Information recently leaked out of Asia about China’s fifth-generation stealth fighter jet — which draws remarkable similarities to the U.S.’s F-22 and F-35 — indicates a regiment of the advanced aircraft could be deployed by the end of the decade.
China’s Chengdu Aircraft Corporation conducted a successful two-hour test flight of the fourth prototype Chengdu J-20 at the end of July according to Business Insider, and though few specifics are known, observation of the aircraft has led experts to draw extreme parallels to radar-evading design and technology already employed by the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programs.
Since the plane’s first documented prototype in 2011, its undergone a number of design revisions including air intake modification, wing size alteration, and a nose design that could incorporate an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar — all of which are improvements intended to maximize stealth.
The F-35 also employs AESA technology in the nose of the plane, which allows its radar systems t0 spread signal emissions across a range of frequencies, making the aircraft harder to detect.
“By cleverly exploiting contemporary United States-developed stealth fighter shaping design rules, Chengdu engineers were able to rapidly get an excellent basic shaping design with a minimum of risk and cost, and significant long-term stealth performance growth potential,” Aviation expert Carlo Kopp wrote in Air Power Australia.
Chinese hacks of Pentagon and other prominent U.S. defense contractor systems, which have compromised data on the F-35, are believed to be the prime drivers behind the major redesigns to the J-20 since 2011. Just last month Chinese entrepreneur Su Bin was arrested in Canada at the request of the FBI for stealing gigs of data on the F-35, F-22 and some 30 other defense programs.
According to the report, the J-20’s striking range is estimated at 1,000 nautical miles, giving the Chinese a first-strike tactical advantage in East Asia — where the majority of air defense systems rely on radar detection the J-20 will likely be impervious to — and where countries including Japan, Korea the Philippines and Vietnam have ongoing territorial or economic disputes with the Asian giant.
Reports speculate the Chinese have yet to develop proprietary turbofan engine for the jet, and may resort to using Russian-made engines to power the aircraft. An unnamed Asian government source told IHS Jane’s that 20 J20s could be deployment-ready by 2020.
According to Kopp, if deployed the J-20 would represent a “techno-strategic coup” by China, and “a genuine strategic coup against the United States and its Pacific Rim allies.” Every fighter in the current U.S. fleet would be “outclassed in every respect,” with the single exception of the most up-to-date F-22A Raptor.
“All variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would be equally so outclassed, assuming this failed project even progresses to any kind of actual production.”