In this image made from video, the J-20 stealth fighter jet flies at the China's International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai on Nov. 1, 2016.

In this image made from video, the J-20 stealth fighter jet flies at the China's International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai on Nov. 1, 2016. AP

As China Shows Off J-20 Stealth Fighter, A Bit of Context

It takes more than a flyby at an airshow to deploy fifth-generation fighter jets in combat.

Two Chinese J-20 fighter jets made their public debut at an airshow near Hong Kong on Tuesday, the latest sign of progress in Beijing’s quest to build a fleet of stealthy warplanes. But it takes more than a new airframe to play the 21st-century air-superiority game.

The J-20 is considered a competitor to the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, a warplane conceived in the 1980s and built in the 1990s and early 2000s. The F-22 made its combat debut in 2014, striking Islamic State militants in Syria. Though its stealthiness gets the headlines, the Raptor’s sensors and datalinks changed how the U.S. Air Force approaches air combat.

Brig. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, who flew F-16s before switching to the F-22, says that loose formations of 4th-generation aircraft sweeping the sky have given way to single 5th-gen aircraft seemingly alone yet connected to others far away.

“What we found was we’re often detached from each other, and we would have a bubble of air superiority around our individual aircraft,” said Grynkewich, who led a team that recently wrapped up an Air Force air-superiority road map. “In our single aircraft, we could control the airspace by working with others who were at different ranges away from us.”

“It wasn’t so much a linear battlefield anymore, but much more of a dynamic battlefield, even in the context of just that one battle in a half-hour or hour timeframe,” he said in a recent Pentagon interview. “So I think that was a little bit of a sea change in our thinking.”

Pentagon officials who plan for Beijing’s military buildup appear to be more concerned about China’s development of long-range, aircraft carrier-killing missiles than its stealth aircraft.

Part of the reason is numbers. Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates predicted that the U.S. military would have far more stealth planes than China through at least 2025. Currently, the U.S. has 183 F-22 Raptors, and the Lockheed Martin assembly lines are busy turning out America’s other 5th-generation jet, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. By the end of the year, the U.S. and its allies will be flying more than 200 F-35s; by decade’s end, that total is slated to pass 600.

By comparison, China is believed to have a dozen J-20s: four production jets and eight prototypes used for testing. Only two developmental J-31 jets — China’s other stealthy jet, similar to the F-35 — are believed to exist.

Still, the Pentagon urged caution about these planes in its annual report to Congress on China’s military.

“These fifth-generation aircraft, which could enter service as early as 2018, will significantly improve China’s existing fleet of fourth-generation aircraft (Russian-built Su-27/Su-30 and J-11A, and indigenous J-10 and J-11B fighters) to support regional air superiority and strike operations,” said the report, released in April.

China’s military rolled out the J-20 in dramatic fashion in 2011, staging a first public test flight three days after then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters that the Chinese “may be somewhat further ahead in the development of that aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted.” Photos of the flight emerged after Gates touched down in Beijing for an official visit. Even China’s civilian leaders were caught off-guard, U.S. defense officials said at the time.

This was about two years after Gates halted F-22 production at 187 jets, a fraction of the 750 aircraft envisioned by Cold War planners. Air Force brass were furious, but Gates reasoned that funds would be better spent on the F-35, its bomb racks, and its own advanced sensors.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.