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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter: Just A Stolen F-35?

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

J-20 – Did the Chinese Steal Secrets For One Of Their Favorite Fighter Planes?: When it looks like a copy, maybe it is a copy. The Chinese are proud of their J-20 Mighty Dragon fighter – probably because they received some of the technology for free. Some believe that the Chinese stole parts of the design in at least one cyber breach. The J-20 and F-35 show a resemblance that jumps out at you, especially when you examine the front of the airplane that look similar to each other.

J-20 Using F-35 Tech? A Look at the Evidence 

The notorious character Edward Snowden revealed in leaked documents in 2007 that Lockheed Martin was aware of a data breach regarding the F-35 that involved Chinese hackers. Ten years later, the Chinese reportedly acted again by targeting an Australian defense contractor working with the F-35 program. This nefarious activity involved stolen secrets about the American stealth fighter using hacking code attributed to the Chinese. 

Australia Is a Victim

Australian media said at the time: “An official at the Australian Signals Directorate…told a conference that hackers broke into the contractor’s computers and stole sensitive information about Australia’s warplanes and navy vessels including Australia’s $14 billion Joint Strike Fighter program,” according to Patricia Karvelas of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2017.

The U.S. Department of Defense Has Its Suspicions

The Pentagon also revealed in a China military power report in 2019 that the Chinese regularly engage in cyber espionage against Americans to steal defense technology.

Advanced Sensor Tech May Have Been Stolen

One of the most noticeable aspects of the J-20 resemblance to the F-35 is the Lockheed Martin sensor suite called the Electro-Optical Targeting System mounted on the “blended wing-body front end.” This is the essence of the F-35’s targeting that enhances the pilot’s situational awareness and allows laser-guided munitions to be effective. Having this technology under the nose of the fighter would enable the J-20 Mighty Dragon to have a substantial upgrade over its own indigenous system. It would help the J-20 increase its multi-role capabilities to strike ground targets and intercept other fighters.

The Mighty Dragon Is a Versatile Platform

The J-20 was introduced in 2017, and it flew in the skies over the East and South China Seas in 2018. It is thought to have Airborne Early Warning and Command and Control capabilities, enabling it to share valuable targeting data with other fighters and bombers.

Better Indigenously Created Engines

The J-20 also has a stand-off missile launch – an ability to stay out of range of enemy air defenses and pickle off missiles beyond visual range. The fighter has a homegrown engine called the WS-15 afterburning turbofan that is an improvement over the original propulsion system made by the Russians. This enables the J-20 to reach a maximum speed close to Mach 2 (1,535 miles per hour) with a ceiling of 60,000-feet and a range of nearly 700-miles. China may have up to 50 J-20s.

It Only Takes One Worker at One Defense Firm to Drop the Ball

If the stolen technology accusations are true, it portends a need for the F-35 subcontractors to be extra vigilant regarding cyber hygiene. The Chinese hackers are adept at finding weaknesses. This usually comes down to the poor cyber habits of individual users who work in dozens of companies that supply components to the F-35 program. This includes international defense firms. 

With the development of the new J-20 engine, the Chinese are acquiring more confidence in their defense industrial base and likely got a jump start with cyber espionage. Sometimes warfare comes down to which side wants it more and the Chinese are sure to pursue any means possible to advance capabilities with their new warplanes.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.



  1. GC Chua

    May 5, 2022 at 10:25 pm

    China’s J20 is now under mass production while the F35 is still plagued with 800 over unresolved problems. How do you explain this? You are too naive to believe a 5000 year old civilisation copied from a young stolen country called USA.

    • RFalls

      May 6, 2022 at 7:40 am

      Well you have a problem if you believe they didn’t. Oh the F35 is in mass production too. Why would China not take any advantage they could get to produce a better jet? Go play with your chopsticks now.

    • D3F1ANT

      May 6, 2022 at 9:03 am

      No…but China and Russia, historically, accept imperfection and make up for it by numbers. They sacrifice their people more readily. And often they copy the look of our hardware but don’t have the tech to actually duplicate it. Thus faster mass production .

      • Paul Jeffery

        May 6, 2022 at 11:10 am

        Of course it’s a rip off. It’s all China does. However, it’s probably covered in fabric an dope

    • Kenneth Topper

      May 6, 2022 at 10:27 am

      Your 5000 year old civilization would have been wiped out by the Japanese in WW2 if were not for the young naïve country you speak if.know your facts before you try to teach others.boy.

    • Jaime Lopez

      May 6, 2022 at 11:39 am

      I think you eat a lot of Ramen ? noodles soup, may be for 5k years. Just show us a reliable jet engine made in “china”

    • L. Villas

      May 6, 2022 at 3:23 pm

      5,000that was backwards in technology and standards of living until they opened up the country to Western technology and lifestyle. Prior to opening up in the late 20th century., China was so backwards that people were still using the abacus to calculate numbers at stores w/ no goods or very little food as well as university students.Prior to the CCP opening up China, everyone ride bicycles except CCP party members in Soviet made cars, they then copied everything American from the U.S. highway system,to homes, stores and lifestyle.Tgousands of U.S. and European companies shipped their companies to China fir the cheap labor.So spare us the arrogance of a country who not only stole the majority of Western technology they have acquired the past 30+ years but copied it to a “t” as did the Russians. Everything that China and even Russia has or had is stolen American superior technology as did Russia during the cold war and continues to do so under Putin. The U.S. has hundreds of contractors that have to be brought together under one roof as opposed to Communist Red China that has everything under one “Big Brother System”and the CCP. Brutal force, fear and intimidation keep their people under close scrutiny and surveillance. It is a system that is doomed and will collapse as did the former Communist Soviet Union…

    • GhostTomahawk

      May 6, 2022 at 3:30 pm

      You’re hilarious. Communist nations always steal or reverse engineer tech from the US. It’s always all show and no go. Do you think China is going to say “yeah we stole this tech and discovered all these issues now we have a flying lemon.”? No the Chinese are going to say “Is awesome!”

  2. Michael Nunez

    May 5, 2022 at 11:32 pm

    It does not take much to see the CCP/China stole all they could to build the J-20 , and it looks like they did a good job too , look at the J10 Dragon . It’s a F-16 Viper , it’s hilarious from the word go China has Stolen the US Blind.

    • Ollie

      May 6, 2022 at 11:38 am

      One wonders how China actually got the technology to get into space and send a craft to the moon

  3. Ken Wang

    May 6, 2022 at 2:01 am

    What a bunch of bs from this writer or anyone who thinks that the U.S. is the only country with the aviation technology to produce modern warplanes while other countries are not capable of.? What kind of illusions are these people having or perhaps, they are keeping their heads in the mud for too long whilst other countries like China has clearly been advancing well ahead in the aviation technological fields. There has been great progress made in the aviation fields by many countries these several years and China is no exception, it has invested heavily in RD in this sector in its objective to be among the leaders in developing modern warplanes for its armed forces. There shouldn’t be any surprises at all when China starts producing such aircrafts which all seem to look similar to each other from different countries. Aircraft technology cannot be the sole owner of any particular country these days; its competition that sets them apart.

    • RFalls

      May 6, 2022 at 7:43 am

      It’s a copy, I’am not saying it couldn’t be a better copy but a near copy to be sure. Why would anyone spend money and time to reinvent the wheel? If you have something that works you just improve it you don’t start from nothing.

      • Kenneth Topper

        May 6, 2022 at 10:31 am

        Name a single fighter plane technology of late that the Chinese invented…Ill

    • D3F1ANT

      May 6, 2022 at 9:05 am

      LOL! Easy, Wang. Don’t go off half-cocked because China is a thief that steals technology!

      • Randy

        May 7, 2022 at 2:59 am

        What do expect from them.They’re only doing The Russians were doing at the end of World War II. About everything that I’ve ever done is make crappy washing machine

    • L. Villas

      May 6, 2022 at 3:33 pm

      Too funny, it is you and the CCP that are actually believe that China produced all their military hardware and software by themselves? Like we all said, ? too funny.

  4. John Flowers

    May 6, 2022 at 4:35 am

    Most company’s have lousy cybersecurity and to allow any of those sensitive systems access to the internet is just sacrilege.
    Any system that houses any sensitive data should be segmented and separated from day to day business activities.

  5. Evenhand58

    May 6, 2022 at 7:34 am

    China has built its entire economy on stolen patents and pilfered trade secrets. So, no one should be surprised that they are doing the same with their military.

  6. Trevor Milburn

    May 6, 2022 at 8:25 am

    During the 50s,60s & 70s when a request was made to UK shipbuilders for designs for new ships, it was customary for full, detailed plans to be provided to the prospective purchaser. It became clear after ships bearing striking similarities to the British plans began appearing – all built in Far Eastern shipyards – that the designs had been used illicitly. At least one of the shipbuilders countered by providing plans with shall we say, “built in faults” that could, if the tender was accepted, be put right in the construction phase.This resulted in at least one ship originating in the Far East sinking soon after launch due these ‘inherent faults’. After this less detailed plans were provided for tender.
    Perhaps US and other military could use similar methods by permitting foreign agents access to “doctored” plans for their weaponry – it would probably take years for the thieves to realise they had been sold (stolen?) a pup and probably give the designers a fun time producing plans that would hide well disguised faults.

  7. Mark D Allen

    May 6, 2022 at 9:35 am

    Hardly news. The Chinese are not innovators, they are copiers. They steal what they need, and apparently the U. S. Defense contractors are easy to steal from.

  8. Cerberus

    May 6, 2022 at 10:01 am

    Communist China and Russia steal US technology and copy it. In other news , water is wet.

    Of course CC steals tech and copies it visually but not even close to the same quality or performance levels. Making a copy of a stealth fighter and spraypainting it black, does not make it stealth. From acquisition aand targeting radars, J20 is a flying locomotive !!!

  9. Greg hung

    May 6, 2022 at 10:57 am

    Arnt the little chin chongs angry when you tell them they are thieves and pathetic little men who are just trouble makers, look at old pingy or podgy, the old fat dude that dictates the country, there all the same the Chinese, just oxygen thrives.

    • Brendan

      May 6, 2022 at 11:58 am

      @,Greg Dung, bitter and twisted much? Loser blames all your pathetic short comings on everyone else

    • Boe Jiden

      May 7, 2022 at 6:45 am

      Show some respect to the Chinese leader, pal. He has a name and you should use it: Winnie the Pooh.

  10. Daniel

    May 6, 2022 at 11:59 am

    Yes, that was sold to them by the Clinton’s and was well known at the time. In fact, the Chinese version is far superior to ours as it uses two engines.

  11. KK Phang

    May 6, 2022 at 12:58 pm

    From all these sour grapes comments, I guess China “hackers” are better than the u.s. top-notch-super-duper national cyber security “experts” can handle. If you are going along that line of narratives. And don’t come back crying that China “stole” all the cyber security stuffs from the u.s. it going to make all these lies even weirder than it really has. And what do you mean by “copying”? Photocopy? You must be hell of a genius to based on the so-called “stolen plan” to built that thing from ground up. Hey man, you go to give these people credit when the credit is due to really pulled that thing off. Y’aw on cracks or something?

    • PhingPhangPhong

      May 7, 2022 at 6:54 am

      “I guess China “hackers” are better than the u.s. top-notch-super-duper national cyber security “experts” can handle.”
      Yes, quite possibly. If a nation is going to thrive by stealing, it would be reasonable to expect them to have good hackers. There’s a reason that China is renowned for its hacking skills.

  12. reyol

    May 6, 2022 at 1:00 pm

    The Chinese believe that everything is theirs and has been stolen from them in years past. They feel quite justified in stealing it back. It doesn’t matter how hard you work to innovate something completely new. It, somehow, belongs to the Chinese and must be recovered.

  13. TenTribesOfTexas

    May 6, 2022 at 5:25 pm

    Uncle Sam gainded technogical advantage by ‘kidnapping’nazi scientists and copying nazi technology after WW2. Now it obtains it by buying technology. If china cant buy it to remain competitive in a cinflict are they just supposed to allow themselves o be domibated by an adversary. Respect for patents and copyright laws don’t mean much when you are staring down the barrel of an enemy’s gun. Uncle Sam is just trying to weaponise patents law and technology that it buys anyway. So who cares if china steals military secrets? The more weapons manufacturers go broke and less advantage one potential.combattant has over another, the better for peace and the world

  14. TenTribesOfTexas

    May 6, 2022 at 5:32 pm

    It can’t be ‘stealing’ in china because china has no IP laws that can be breached to make it stealing

  15. Jason Chin Sown

    May 29, 2022 at 2:15 am

    The western propoganda of stealing technology is popping bubbles. Now china is leading ahead of western world whole Western world are lagging behind China. New discoveries and new production technique have move China ahead of the western world.
    With China investing their children with overseas university in the past have reaped their rewards in this era. Many millions of brilliant scientists and engineers are bring produced out by china ever since. China will outrun the western world by many years ahead.
    Therefore stealing of stealth fighter technology is pure BS. I trust the Chinese scientist can figure out themselves to built the stealth fighter. There is a saying Without Wong Tsu, the China man, Boeing Ain’t Flying….

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