stealth fighter is superior to the U.S. F-35.
The government-backed Global Times newspaper describes an incident in which J-20 and F-35 fighters flew in close proximity to one another during Chinese exercises in the region. The Global Times reports that Air Force Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, said that American pilots were “impressed” with the J-20. Wilsbach’s quote was made during an online event broadcast on YouTube, the report says.
“We got relatively close to the J-20s along with our F-35s in the East China Sea, and we’re relatively impressed with the command and control that was associated with the J-20,” Wilsbach reportedly said. Wilsbach added that the Chinese pilots were “flying the J-20s pretty well,” according to the Global Times.
However, when placed in a more complete context, Wilsbach’s comments are by no means unusual, as senior Air Force and Pentagon officials involved in modernization efforts often discuss the technological capabilities of Chinese systems. This by no means indicates that the Chinese J-20 aircraft actually outperforms or rivals the F-35.
Apart from the J-20’s visible external configuration and Chinese press reports about its improved domestically-built engine, little is known about the aircraft’s mission systems, computing, sensors, or weapons interfaces. Its blended wing-body and rounded fuselage may suggest that its stealth exterior is an F-35 or F-22 “copycat.” However, outside of its apparent stealth properties, any true margin of difference between the two aircraft would likely be found in less visible technological variables, including sensor range and fidelity, data processing systems, and precision weapons.
If Wilsbach’s comment about the J-20’s ability to maneuver with an effective command and control system is accurate, it introduces new information on elements of the J-20. Most notably, it would suggest that at least some of the J-20’s mission and computing systems are effective.
At the same time, it is important to note that even if he was “impressed” with the J-20, Wilsbach did not address whether he thinks the Chinese fifth-generation aircraft resembles the F-35.
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.