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Can China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter Really Kill an F-22 or F-35?

F-35 vs. J-20
Image: Creative Commons.

In an effort to close the gap with the United States’ much-vaunted F-22 and F-35, China is now making progress in upgrading its J-20.

Also known as the “Mighty Dragon,” the J-20A is the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s (PLAAF) heavy twin-engine, single-seat, low observability, multi-role jet.

“The PLA’s planned fielding of a fifth-generation fighter force will bolster its air-to-air capability,” the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency noted in a recent annual report to Congress titled Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China: 2020.

According to the National Defense, the report also claimed that “the aircraft has high maneuverability, stealth characteristics, an internal weapons bay, advanced avionics and sensors providing enhanced situational awareness, advanced radar tracking and targeting capabilities, and integrated electronic warfare systems.”

Focal Point

Justin Bronk, a research fellow for airpower and technology at the United Kingdom-based Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, said in a RUSI report published last year, Russian and Chinese Combat Air Trends: Current Capabilities and Future Threat Outlook, that the J-20 is the focal point of the PLAAF’s drive toward military modernization.

A few of the high-end capabilities include passive sensors, active electronically scanned array radar, low-observability features, range on internal fuel, and long-range missiles—which make the J-20 “a qualitatively greater threat than any previous non-Western combat aircraft,” he said.

“The design incorporates many features which have been copied from the F-22 and F-35, including nose cone shaping, the electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) under the nose, and the side-mounted (diverterless supersonic inlet) intakes,” the RUSI report stated.

But “the J-20 is no mere imitation and has several design features suggesting a carefully weighted consideration of specific Chinese capability requirements,” it continued.

China has claimed that the aircraft also boasts an array of advanced sensors, in addition to a fully digital glass cockpit and a helmet-mounted display.

But “it is very difficult to assess the credibility of the sensor suite as claimed,” according to the report.

“The rate of iterative development, testing and production also remains extremely high, meaning that while it may be a reasonable assumption that Chengdu have not yet solved the many challenges inherent in true sensor fusion and seamless passive sensor integration, future J-20B/C variants will continue to close the technological gap with the U.S.,” it added.

Some Shortcomings

There are, however, some conspicuous shortcomings. The report noted that “the downside is a heavier, less agile aircraft which will be more expensive to build and operate. It also cannot compete with the extreme performance or agility of the F-22.”

The National Defense added that “it also features forward canards which are suboptimal from a stealth perspective, and the planes have been powered by Russian AL-31 series engines without low-observability serrated nozzles. The engines leave the aircraft ‘somewhat underpowered’ and unable to supercruise, and also increase their radar cross section.”

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.

Written By

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.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Slack

    September 22, 2021 at 1:11 am

    Possible, if the chinese are smart enough to build a new version, with twin-seater cockpit, longer missile bays and cutting edge satcom equipment.

    Any stealth fighter (or bomber such as B-21) can be seen by low flying E/O satellites or high altitude drones and information about incoming stealth intruders can be channeled to a defense fighter which can then be vectored to ambush them. BAM! Gone.

  2. Todd Crookham

    September 22, 2021 at 2:06 am

    Even as it currently is it can certainly destroy an F35 or an f22! America would be foolish to not consider the possibility of the J20 launching an air to ground attack and hitting a defenseless target! In the air with a competent pilot flying the f35 or f22 China better turn around and tuck their commie red tail between their legs and go home to mama! The only other possible way China wins that battle is if President Joe (Mr Potato Head) Biden interferes with our ability to return fire by forcing our military to fight with our hands behind our back! Makes us wait till the Chinese attack us first kind of liberal communist b.s.!

  3. Mario Alvarez Perdomo

    September 22, 2021 at 8:01 am

    There is no way that any country will defeat OUR Nation power we are the land of GOD he is always taking care of AMERICA GOD BLESS AMERICA ALWAYS.

  4. HR

    September 22, 2021 at 9:31 am

    Same old news.
    Tell us something we sont know Ethan….

  5. Private

    September 22, 2021 at 1:48 pm

    Problem is that China can backfill any damaged planes, repairing or manufacturing new ones. We do not have that capability with the Raptors. While a better plane, once one goes down, that’s it.

  6. Traffer

    September 22, 2021 at 6:49 pm

    As they say “The proof is in the pudding” My money is on the spectacle of these things falling out of the sky without even being shot at”

  7. Miles Steele

    September 23, 2021 at 2:03 am

    Is that a little green man in the cockpit?

  8. imright

    September 23, 2021 at 5:56 am

    F-35…possibly, maybe even probably. It’s just not that great at any one task, it’s built to do too much with too many compromises. The F-22, I doubt it. Don’t think any “multirole / multipurpose” fighter is going to beat the best designed air to air fighter ever built.

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