The normally secretive Chinese military on Tuesday gave attendees at Airshow China a glimpse of its most advanced fifth generation stealth fighter plane, known as the Chengdu J-20. While impressive, experts say that the plane doesn’t appear to compare with the U.S.-built Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor in terms of performance, much less the hoped-for capabilities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The J-20 appears to be modeled on the F-22, at least in terms of its outward appearance. Its development has been kept under wraps, but the twin-engine design and its overall size suggest a plane designed to have a relatively long range. Stealth technology suggests a mission that would involve avoiding enemy radar.
“The development of the J-20 is progressing as scheduled, and it is expected to further boost the fighting capacity of the Chinese air force,” Shen Jinke, spokesperson of the People's Liberation Army Air Force told IHS Jane’s. It will “will help the air force better fulfil the mission of safeguarding national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.”
While much of the technology in the plane was developed in China, the plane is powered by two Russian-made engines.
The appearance of a small squadron of the fighters at the airshow on Tuesday signals a new phase in the development of the plane, which has been ongoing for years. Now out of the prototype phase, the manufacturer, Chengdu Aircraft Corporation, is expected to start producing versions of the plane for official service over the next few years.
The J-20 is not the only fifth generation fighter China is developing. Though it is not as far along in its development, the FC-31 is being built as a competitor to the U.S. F-35, and will likely be available for export. The timeline on its development remains unclear.