China Increasing J-20 Mighty Dragon Production: Though it could be up to two years before Game of Thrones fans get to see the “Dance of Dragons” unfold on HBO, back in the real world, China is doing what it can ramp up production of its “Mighty Dragon” J-20 stealth fighter aircraft.
Beijing hasn’t disclosed the total number of Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragons built to date.
China’s J-20: The Numbers
Still, current estimates suggest it may have already surpassed the number of Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors produced.
Recent speculation is that Chengdu has delivered upwards of 200 J-20s, with at least four batches produced.
China military aviation researcher Andreas Rupprecht, who tracks open-source images of the Mighty Dragon and other aircraft, has noted that two fighters had been marked with the designations “CB0369” and “CB0370” respectively.
According to Rupprecht, CB03 is for the fourth batch, and that would suggest at least 70 fighters have been delivered from this batch.
The other production batches (CB00, CB01 and CB02) had 18, 45, and 56 aircraft completed, and with 70 from batch four, the total would be 189, Air Data News reported.
With the 18 initial pre-production fighters, the total of J-20s delivered is 208.
Also worth noting is that the J-20 Mighty Dragons that were seen at last month’s Zhuhai Airshow in China were equipped with the Shenyang-manufactured WS-10C engine, which features an improved version of the turbofan, and also offers greater power and stealth characteristics.
More J-20 Mighty Dragons to Hatch
Beijing has great faith in the capabilities of the J-20, its first fifth-generation stealth fighter, and it has gone to great lengths to see that production has sped up considerably.
According to a recent report from the South China Morning Post, China is now increasing production of its Mighty Dragon to balance the deployment of F-22s and F-35 Lightning IIs to the region.
A source within the Chinese military told the news outlet that the application of the new “pulsating production lines” along with the increased manufacturing capabilities of the new domestic engines, had pushed the number of J-20s to equal, or even exceed, the number of U.S. F-22 Raptors.
The adoption of the pulsating production lines could be as impressive as – and perhaps even more so than – the actual aircraft.
It is described as a method of assembling an aircraft after it enters the final assembly process, where large structural parts and flight control systems such as the cockpit, engines, wings, tail, landing gear, and weapons system need to be put together precisely.
It is designed so that all of the standardized electronic mate, and alignment system stations are set up vertically with adjustable platforms, and it enables more work to be done in less time.
J-20 Flying High
The J-20, which entered service in 2017, is now reported to operate in all five of China’s military theater commands.
Mass production of the aircraft began in 2020 after the Central Military Commission leadership decided to replace the aircraft’s original Russian Saturn AL-31 engines with domestically produced WS-10C Taihang engines equipped with thrust vector nozzles.
A more advanced WS-15 high-thrust engine was developed to close the performance gap with the F-22, but the project had fallen behind schedule and is now expected to only begin production next year. As a result, the J-20 has been produced with the WS-10C as a stopgap measure – and it is unclear if those aircraft in service will receive the more advanced engine in the future.
How the Mighty Dragon Was Built Thanks to F-22 and F-35
China may have gotten a “jumpstart” with its Mighty Dragon. As previously reported, the development of the Mighty Dragon was only made possible due to efforts by Chinese hackers to steal critical details regarding the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and, later, the F-35 Lightning II.
The appearance and profile of the aircraft are far from the only similarities between the two fifth-generation fighters. In fact, the development of the J-20 only really began in earnest after the F-22 was unveiled.
Now China has moved forward with the fighter and could be producing it in significant numbers – which should be seen as a serious concern for Washington.
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.