China’s air force continues to hype its J-20 Mighty Dragon, a fifth-generation fighter with stealth characteristics. The J-20 not only flew at the 14th annual Zhuhai Air Show on Nov. 8, but it may also be shown to attendees for the first time at the expo center. The J-20 will be upgraded with artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies, according to the airplane’s chief designer, who spoke at the show.
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J-20: Packing a Bigger Punch
The head designer, Yang Wei from the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, is confident the company will keep iterating on the J-20, aiming to make it the best fighter in the world. The J-20 is based at all the regional theater commands across the country, but China will not only rely on it for homeland defense. Beijing will also count on the aircraft to lead offensive operations in a putative conflict with Taiwan or to protect island assets in the South and East China Seas.
The J-20, Wei explained, will have “air-space integration,” cooperating with other aircraft, including drones. Wei believes that the J-20 will sprint ahead of American stealth fighter stalwarts such as the F-22 and F-35, because China is learning from “new findings and new concepts in recent confrontational air combat exercises.”
J-20s can lead flights of J-16s and J-10s to provide a heavier combat punch. The J-20 could clear the way to suppress enemy air defenses on Taiwan, leaving J-16s and J-10s to launch or drop their ordnance for maximum combat effect.
Quick Word on J-20 Specs
The J-20, since it is deployed throughout China, is set up to protect the country from incursions by Japan, India, or South Korea. The Mighty Dragon can fly at Mach-2 speeds, with a range of 1,100 nautical miles and a ceiling of 66,000 feet.
The J-20 is similar to the F-35 and F-22, and it resembles both airplanes in its fuselage and exhaust nozzle design. Its forward canards make it distinctive. The fighter has a main internal weapons bay for medium- and long-range missiles, plus two smaller bays for short-range missiles. The J-20 is expected to deploy the PL-15 long-range air-to-air missile that has a range of 120 miles with speeds of Mach-4.
Multi-role or Air Superiority: J-20 Goes for Both
The Mighty Dragon boasts newer thrust vector controls that should enable it to launch missiles for ground strike and then fight its way back home in a potential combat scenario. It could operate as both an air superiority fighter or a multi-role fighter, depending on how the People’s Liberation Army Air Force wants to use it. The PLAAF is believed to have between 100 and 150 J-20s, and they are producing more each month.
It appears that China is going all-in on the J-20. The PLAAF might be willing to show it off on the ground to all visitors at the air show. This is a departure from previous practice, since the aircraft is usually only displayed at military parades or in flight, making close observation impossible. Representatives from the United States will be there, and you can bet the J-20 exhibition location will be popular with all attendees.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood 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. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.