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The J-20 Lives

December 31, 2010

Thanks to a recent series of photographs, we now have a glimpse at China’s newest and most advanced fighter (perhaps fighter-bomber). While the aircraft’s visual appearance immediately recalls that of a stealth aircraft, it remains unknown whether it really is an F-22 competitor – avionics, weapons systems, engine technology, and other factors all play into that.

Besides, as Bill Sweetman points out (H/T Information Dissemination), we should not assume the J-20 is built to be an F-22 killer. China, by virtue of its unique geostrategic circumstances, is going to pursue a different variety of weapons systems than other states. That the J-20 is large, at around 70+ feet, indicates it might be slated for a fighter-bomber role. The US does not emphasize such longer-range strike aircraft because it has carriers and strategic bombers, and China might feel less inclined to go for a primarily air-superiority fighter such as the F-22 because it has an extensive mainland SAM system, and its main aerial threats stem from nearby airbases and carriers.

As for my two cents, the more interesting question to me is not whether the J-20 can match the F-22. The disastrous state of aircraft procurement worries a lot more than whether the scheduled production run of the F-22 is enough to deal with the J-20. For China’s neighbors, however, the J-22 might be of particular concern. Can the J-20 match the PAK FA? India and Russia ought to be wondering that. Does it mean that Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan need to start shelling out more for advanced fighters or air defense systems?

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