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China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter Is a Serious Threat

J-20
J-20. Image Credit: Chinese Internet.

China’s J-20 stealth fighter, a short explainer – The Chengdu J-20 “Mighty Dragon” jet represents a major breakthrough for Chinese military development. This stealthy twin-engine fighter aircraft is only the fourth 5th generation fighter in the world, with capabilities making it at the very least a near-peer to America’s F-22 and F-35, as well as Russia’s Su-57. Although it entered service in 2017, the aircraft started to serve in large numbers by 2018. The Chinese military began to deploy the J-20 in hotly contested regions in the East and South China Seas in April, indicating its confidence in the full operational capabilities of the jet. 

The stealth technology behind the Mighty Dragon appears to rival the U.S. 5th generation fighter jets. Its fuselage shape, engine intake shape, exhaust nozzle shape, and even the paint design mirror the F-22 and F-35. Before the J-20, China primarily used Russian parts and designs to construct its military equipment. Initially, the Chinese military relied on Russian-made engine systems for the new jet, but it eventually nixed these and produced its own engines, the WS-15. This marked a major improvement for China’s aircraft development capabilities as the J-20 is truly a homegrown technology. 

The depth of the Mighty Dragon’s avionics suite and electronic capabilities is unknown, yet it is possible that technology was stolen from the U.S.’s Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program to enhance it. Specifically, there is potential for the J-20 to perform Airborne Early Warning and Command & Control missions using the same technology employed by F-35. Typically, Airborne Early Warning and Command & Control aircraft – like the U.S. E-2 Hawkeye – are big and lumbering targets. Enhanced software enables stealthy and maneuverable fighter jets to perform those missions, which is a major advantage. 

While some speculate the J-20 is faster than the F-22, it is unclear whether or not the jet has its super cruise capabilities. However, the U.S. is confident the J-20 is capable of beyond visual range (BVR) engagements, meaning they could lock on to an enemy aircraft, launch a missile a hundred miles away and then leave the air space instead of dogfighting. 

It is clear the J-20 represents major advancements for the Chinese military, yet significant drawbacks do exist. The engine systems that power the jets remain the most controversial aspect of the aircraft. The People’s Liberation Army initially used Russian engines but switched to domestic production once they were underperforming. It is unclear whether this production is on schedule or how efficiently they run. 

Super F-35

Chinese J-20 stealth fighter. Image Credit: Chinese Internet.

J-20

Chinese J-20 Stealth Fighter. Image Credit: Chinese Internet.

Microwave Weapons J-20

Image of Chinese J-20 stealth fighter which could be soon armed with laser weapons.

According to an analyst from the Yuan Wang military think tank in Beijing, the American XA100 engine that powers the F-35 remains at least ten years ahead of the WS-15. The analyst elaborated that “China has so far just matched the American engines in some areas, but not in overall performance. It’s also not meaningful to emphasize one area because military confrontation is about a competition of systems and a contest of joint operational capabilities.”

Overall, the J-20 is a capable, 5th generation multirole aircraft challenging the best the U.S. has to offer. While its full potential is as yet unknown, it remains a major threat to U.S. designs in the Western Pacific. Furthermore, it is solid proof of a competent and growing domestic Chinese aerospace defense industry that will no doubt rival the West in the near future. 

Maya Carlin is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in a wide range of publications including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel. 

Written By

Maya Carlin is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Ashli Babbitt deserved that bullet

    May 4, 2022 at 4:44 pm

    American and Japan screwed the pooch when they rejected Lockheed’s idea to make an F-22/35 hybird. It sure looks like a good idea no doesn’t it. USAF is also cutting the F-15EX, it could have been be a counter to the J-20 if it had IRST like the Eurofighter and Super Hornet.
    But nope, the coke sniffer at the USAF are wrong as usual.

    • Douglas Price

      May 4, 2022 at 7:26 pm

      So you claim is the USAF command dows drugs therefore making the wrong choice? Nothing like someone while grown comfortable in their civilian life with an opinion pushed as fact.

      • Ashli Babbitt deserved that bullet

        May 4, 2022 at 8:55 pm

        USAF are moronic business types and have been since the Raygun era. Being on crack all but a requirement to get a degree at both Christian universities & Business schools. You either have believe in the the greatest con know to man “God,” or become an acholic or drug addict or transfer to a branch that isn’t run by godtard crackheaded wackos.

        • Steven Nedlit

          May 16, 2022 at 12:08 pm

          Are you drunk? Or on the pipe??? Not really sure what language you are trying to communicate with???? Please clarify…no, never mind.

    • NT. T

      May 5, 2022 at 11:28 am

      China also ‘probably stole’ the hypersonic glide weapon that it has in service as well as 5G infrastructure equipment… Never mind that the US does have have either one.

      • Tan Chin Sown

        May 5, 2022 at 11:40 pm

        I have search the web for Wing Wang military think tank on China jet engine but found no hits. Are you sure it is the military spokesperson? Or is it a Taiwanese or India mouthpiece? The WS10C engine are already flying for many years and prove to be reliable due to constant R&D and improvement. The WS10C is considered above average performance being better than Russian jet engine that it replaces. The WS15 is another upgrade and already tested to perform meeting their standard. This engine is more powerful than US jet engines. Soon it would be used in the J20 steath fighter.

  2. Bytes

    May 4, 2022 at 6:01 pm

    They aways rely on stolen materials because they aren’t creative and have to rely on theft. The U.S. and other countries are so stupid not to keep tight controls and spying on all individuals involved in weapons development. On top of that you have Chinese employees etc keep an eye on them. To hell with profiling, this is national security at stake and it’s not difficult to imagine Chinese heritage influencing spying for China and having agents that are born here. China needs to be punished as Trump started by first having manufacturing pulled from their country and removing them for all international organizations until they respect trademark and copyright laws and their blatant espionage.

    It’s disgusting how the U.S. let’s secrets get stolen and does nothing to copyright laws.

    • John Barrett

      May 4, 2022 at 7:37 pm

      OMG if you think this example of stolen tech is bad. Just research what happened at Los Almos labs and the Navys AEGIS stealth tech. Little to NO vetting was infocred and chinese nationals with direct ties to the prc,pla & other chinese gov agencies were hired to work on mega billion dollar stealth programs. They literally walked out of the labs with entire documents, diagrams etc. Sure closed data systems are used there but, people still managed to walk stuff out. So our navy is patrolling the seas with compromised stealth tech. Of which we all paid for. This all started under operation parlor maid back in 2000.

    • John

      May 4, 2022 at 9:41 pm

      You know how to google? If So, just Google countries and the amount of patterns they filed in recent years. American dare to claim China stolen 5G technology ( something they themselves don’t have) from them shamelessly.

    • NT. T

      May 5, 2022 at 11:26 am

      What exactly would you do with so-called stolen parts/electronics etc? You think those can be just tacked on? The planes are so obviously different, from overall shape to the use of canards to size to side weapons bay to engines!

    • Steven Nedlit

      May 16, 2022 at 12:15 pm

      Not all are “stolen.” Many of our secrets are sold to the PRC through various forms of “contributions” to major research Universities and through other nefarious methods of espionage. We are being sold out by our fellow American’s.
      Add to that our ridiculous policies of the current and recent DC law makers and it is easy to determine how China has all but caught up to us in military fire-power. Through the Prodigal Son, Hunter, Joe is all but owned by Beijing…God save Taiwan.

    • Wayne

      June 7, 2022 at 5:56 pm

      Yes, just as you said. A certain country stole the industrial revolution from Europe, the brains and theories of the defeated countries from WORLD War II, oil from the Middle East, and massive amounts of information from all over the world, especially in China, via Apple and Google. A few years ago this so called country was accusing China of stealing technology that it didn’t even have.

  3. Jamie-Andrea Yanak

    May 4, 2022 at 6:45 pm

    Except for head-on, the SU-57 has a radar profile equivalent to an F-18 with no external weapon store – it isn’t even really a “stealth” fighter, the Russians just call it that.

    The J-20 is somewhere between an SU-57 and an F-35 in stealth abilities. But the most important thing it lacks is the F-35’s other abilities from situational awareness to EW abilities. It also lacks the F-22’s long-range sniper abilities to shoot-down an opponent before he even knows the F-22 is there.

    Sorry, but it’s nowhere near the threat this article makes it out to be.

  4. John

    May 4, 2022 at 6:48 pm

    Many people were upset when the F-22 program was cut short. The F-15 ruled the sky. No air supremacy fighter would ever be needed. WRONG!!! Now that we manufacture the bulk of our consumer goods in China. We have given the capability to build a superpower military. Thank the USA.

  5. Timbo

    May 4, 2022 at 6:57 pm

    This article is misleading and incorrect on a few levels.
    I don’t know where 19fortyfive is doing their research, but a lot of the info here isn’t even close to reality.
    One writer here comes close in an unbiased, fact based approach, IMO.
    Advice?… refrain from the negative click bait titles and delve deeper into technological research.

  6. John Barrett

    May 4, 2022 at 7:29 pm

    The j20 and rest of j series fighters are not a threat. Firstly, the pilot is a threat. 2nd, the j 20 lacks all the following inspite of it being poorly replicated stolen tech.
    1. It is not designed with any thermal shock at the intake vectors. And therefore its performance and stealth abilities at expected higher speeds does not match the tech it was stolen from.
    2. The turbines produce less then rated thrust for weight ratio as advertised.
    3. The leading edges on the wings was based on a miscalculation.
    4. Real world performance test when compared to the US. F15 Strike Eagles models C-EX demonstrated it could not match match perf. So how can it match the F35?
    This is fear mongering just like russian tech and it wont work on an informed American pop.

  7. Ollie

    May 4, 2022 at 10:34 pm

    It’s a flying tin can , we shouldn’t laugh with credentials like “” made in China “” orrrrr can we . the Americans are not worried , they are selling the F35’s all over the world , making their development costs back , they have something better , but got to keep the war production going , keeps a lot of Americans in jobs

  8. GC

    May 4, 2022 at 11:26 pm

    Wonder why a 5000 year old civilisation need to steal anything from a 250 year old stolen land of North Americas.

  9. Him

    May 5, 2022 at 2:54 am

    The fallacy of the West was to think that “outsourcing” was going to be a long-term viable model. The assumption was that the rich West could outsource its manufacturing – and that China would forever remain poor and be the lowly factory minions, while the West could cull its own people of profits, without adhering to the balanced equation of taking profits from your own community, but giving back in terms of jobs.

    That finely balanced equation of businesses taking profits, but giving back jobs, was thrown out with the “outsourcing” model. Outsourcing extracts profits from the home country – but refuses to give jobs back to its own home country.

    The West forgot that manufacturing is always a source of wealth. As a consequence, now that the Communist Totalitarian regime is awash with money, it now can outspend the United States on warfare technology.

    Those of you who scoff at Chinese tech being inferior, just ask your seniors who remember the days when “Made in Japan” meant it was junk. Give it a few more decades, and the tables will be turned.

    I fear it is already past the point of no return.

    What caused this fall is greed by Western Corporations, who thought they can ignore the equation of taking profits and giving back jobs. We’re looking at you, Apple.

    People like Apple CEO Tim Cook, who made their reputation as supply chain experts, they were at the forefront of destroying the equation of reaping profits but not returning manufacturing jobs.

    Tim Cook argues that in 2022 there is no manufacturing expertise in the United States, nor the supply chain for parts. Yes, but whose fault is that? If, right from the start, the jobs had remained in the United States, the supply chain would have grown in the U.S. rather than being developed in China. So you see how disingenuous Tim Cook is when he argues that it’s not possible to manufacture iPhones in the U.S. because the supply chain only exists in China. I do believe Tim Cook believes his own propaganda. That’s human nature – as long as the person can formulate an excuse in their mind, they self justify themselves that they are doing the right thing.

    But it comes down to ethics and values. The ethical principle should have been: we reap profits, but we give back jobs.

    That principle is violated by outsourcing.

    And that is why now China is massively rich, and we enter the phase where China will eventually outspent the U.S. in military hardware.

    • Cam E.

      May 16, 2022 at 5:30 pm

      It’s not so much that they “can’t” manufacture iPhone in the US. But with then having to pay everyone $20-$25 an hour to do so, the price of an iPhone would effectively double. So they aren’t going to, in other words they can’t because it will cost them too much.

  10. Rolando

    May 5, 2022 at 3:33 am

    Copy cats and Posers

  11. Steve

    May 5, 2022 at 10:48 pm

    A serious threat?… it hasn’t matched engines on the F-22 that we’ve been flying for 30 years… it’s stealth falls FAR short. And as for the all-important pilot questions, USAF has far more realistic tickets training, let alone the decades of wartime experience.
    The bigger problem is our self-imposed reliance on a lightweight F-35 that is years late, already needs a new engine, and whose total fleet size consists of many, many airframe too costly to update to combat-code.
    This is what happe s when the latest whiz-bang takes center stage, demanding attention from 4th gens that it was supposed to replace, a decade later than expected, are being given their just attention.

  12. HR

    May 18, 2022 at 2:46 pm

    Nice try Ash…

    • HR

      May 18, 2022 at 2:47 pm

      Sorry…Maya.

  13. Michael

    May 20, 2022 at 10:15 am

    Yeah, everyones know the US is the weakest military in the world. Russia is the hard power hot war offense hyperpower of the night and ghost/hybrid mass destruction weapons.

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