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The World Responds: China and the U.S. Are Racing to Build a NGAD 6th Generation Fighter

China NGAD 6th Generation Fighter
China NGAD 6th Generation Fighter. Image Credit: Chinese Social Media.

China has unveiled preliminary designs for a sixth-generation fighter, something comparable to the US’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter. Unveiled at the Zhuhai Air Show, the fighter model was tailless, and appears to feature stealth technology.

China Goes NGAD

The head of Air Combat Command, General Mark D. Kelly, said that the Chinese are indeed working to build a sixth-generation fighter, and that the Chinese are working to keep pace with the US – who hope to field a NGAD fighter before 2030.

Kelly addressed the media recently, stating his belief that China looks at sixth-generation air power “greatly the way we see it: an exponential reduction in signature, exponential acceleration of processing power and sensing.” Said another way, China’s sixth-generation fighter will incorporate stealth technology and will rely heavily on software and avionics to function as one node in a digital network – like the current fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II – which allows the pilot to accumulate and process information much more quickly than pilots in other platforms. The result is, ideally, increased situational awareness and decision making.

Kelly emphasized that China is well positioned to work on a sixth-generation fighter. “They started with Su-27, morph into Su-30, then their own J-16, Su-35.”

Beyond NGAD: China’s Military Gets Stronger in the Air

China has done an excellent job of transitioning from an importer of foreign fighter jets, into a developer of homegrown fighter jets. China received exported Su-27s from Russia before building the Su-27 under license as the J-11 and J-11A. China also exported Su-30MKKs from Russia. Overtime, China began depending less on imported Russian aerospace designs and instead began building Chinese-designed airframes, with Chinese-designed engines and avionics. The Chinese then converted the Su-30MKK into something of their own, the J-16. And China converted the Su-33 into the J-15.

China has also developed a fifth-generation fighter, the entirely capable Chengdu J-20. The J-20 is an all-weather, twinjet stealth aircraft designed to achieve air superiority and conduct precision strikes. The J-20 was the world’s third-ever fifth-generation fighter to achieve operational status, following the F-22 and the F-35. To date, the Chinese have built 208 J-20s, meaning they have more J-20s than the US has F-22s.

Kelly believes that the experience China has gained through tinkering with Russian jets and now building jets at home in China will leave the Chinese well-positioned to develop a sixth-generation fighter. Yet, Kelly did not share many details about what the US knows about the Chinese sixth-generation efforts. He did offer one tidbit, however, stating that China’s next jet will have an “exponential” improvement in stealth relative to existing jets. Kelly declined to state approximately when China’s sixth-generation fighter would be ready to fly, but he said they were essentially on schedule. Further, Kelly believes China “is building a first-rate air force.” Kelly emphasized that the US needs to build a sixth-generation fighter before the Chinese do. “We need to get there before they do,” he said. “It won’t end well if we don’t.”

China’s Military Might Makes America Nervous

China’s intense, ongoing military build-up has much of the international community spooked. Aside from building high-quality fifth and ‘NGAD’ sixth-generation aircraft, the Chinese Navy is expanding at a historic rate. Relatedly, China is pushing outward, making territorial claims, especially in the surrounding seas. China’s Indo-Pacific neighbors, like Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, are especially concerned and still looking to the US for assistance. US efforts to “beat” China to a sixth-generation fighter would help to assuage fears in the Indo-Pacific of Chinese ascension, while serving as a token that the US is still a capable ally. Regardless, China’s rise seems inevitable – which a new sixth-generation fighter further suggests.

NGAD China 6th-Generation Fighter

NGAD China 6th-Generation Fighter. Image Credit: Twitter.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. 

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.



  1. Chris Cha

    November 12, 2022 at 8:01 pm

    Until China can develop the capability to manufacture a decent jet engine, their air power development will be limited to what they can get from Russia.

  2. Steven

    November 12, 2022 at 8:09 pm

    Yeah but will it actually work?

  3. Matthew Brubach

    November 12, 2022 at 10:40 pm

    Harrison Kass is a “Senior Defense Editor” with no real “defense” experience? What did I expect from a “publication” that picks it’s journalists from a list of pro-chinese fiction writers?

    First of all “Harrison”, the US and China are not in a race to develop NGAD fighters. The US has already done that, and the Chinese are never the first to develop any aircraft. Because they can’t. They prefer to copy what everyone else is doing, because they think it put’s them on par with the West. It does not. Chinese jets are just poor copies that would get downed within the the first day of fighting.

    So it wouldn’t be bad if the Chinese developed it first, it would be impossible. But if God granted a miracle and they did develop it first, it would be inconsequential. Because China’s military is a joke. China has no way to project whatever perceived power you think they have.

    The different branches of the Chinese Armed Forces have no coordination. They have no Joint Operations Command to coordinate an operation between the PLA, PLAN, PLAAF, or PLARF. They all act independently.

    The PLA is weak. They are undertrained, under equipped, and mostly unwilling to fight. Plus, 70% of PLA soldiers are their family’s only child. So, if they die, their family line dies. And that’s a big deal in China. China may have 1.4 billion people, but the CPC doesn’t allow it’s citizens to own firearms. So what you have are 1.4 billion unarmed targets.

    China DOES NOT KNOW how to fight and win a modern war. I said this about Russia, and it proved to be true. So nobody cares that China copied a poster of the Air Force’s NGAD and displayed it at an air show in China. They weren’t developing it, and probably still haven’t started. Because they can’t until we finish.

    I see you are in Oregon, “Harrison”. Maybe we could grab a beer sometime? Just kidding, I don’t like you.

    Tired of the trash that sells itself to China.

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